Lead Story – Flying Saucers Invade Kaua‘i

Lead Story – Flying Saucers Invade Kaua‘i

Cover photo of 12/16 issue, a little girl enjoying Kauai's Flying Saucers
Photo of workers in the front row grill the Flying Saucers.

There was a job for everyone making Flying Saucers at Lihue Hongwanji in June 2016. Workers in the front row grill the Flying Saucers. In the second row, workers can be seen buttering the slices of bread. (Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island)

Gerald Hirata
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

In the last few years, there have been published reports of Flying Saucer sightings on Kaua‘i. But the community here doesn’t seem to be at all concerned. In fact, they can’t seem to get enough of them.

In 2014, Dennis Fujimoto, a photographer/writer for The Garden Island newspaper, mentioned it briefly in the Kaua‘i daily. And, just last year, an ad in The Hawai‘i Herald announcing the 2015 Soto Zen Temple’s Obon Festival noted that the Hanapëpë temple is “the original home of the Flying Saucer.” There is a long and curious story about the origins of this unique and yummy food item.

Photo of Flying Saucers being checked to see whether they’ve finished cooking. (Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island)

Flying Saucers are checked to see whether they’ve finished cooking. (Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island)

What’s a Flying Saucer, you ask upon learning that I am not referring to the unidentified flying object variety.

Generally speaking, it is the most popular food item served at bon dance festivals here on Kaua‘i. People who attend bon dances on O‘ahu, Maui or the Big Island concede that it is “a Kaua‘i thing.” I would have to agree. The only Flying Saucers I’ve heard of and have consumed have been on the Garden Isle.

Kaua‘i’s Flying Saucers can be described as a Sloppy Joe — but not from a can! — sandwich that is grilled into the shape of a flying saucer with a pie iron. The Sloppy Joe mixture of ground beef, onions, ketchup, shoyu, sugar and black pepper is poured over a slice of buttered white bread with a slice of American cheese and topped with another piece of buttered white bread. The outer crust of the bread is removed and the encased sandwich is then grilled on both sides over a low flame.

Photo of The Flying Saucers cooking line at the Kauai Soto Zen Temple bon dance this past July. (Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island)

The Flying Saucers cooking line at the Kauai Soto Zen Temple bon dance this past July. (Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island)

If you attend a bon dance festival on Kaua‘i, look for the food booth with the longest line. More likely than not, it’s the one selling Flying Saucers. Plan on a long wait in line and keep your fingers crossed that the Flying Saucers don’t sell out before you reach the front of the line. If you’re lucky enough to get one, your perseverance will be rewarded when you take that first bite. It will be a heavenly, out-of-this-world experience!

In all honesty, I was the source Dennis Fujimoto quoted in his article. I was also the person who submitted the ad to the Herald last year. Why? Because I am intrigued by this Flying Saucer phenomenon. Since retiring and returning to Kaua‘i, I have been frequenting bon dance festivals and checking out the food booths for the last seven years or so.

I got hooked on the Flying Saucer — not just the delicious sandwich, but also its mysterious history.

Discover the rest of the mystery and even a FLYING SAUCER recipe by subscribing to The Herald!

Photo of flying saucers ready for packing at Lihue Hongwanji. (Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

Flying Saucers ready for packing at Lihue Hongwanji. (Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

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