Keep Guam and Carry On

Hungry Kepuha has returned to Tucson with its taste of traditional island food

It was a dark day in 2018 when word got out that one of the best food trucks in Tucson, Hungry Kepuha, was leaving us. The bad news came just a few days before that year's Tucson Meet Yourself, which was the last event the glorious mobile unit was going to be serving before relocating to Las Vegas. So, I scrambled my way through the crowds in search of the shimmering black truck, the only one in southern Arizona that cooks and offers traditional food from Guam.

Eventually I spotted Hungry Kepuha and had to ask owner and chef Anthony Thomas Ooka why he was moving away.

"My wife got an amazing job with Amazon headquarters out there," Ooka said. The cuisine of Hungry Kepuha is better known as "chamoru" (sometimes spelled "chamoroo"), a traditional tribal preparation of food from Guam brought over by the Marianas, who were the first recorded settlers of the region. The closest taste relative to chamoru would be that from the Philippines, although less reliant on sugars so the barbecued food is not as sweet. Ooka takes that ancient technique in his small space and turns it into a modern offering of slow cooked, 24-hour-marinated Pacific island tanginess, abundant with deep-seated flavors with a hint of subtle heat.

Having grown up in Guam with military parents, Ooka himself joined the Army at the age of 19. After serving his term, and meeting his future wife, Ooka knew that he wanted to move on from a career in the military and enlisted in college to get his teaching credentials. The Ooka's decided to relocate to Tucson, where the two had connections.

Unfortunately, Ooka's degree in teaching did not convert over to the states so, he decided to go into business for himself. Ooka grew up cooking with his family, so he purchased a brand new truck in 2017. His idea was to deliver delicacies from his home: pork kadun pika (a spicy chamoru style stew), estufao (a traditional chicken stew) or kimchi noodles for those that who want a meat-free dish. The Hungry Kepuha, named after Guam's first Catholic chief, was a near-instant success, especially for those on the lookout for unique flavors and food with a story to tell.

As it worked out, the move to Vegas was short-lived as Ooka's wife got homesick for Tucson and got a new job back here. So the Hungry Kepuha is back on the street in Tucson.

So welcome back, Hungry Kepuha. We've missed you and your delicious food.

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