Food in Hawaii reflects a multicultural blend of people and their food — Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Korean. “From 1778-1872, the overall population on the islands dropped from 300,000 to 50,000, due to a series of epidemics.” Plantation owners needed workers so they imported Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Koreans in successive waves.
Driving into Honolulu from the airport, we ate lunch at small grill in an industrial area. Shown above, we had fried chicken, miso soup, loco moco, saimin, oxtail in saimin, and seared ahi. Miso soup is Japanese, a broth with fermented soy bean curd. Loco moco is a recent island dish of rice, hamburger patty, brown gravy, and fried egg. Saimin is a long-time local dish with thin (Chinese) noodles in a (Japanese) fish-based broth. Seared ahi is seared Japanese tuna sashimi.
We also had two island favorites that first day in town. In the afternoon we tried Waiola Shave Ice — they’re on a side street so you have to know where to look for them. This stand shaves their ice very fine, so the ice melts in your mouth without bits of ice. 🙂 We went back again and didn’t have shave ice anywhere else. Note that locals say ‘shave ice’, not the grammatically correct ‘shaved ice’.
That evening we ate malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery, an island institution. In Honolulu we eat malasadas only from Leonard’s. They fry each batch to order, so the malasadas are always hot. Malasadas were brought to Hawaii by Portuguese. Sorry, no photos — we were too busy eating!
We shopped at Costco for Hawaiian food. Here’s a dinner at our apartment. Starting on the left back row, there’s laulau (taro leaves wrapped around pork, then steamed), kalua pig (steamed/smoked pork, traditionally cooked underground), kim chee (Korean preserved cabbage), lomi salmon (salted salmon, tomato, and onion), and Kona Brewing Co. beer. The front row has poi (slightly fermented paste of the taro bulb), a dinner plate, and tako poke (octopus with seaweed and soy sauce). The poke is from Foodland, a local grocery store; everything else came from Costco. Island grocery stores usually sell more than half a dozen kinds of poke. Island Costcos sell a few kinds of poke, as they do in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Another island favorite is Portuguese sweet bread. Honolulu’s King’s Bakery is the old standby, but their sweet bread is more expensive in Hawaii than on the Mainland. We tried Portuguese sweet bread by Punaluu Bakery (sold by Costco), and we kept buying it during our Hawaii trip. Punaluu Bakery is on the Big Island; more on that in a later post.
We had a family luau (meal of Hawaiian food) with food from Ono Hawaiian Foods, a leading Hawaiian restaurant in Honolulu. Their squid luau has octopus instead of squid. (Octopus has dark purple skin like in the tako poke above, whereas squid is light-colored.) I naively expected squid luau to have squid. My cousin said there’s more octopus in Hawaii than squid, and they’ve had squid luau with octopus at other Honolulu restaurants.
Driving around the island, we bought apple bananas and mochi ice cream on the north shore. The mochi ice cream has an ice cream center with a crust of mochi, the Japanese name for sweet rice. We tried lilikoi (passion fruit), mango, and chocolate. They’re served more frozen than what we can buy in grocery stores, but not worth the extra price.
Enjoying local food is an important part of our four days in Honolulu.