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Baja Eats: Hungry Kepuha

Veteran Anthony Ooka is spreading the word about Chamoru cuisine and culture one bite at a time.

June 14, 2017

Baja Eats

After opening for business in late March, Hungry Kepuha has already earned a few die-hard fans. “When people go out of their way to see me, I know I’m doing something right,” says Anthony Ooka, the owner of the food truck providing Tucson with “A Taste of Guam.” I first discovered Ooka’s truck parked outside of Borderlands Brewing, and I was immediately impressed by the quality, serving size, and price. Ooka admits that while people are always telling him he’s underpriced, he actually had to be talked into charging what he does, because he tends to view things from a budget-conscious consumer perspective. For him to feel comfortable asking people to spend $10 – $14 for what he terms “food truck food,” Ooka wants them to feel like they received their money’s worth. “I want [people] to be happy, not want more food,” he says.

Having been on the receiving end of Hungry Kepuha’s food truck fare twice now, I’m happy to report that I absolutely got my money’s worth, and then some. While the menu is currently limited to three items (a beef ribs entrée, a chicken breast entrée, or a combo plate featuring one of each), each plate is representative of what Ooka says is the philosophy of Chamoru food: “simple, amazing food that will fill you up.” (Chamoru, or Chamorro, is the name for the indigenous people and culture of Guam, with Chamoru being the preferred spelling for Guamanians who have reclaimed the colonially-applied title. Learn more about the history of the name here.) He wants people to have a “true and authentic experience” when they eat at Hungry Kepuha, and part of that is the large serving sizes. “We eat, we are an eating culture. You’re not going to get these skimpy little meals.”

Two enormous ribs from Hungry Kepuha, with sides of red rice, chicken salad, and cucumber salad.

Ooka learned to cook on Guam, helping his grandmother, aunts, uncles, and parents with prepping for barbecues and fiestas—any event that required grilling. “I tell people that learning to grill is like a rite of passage on Guam,” he says, though he suspects the old folks teach the young to grill “so that they can sit around, talk and drink.” During his years in the U.S. Army from 2004 through 2010, Ooka further honed his skills; he later worked as a sous chef for a golf resort. The results of his experience show: the chicken and ribs, both marinated for 24 hours, come off the grill with tender, juicy meat and just enough char to evoke the signature barbecue flavor. I can’t pick a favorite between them; both are wonderful. The red rice is well-cooked, with a mild heat to it thanks to the use of ground annatto seed. It’s especially delicious with the addition of the all-purpose finadene sauce that Ooka serves on the side, with its elements of soy sauce and chile oil. To accompany the hot food, Ooka also serves chicken and cucumber salads on the side. He laughs when I ask him about the chicken salad, exclaiming “Who serves chicken as a side dish?”

The grilled chicken entree from Hungry Kepuha.

But it works: the chicken is mixed with bits of coconut, sweet onions, and green onions, and seasoned with lemon and Thai chile peppers. The result is a salad with a good amount of spice and none of the heaviness of a mayonnaise-based chicken salad, and it serves as the heavier counterpart to the light and tangy cucumber salad, which Ooka brines no more than 12 hours in advance of serving in order to preserve crispiness while allowing the flavor to penetrate the vegetable.

For Ooka, opening Hungry Kepuha is just the first step in his quest to bring knowledge of Guam and Chamoru culture to the people of Baja Arizona. “It’s part of the U.S., and people don’t even know about it,” he says. “I want people to know Guam.  This is only a taste of Guam, there’s so much more that the culture, the island, the people have to offer, and I want to be the person to bring it to them.”

Hungry Kepuha
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