Tacky Tiki

When William Styron was a low-level, poorly-paid reader at McGraw-Hill in 1950, he rejected a book written by a Norwegian explorer who in 1947 set out in a hand-built raft on an 8000 mile voyage from Peru to French Polynesia to prove that primitive peoples could navigate great distances. The book, Kon Tiki, later became an international best-seller and made Thor Heyerdahl a legend.

Had Styron not been such a scribbler he might have realized that Heyerdahl’s book would catch the tiki wave that had been cresting in popular culture since U.S. troops came home from the Pacific after World War II. In 1947, James Michener won a Pulitzer for his Tales of the South Pacific, which were based on his service as a lieutenant commander in the New Hebrides Islands. The book was adapted by Rodgers and Hammerstein into the musical South Pacific that premiered in 1949 on Broadway and ran for 1,925 performances.

It was a Cajun, Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, who kicked off the mid-century tiki culinary craze. Raymond sailed the South Pacific, changed his name to Don Beach, and in 1934 opened a Polynesian-themed bar, ‘Don the Beachcomber,’ in Palm Springs. Three years later, Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron, adopted a tiki theme for his restaurant in Oakland, and tiki got surf. During the 50s and well into the 60s tiki parties were a popular spin on patio barbecues. These events usually included tiki torches, flimsy furniture, neon paper leis and loathsome drinks with teeny-tiny umbrellas. The mai tai is the quintessential tiki cocktail, and the quintessential tiki appetizer is rumaki. Raymond is credited with its invention since it first appeared on the menu at Don’s, as “mock Polynesian”, chicken livers and water chestnuts marinated in soy sauce with ginger and brown sugar skewered in bacon and broiled. Rumaki are a cliché cocktail appetizer, inspiring parodist references in dozens of television serials and films.

Rumaki are easy to make, but instead of using raw ginger root or (worse) ginger powder, I urge you to use ginger oil for a marinade with the soy, which should be lite soy. To make ginger oil, grate about a half cup of raw ginger, place in a cup of vegetable oil, and heat until the ginger just begins to bubble. Heat for about five minutes, cool thoroughly, drain and save the oil and discard the ginger. Use the oil, mixed with soy 1:2 and brown sugar to taste for the marinade. Slice the livers, depending on size, into thirds; remember that the livers will have a tough connective membrane that must be removed. Slice small whole water chestnuts into halves add them to the marinade. Marinate both for at least an hour. Skewer livers and chestnuts in bacon sliced to size and place in a hot oven (425) until bacon has crisped.

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