Honolulu Food

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.

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Honolulu’s Koolau Range

During our trip to Hawaii in August, I was fascinated by the clouds and changing light on the Koolau Range behind Honolulu. Shown above, Manoa Valley is where I lived most my childhood, but I hadn’t seen this view of the mountains and valley from Waikiki. The back of Manoa Valley is gray, obscured by rain. The sun shines through the shifting clouds, lighting the ridges of the cliffs on Tantalus, the mountain on the left.

Continue reading Honolulu’s Koolau Range

Oahu Food

When in Hawaii we eat Hawaiian food, both the traditional Hawaiian food and Island specialties.

We had dinner at The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong. Alan Wong is one of the pioneers of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, which blends Hawaiian ingredients with Asian flavors. The food was very good, and they were extremely flexible in accommodating changes and late arrivals. The Pineapple Room has a 3-course early bird dinner until 7:00. I started with the gyoza (pan-fried Japanese dumplings) with kim chee (Korean pickled cabbage with red peppers)

gyoza with kim chee
gyoza with kim chee

and had the furikake-crusted king salmon with risotto. The salmon was very tasty; the dried seaweed in the furikake added crunch. The large piece of salmon skin was crisp, a novel and nice touch.

king salmon and risotto
king salmon and risotto

The early bird meal was $40. The wine pairing of three wines was an additional $12, a bargain. The Pineapple Room, in Macys at the Ala Moana Shopping Center, is less formal and less costly than Alan Wong’s, his original Honolulu restaurant.

We had an excellent dinner at Town in Kaimuki. We had salads, lamb with pasta, and opah. A fish, the opah was excellent, with a sweet flavor. Sorry, we were talking and forgot to take pictures. Dinner for two is $80. We couldn’t reserve a table for Town (fully booked) but managed to get a table by walking in. Perhaps Town saves a table for walk-ins, as the Pineapple Room does.

We had a great plate lunch at He’eia Pier in Kaneohe followed with shave ice. We found Town and He’eia Pier General Store and Deli through this Travel + Leisure article. Both place were excellent.

We had a mixed plate lunch and loco moco at Rainbow Drive In in Kapahulu, behind Waikiki. The $8 mixed plate has grilled teriyaki beef, mahimahi, and chicken. The $4 loco moco bowl has rice, brown gravy, a grilled hamburger patty, and a fried egg with two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad. Rainbow Drive In serves lots of food for a reasonable price, and it’s very popular with locals and tourists.

mixed plate and loco moco
mixed plate and loco moco

After Rainbow Drive In, we drove up the street to Leonard’s Bakery for malasadas, a Portuguese fried yeast bread sprinkled with sugar, served hot. Leonard’s fills malasadas. We usually try the original and filled, and we always prefer the original.  Leonard’s has the best malasadas in the Islands. We also had malasadas after our Diamond Head hike.

malasada
malasada

In our apartment we had saimin, wheat noodles in a fish-based broth with green onions and fishcake. An Island dish, saimin combines Chinese noodles with Japanese broth and fishcake. Costco sells frozen saimin — microwave and add hot water. We added grapes and beans from our yard, kim chee, broccoli, and fish cake.

saimin
saimin

Nuuanu Trail Hike

My uncle led a hike up the Nuuanu Trail into the Koolau Range above Honolulu, with a 1200′ elevation gain. He’s run this trail with friends for years.

From downtown Honolulu, drive up the Pali Highway past Punchbowl, turn right on Nuuanu Pali Drive, and drive about a mile to the small brown trail sign on the right.

This is an upscale neighborhood. The photo below shows a backyard pond that takes advantage of Nuuanu Stream, which drains the Nuuanu Valley. Up the valley toward the Pali, rain obscures the mountains. George Clooney’s house in “The Descendants” is nearby. We saw the corner where Clooney ran to his friend’s house to ask about his wife’s affair.

backyard pond on Nuuanu Stream
backyard pond on Nuuanu Stream

From the trailhead, start up the Judd Trail, cross the Nuuanu Stream, and enter the grove of Norfolk Island pines. The trees grow a new ring of branches each year, an easy way to tell the age of a tree.

Norfolk Island pines
Norfolk Island pines

At the trail junction, take the Nuuanu Trail, which gets progressively steeper. From the top of the ridge, there are views of Honolulu and a tree to climb.

Honolulu airport
Honolulu airport
A tree to climb
A tree to climb

Ferns and moss grow from lava next to the trail.

ferns growing in lava
ferns growing in lava

On the way back we crossed Nuuanu Stream again, hopping from rock to rock. The Stream looks quiet now, but over the millennia it has carved a deep valley into the lava of the Koolau Range.

crossing Nuaanu Stream
crossing Nuaanu Stream

We saw only one other hiker during the 3-hour hike, and there were no mosquitos. A very nice hike to get grounded with nature, with views and interesting terrain, a few miles from downtown Honolulu.

Road Trip to the Windward Side

On the Sunday of our Hawaii vacation, we took a road trip to the windward side of Oahu. Separated from Honolulu by the Koolau Range, the windward side is greener and much less crowded than Honolulu and especially Waikiki.

First we stopped at Punchbowl for a family gathering at my uncle’s grave. A volcanic crater like Diamond Head, Punchbowl is a veteran’s cemetery. Diamond Head is on the far right.

Diamond Head from Punchbowl
Diamond Head from Punchbowl

From Punchbowl we drove up the Nuuanu Valley to the Nuuanu Pali, where the valley ends at a 1,000-foot cliff in the Koolau Range. In 1795 Kamehameha I invaded Oahu. Kamehameha’s men pushed the Oahu army up the Nuuanu Valley to the Pali and over the cliff. Subsequently, the king of Kauai, the only island outside Kamehameha’s rule, surrendered, and Kamehameha I was king of the Hawaiian Islands. His magnificent feather cloak is at the Bishop Museum.

Windward Oahu from the Pali
Windward Oahu from the Pali

The dark gray rock on the left is lava. Volcanic in origin, it’s very strong and resistant to weathering. The windward side gets a lot of rain. Despite the rain and wind, the windward side of the Koolau Range is mostly vertical cliffs like this, showing the strength and durability of the lava.

To the right of the Pali lookout is the old Pali Road, the 2-lane road used before the current tunnel was bored through the mountain. It was quite a drive before the tunnel.

old Pali Road
old Pali Road

We drove north past Kaneohe to the coast, stopping at the He’eia Pier for lunch. A Travel + Leisure article about rising Hawaiian chefs wrote about the general store at the end of the pier.

He'eia Pier General Store and Deli
He’eia Pier General Store and Deli

The article was spot on. We had the mahimahi plate lunch and beef stew. The mahimahi was nicely grilled and finished with a white sauce, fresh shiitake mushrooms, and green onions. Hawaiian style, the plate lunch has a scoop of rice and macaroni. The stew had large pieces of beef and carrot. Some of the beef was too fatty, though. Both dishes were delicious, and they cost about $20. This was one of the best meals of our trip and certainly the best value.

grilled mahimahi and beef stew
grilled mahimahi and beef stew

Being on the pier is quiet and relaxing.

fishing from He'eia Pier
fishing from He’eia Pier

After lunch we drove to the mountains you can see from the pier. Along the way there was a large taro patch, and they sold the taro leaves. We were pleased to see taro growing on Oahu.

We stopped at Kualoa Park for a closer look at the mountains. The patches of sunlight change as the clouds move, so the mountains are ever-changing before your eyes. The white birds (perhaps egrets?) flew in and gathered on the lawn.

Koolau Range from Kualoa Park
Koolau Range from Kualoa Park

We took the H3 highway back to Honolulu, snapping pictures as we drove. Once again, see the steep sides of the Koolau range.

Koolaus from the road
Koolaus from the road

Back in Honolulu, we stopped for shave ice at Waiola Shave Ice in Moilili. Shave ice (not shaved ice) is a Hawaiian treat. Ice is shaved from a block of ice and topped with flavored syrup — strawberry and mango are shown here. Options include ice cream, condensed milk, and azuki beans. Ours has azuki beans on the bottom. The ice was shaved finely, but there wasn’t enough syrup so the ice in the middle was white.

shave ice from Waiola
shave ice from Waiola

Despite our experience, the place is popular.

Waiola Shave Ice
Waiola Shave Ice

We had a great time on our Sunday road trip to Windward Oahu. Escaping the Waikiki crowds and Honolulu traffic for green mountains, blue ocean, and quiet was refreshing.

Shangri La

Honolulu has a place to see Islamic art. We enjoyed the Moorish palaces of the Alhambra and Alcazar in April, so we visited Shangri La. Unlike the former Moorish palaces, Shangri La has the original furnishings.

Heiress Doris Duke, whose father gave an endowment that caused Duke University to be named for his family, built a home in Honolulu and furnished it with Islamic art for over 50 years. Today people can tour Shangri La through the Honolulu Museum of Art.

The home has a typically plain Islamic exterior — a white wall and a wooden door — that reveals little about the interior.

Shangri La entry
Shangri La entry

The door has Islamic design elements: calligraphy, arabesque, and geometry. The calligraphy across the top of the door says “Enter herein in peace and security”. The center is an arabesque, a repeated design based on vines or flowers. Repeated six-pointed stars form the geometric border of the door.

Shangri La front door
Shangri La front door

They don’t permit photography inside, but the Shangri La website has an excellent virtual tour with photos.

The mihrab is my favorite: a beautiful tile wall decorated with calligraphy. The mihrab was originally part of a mosque, showing Muslims which way to face during prayer, in order to face Mecca.

The Damascus Room has wood paneling from the reception room of a home in Damascus, Syria. Duke placed her order, and her agent looked until he found a suitable room that the owners would sell.

Shangri La is located on Black Point, a small peninsula behind Diamond Head. The 5-acre grounds have a spectacular view of the ocean and Diamond Head.

Diamond Head from Shangri La
Diamond Head from Shangri La

We enjoyed Shangri La. Our guide was excellent. Purchase tickets online a week in advance. As a bonus, we saw photos of Hawaii by Ansel Adams and Imogene Cunningham at the Honolulu Museum of Art.