One tip for any aspiring restaurant owners out there: Always get to know your liquor distributor. It was my buddy Keli‘i, a professional booze supplier that I’ve worked with for years, who turned me on to the Paloma, a tangy grapefruit and tequila cocktail that has become my favorite mixed drink.

I realize that if you live on the mainland, Palomas aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but here in Hawai‘i we like to add li hing mui (salted sour plums) that are a spot-on match for the tart and sweet flavor of the cocktail. Made with a nice bottle of tequila (mahalos, Keli‘i), the flavor combination creates a thirst-quenching beverage that is dangerously easy to drink. Or to put it another way: First sip, you fall in love. Last sip, you fall down.

SERVES 4

Ingrdients:
1 cup tequila reposado
16 sweet red li hing mui (see below)
Hawaiian salt, for garnish 2
(12-ounce) cans grapefruit soda
2 small limes, halved

Directions:

In a jar, combine the tequila and li hing mui and let soak for at least 1 hour in the fridge (overnight is best).

Wet the rims of 4 Collins glasses and dip them in Hawaiian salt. Fill the glasses with ice and divide the tequila and the li hing mui among them. Top each drink with grapefruit soda (about half a can) and squeeze half a lime over the top. Stir, drink, repeat.

NOTE: The best way to make this drink is to infuse the tequila overnight, but if you’re pressed for time you can place the li hing mui and tequila in a jar and shake vigorously for a few minutes, or until the dried plums look slightly hydrated.

LI HING MUI

Li hing mui is a style of dried salted sour plum that originated in China’s Pearl River Delta and eventually found its way to Hawai‘i, becoming a cult favorite snack-slash-treat that is broadly known as crack seed. Hawai‘i is home to whole crack seed stores that sell dozens of flavors and varieties of sweet-salty-sour preserved fruits. Red li hing mui, which has a certain medicinal, sweet licorice flavor to it, is the perennial top seller at any crack seed establishment. It can be sold whole as dried leathery fruit, or crushed and turned into a powerful salty-sour powder used to coat anything from gummy bears to shave ice to fresh fruit. The best bet is to buy them online from one of the many Hawai‘i goods stores. Look for dried sweet red li hing mui (sometimes just labeled sweet li hing mui) and li hing mui powder, which is li hing plums that have been seasoned with salt, and sugar, and sometimes licorice powder. Since the flavor profile of li hing mui powder can vary widely from brand to brand, it’s best to use it in recipes according to taste.

Recipe from Sheldon Simeon’s Cookbook “Cook Real Hawai’i”