Story by George Tanabe
Photo by Elyse Butler
Too sour, too sweet, too soft, too stringy—a lot can go wrong when you’re making pickled mango. No wonder then that there are so many variations of this supposedly simple treat and that everyone seems to have their favorite. But far above the hoi polloi, there is one backyard version that has managed to earn a broad reputation as the best pickled mango in Hawai‘i.
The prized product is made and sold by Kenneth Terukina at his home directly across from the Hale‘iwa Boat Harbor on O‘ahu’s North Shore. Terukina’s fans include locals, people from as far away as Japan and pretty much anybody else lucky enough to pass by his place when the sign advertising pickled mango is up.
Terukina operates out of a tarp-covered patio equipped with comfortable chairs, a television and a refrigerator. “Some people stop by when I’m not in,” he says, stroking his groomed beard. “They take their bags of mango from the fridge and leave their money behind on the rack. Cold cash I call it,” he says, laughing gently.
In 1999, Terukina had a lifesaving liver transplant, and the once hard-charging heavy equipment operator learned to ease into the rhythm of the mango trees. Today, to source his crucial raw material, he knows the owner of every pake (Chinese) mango tree on the North Shore. When he’s sitting on his patio, passers-by beep and wave, and many drop in just to chat. Terukina’s brush with death has made him deeply grateful for his family and friends, and he welcomes everyone into his tent.
His recipe is, he says, a secret, hard won through trial and error. He experimented for years and stopped when he’d perfected just the right taste and texture: When you bite into one of his crisp slices, still yellow-green with a blush of pink, you first think of fresh green mangos until a second layer of flavor kicks in, sweet and pungent. Young seeds still attached to the flesh add crunch, and one slice tends to lead to another. “I like to tease neighbor island customers,” Terukina says. “I ask them, ‘What, no pickled mango where you come from?’ They all say, ‘Not like this.’”