Eating all the foods: Hawaii edition
Big waves. Big mountain hikes. Big trucks. Big shopping malls. Big cocktails. Better bring your (big) appetite to Hawaii. The US Aloha state may be credited with inventing Pacific Rim cuisine (think Pacific island ingredients, Asian cooking styles, Portuguese baking and US serving sizes), but if you want to dine like a local, here’s the homegrown faves you need to squeeze in between surf sessions and happy hour. Hey, if it’s good enough for the US Prez...
What: Plate lunch
Thoughts: Um, where’s the greens? The only salad that comes with this carbfest is macaroni salad, my friends. Chose your carbs (rice, hot chips and pasta) and protein (eggs, meat and fish) and get this Hawaiian-style comfort food into you. The plate lunch was the staple of plantation workers back in the day and while it ain’t purdy, it sure is filling. Head to Rainbow Drive-In in Honolulu and ask for the Loco Moco: two scoops of white rice, a scoop of mac salad or slaw and topped with a hamburger patty, egg and smothered in gravy.
Verdict: A gut-busting bargain at $US7.50!
Thoughts: Looks like a giant donut hole, but the Portuguese malasada is no ordinary fried batter ball. Best eaten hot (and smothered in cinnamon sugar, IMO), the filling is fluffier and lighter than a traditional donut and it’s impossible to just eat one, so just order half a dozen. You can also get your malasada puffs plumped full of flavoured custard – everything from chocolate to lilikoi (yellow passionfruit) and pineapple. The best place to go is Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu or chase down the Malasadamobile food truck at the Waikele Premium Outlets, also on Oahu.
Verdict: Two cinnamon-sugar thumbs up.
What: Crack seed
Thoughts: Remember those sour Warheads lollies? You’ll find that cheek-puckering effect in li hing mui – the red powder that brings the sour power to Hawaii’s crack seed. A Chinese snack that’s also popular in Hawaii, crack seed are dried fruits (like plums) with the seed pod inside that can be sweet, salty or sour. Li hing mui is liberally applied to everything, not just crack seed snacks – you’ll find it on gummy lollies, sprinkled over fresh fruit, flavouring ice-cream and even shave ice. Check out the array at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet Marketplace on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Verdict: One red tongue.
What: Shrimp plate
Thoughts: Shrimp trucks are a ubiquitous sight along the Kamehameha Highway that rings Oahu’s North Shore. Shrimp, a.k.a. prawns, are sold direct from the farms and served up (shells and all) with two perfectly mounded scoops of rice. Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is the local and tourist fave with the queues to prove it. Don’t let that put you off, the shrimp plates come out at a cracking pace and, according to my crustacean-loving travel partner, well worth it. So much so, he went back every day for his fix of garlicky goodness. Beware the “No Refunds” Hot & Spicy Shrimp – it really packs a punch! Ask for a sample of the sauce with your Shrimp Scampi before you commit!
Verdict: Most a-peeling for prawn fans.
What: Shave ice
Thoughts: What’s essentially ice chips doused in flavoured syrup, shave ice is a simple snack that’s been elevated to cult-like status in Hawaii and perfect for a post-surf slurp on a hot day. On our trip to the most famous shave ice purveyor, Matsumoto’s Shave Ice in Haleiwa, the line snaked out the door and down the street, populated by military, Hawaiians and tourists alike. Choose your combo wisely – there’s 40 flavours on offer - the rainbow combination is Insta-worthy but make like a local and get yours served on a bed of red adzuki beans and smothered in condensed milk. Yum!
Verdict: Slurp-tastic. Get a cone.
Thoughts: A smooth soft serve of frozen pineapple amazingness, Dole Whip is tangy, not too sweet and totally refreshing. Even if you’re not that into pineapple, this is awesome. And as you can only get it at a handful of places in the US, it’s no wonder the frozen dessert has amassed fanatics across the interwebs. The spiritual home of DoleWhip is the Dole Plantation on Oahu (free admission), but such is the demand, if you’re only in Waikiki, you can still treat yo’self to a cup or cone at a few select convenience stores, cafes and shopping centres.
Verdict: Pineapple perfection. Do it.
What: Spam musabi
Thoughts: Hawaii’s love of Spam is serious. So serious, I encountered an entire festival dedicated to the real spiced ham that now comes in 19 iterations (who knew?), including the new Spam with Portuguese Sausage Seasoning that’s only available in Hawaii for now. At the Waikiki Spam Jam 2015 street party along the main drag in Waikiki, we encountered Spam cupcakes, Spam-flavoured macadamias and even Spam brittle ice-cream! The most popular use of Spam is in the grab-and-go Spam musabi found in 7-11s and supermarkets everywhere – a sushi triangle of rice topped with fried Spam and wrapped in seaweed.
Verdict: A cheap and cheerful classic.