posted by Lisa

This one begins as a mystery.

I first saw the shrimp truck on a market outing last year. It was one of those large white trucks, not unlike an old mild truck, that I saw in my rear view mirror as I drove away from it. “Garlic Shrimp” the yellow sign proclaimed, and I could smell it. But I couldn’t turn around that day, and the next day I couldn’t find it. Then it was the weekend, and day trips to the north shore, and I just never got to what I was sure would be a great new food. We had not, after all, yet disproven my husband’s theory about food-served-from-trucks in Kauai.

Somehow, I knew in my gluttonous, gastronomic soul that I would find that truck again. And I did. This year, it had moved from its spot and was parked alternately in front of Prince Kuhio Park or in the Botanical Gardens, which I’ll write more about soon. I’m particular here about locating the truck because later, the owner was to tell me that the move, which was prompted by the unprecedented development on Kauai’s south shore, made her old spot impossible to manage. (Yes, apparently the development hurts even mobile local businesses.) And some of her old customers had not yet found their way back to her.

The business is owned by Susan, and from this most unlikely venue, she serves some of the best shrimp I’ve ever had.

What is savage shrimp, you might rightly ask. On the one hand, it’s basically a kind of scampi. A really, really good scampi, with impossible amounts of garlic in the marinade sauce, in which the shrimp steeps for 24 hours. It’s served with a combination of white and brown rice and a raw, cool slaw. On the other hand, what Susan, who’s owned 2 restaurants on Oahu before this truck, adds to this marinade catapults it into another realm entirely. The ingredients are listed on the sauce bottle, which she sells (lucky me!), but you’ll have to go there to find out for yourself. They are many and fresh, mostly local, and pretty impressive. It’s not that simple.

Susan takes the order, cooks and serves it herself out of the back of the truck.

She is really lovely, and I was there at a slow time, so we talked.

About the name, for instance.

Back in September 2001, Susan was set to open, with the truck, the recipe, the business plan. Then it was September 11th and her name–Killer Shrimp–was not going to work. In her daze of grief afterward, the lines now painted on her truck (look at the larger photo) kept coming to her. And a tatoo artist had designed for her the shrimp with wings and a halo, which struck her as perfect. She asked herself (as so many of us did), what can I do? What can I do? What can I do? She told herself, well, I can cook. I’m a cook. I’m not a chef, she told me. And then “Savage” Shrimp came to her, which was to be shrimp so savage it was actually civilized.

And there truly is something savage about its aggressive flavor, the raw crunch of the garlicky shells (which you really should try to learn to eat), the bath of butter and oil that infuses shrimp and rice together. You can sit on the road, on the wall next to the truck, or you can truck your plate back to the grass by the beach. Either way, nothing beats it. It may be savage, but for my money that would be $10) it’s one of the highpoints of Kauai civilization. Even Ella agreed.

I love the shrimp, but I also sort of love Susan, whom I hardly know, because she knows, like my late but very beloved chef-friend, Barton Rouse, that food is love. She feeds people and she talks to them about her politics and her faith and what food has to do with both of those things.

And this is the revelation of her shrimp: