Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dining in Hawaii

So I did recently take a trip to Hawaii for my conference as well as for a mini vacation with my family (if you could call any time a spend with them a vacation) and I found the food scene quite unique on these island getaways.

When I go traveling I really try to eat what is thought of as native food. Hawaii, however, had a bit of a limited selection in terms of what is thought to be 'native'. This is mostly because I think a lot of their staple crops/what is thought to be Hawaiian was actually brought from other places/countries and integrated into their culture. One staple of Hawaiian food is taro-a purplish plant which they use to make poi (a sort of flavorless mush used as a condiment/side dish, taro buns and other food items. The leaves of the taro can also be used for wrapping and flavoring things when cooking. The Kalua pork-pig that's been slow roasted while wrapped in leaves and buried underground near hot coals (though no a days its is mostly done in ovens) is a signature menu item and then of course there are the fruits like pineapple, guava, mango and acai berry which characterize many of the dishes. Macadamia nuts are similarly popular being used to coat any cut of meat or fish imaginable. These ingredients can be found on any hawaiian menu in various forms and the sad thing is that a lot of the fancier/expensive restaurants in Hawaii aren't very creative in the use of these ingredients and pretty much serve the same thing to unsuspecting tourists. If you want to taste the good hawaiian good just go to a mixed plate lunch place like Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina and get a cheap lunch that comes with a mixture of all kinds of tasty things you can try and almost always with a scoop of rice and macaroni salad.

Aloha Mixed plate lunch with pork wrapped in taro and te leaves

Acai bown from Shark Cove on the North Shore of Oahu

A dish you won't find in the other states is the Loco Moco-a plate that's touted as a breakfast item but is anything but. You have a bed of white rice topped with a burger patty which is topped with a brown gravy which is topped by a fried egg. I had a Loco Moco with some high quality beef and thoroughly enjoyed the simple but tasty flavors that actually went together pretty well.

Loco Moco
You have to have fish when you go to Hawaii-you are on an Island for heavens sake! Justin and I went to the Paia fish market which is supposed to be the cheaper fast version of Mamma's Fish House. Justin and I got the ono-his classic fish and chips style while I got mine jerk chicken style as a sandwich with coleslaw. Of course I made the better choice-my sandwich was amazing. Justin's fish and chips were sadly mediocre-it just didn't hold a candle to my number one fish and chip experience at a hole in the wall in Australia. We did have a nice conversation with a local who apparently always stops by the Market after he goes for a hike with his friends.
fish sandwich

I love donuts and just about every place you go has their own version of a donut and in Hawaii they have adopted the Portuguese donut-a holeless donut that is coated with cinnamon and sugar. I had two from two different places and the second one I had was the best because it had this eggy-ness that reminded me of dutch oven panckes. Delish. Another breakfast food item to look for is the Acai bowl which is basically acai sherbet with fresh fruit, honey and granola topping. We had a good one at Sharks Cover in the North Shore of Oahu (though the oatmeal was really the thing to brag about there-out of this world flavor and texture). Another fun things to try is Wailai Coffee House's guava stuffed french toast (guava jelly that is) as well as their mueseli (their version of swiss oatmeal with nuts, apples, bananas and raisins served cold). Cream puffs are also a popular commodity at Hawaiian bakeries and I fully approve because they know how to do their cream puffs right-no nasty hard old shells that take away from the beauty of the cream puffs flavor. Komadas bakery in Mauii is the place to go for cream puffs and in Honolulu I know Leonards is supposed to be good but I never got to make it there.

Shark Cove oatmeal

One big food trend in Hawaii is definitely the snow cones/shaved ice. People in Hawaii love shaved ice-its cool, its sweet and its not filling. Most people get a scoop of vanilla ice cream at the bottom of their shaved ice cup and a dash of coconut cream on top of their icy ball. You can get all kinds of different syrup flavors-ex lychee or tigers blood (which tastes like fruit punch). We even came across Obama's favorite spot for shaved ice on one of our little trips to the beach and the place was crowded.

Justin enjoying a large shaved ice

A highlight of the food in Hawaii is definitely all the asian restaurants. I don't think that San Francisco can even top Honolulu in terms of amazing dim sum foods (authentic chinese, tasty, fresh and cheap-go to the chines cultural plaza and pick any one of the dim sum places you see there and you can't go wrong). There were also an amazing amount of Japanese restaurants from ramen to sushi to Japanese bbq. Some Thai is mixed in there as well but make sure you get stuck at a bad touristy Thai place that only served pad Thai and no curries-they have a lot of tourists traps like that.

coconut custard bun
dim sum
In the end I say go to Hawaii and don't forget to eat, surf and relax.

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