Suisan has been a beloved Hilo seafood source for generations.
It’s hard to imagine a more resilient fish market than Suisan, which survived two tsunamis since seafood peddlers Kamezo Matsuno, Torazuki Hayashi and Hitaro Egawa formed a collective named Sui San Kabushiki Kaisha in 1907.
The market long ago relocated from its original downtown location. When we arrived, workers were washing ahi and mahi on the concrete landing. We proceeded inside the market and encountered Matsuno’s granddaughter Christine, who ironically doesn’t eat raw fish, but obviously knows seafood, and directed us to several prizes.
Some small and unusual fish could easily double as bait, including parrot fish, black fish with orange fins and orange patches called Achilles Surgeonfish, golden taape ($2.99/lb) and orange yellowtail menpachi ($5.99/lb).
We ordered three varieties of poke, a raw fish preparation popular in Hawaii. Suisan sold more than a dozen kinds, including furikake, shoyu, sesame shoyu, wasabi, spicy oyster sauce, and mayo wasabi.
Ahi Hawaiian Style ($12.99 per pound) is a classic preparation involving rosy chunks of tuna, strands of seaweed, nutty sesame seeds, light oil and local kukui nuts.
Ahi Hawaiian Style with Chile Pepper Water ($12.99 per pound) featured the old school version soaked in “Hawaiian Tabasco,” a spicy, tangy mix of chile pepper, vinegar and sugar. Bonus.
We also strayed from the tuna family, opting for Uku, grey snapper, prepared Hawaiian style. If anything, this fish was even more enjoyable, silkier and more delicate.
Christine Matsuno also singled out Onaga Sakura Boshi ($18.99 per pound) as being especially desirable. The dehydrated ruby snapper sported a judicious teriyaki coating and was a big improvement on beef jerky.
Suisan more than satisfied my curiosity about what it might be like to enjoy high-quality poke in Hawaii, and the visit even came with an interesting local history lesson.
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