Ever eat the contents of a barnyard? I have.

Given that the vacation was weeks ago, I should probably just give it up and stop posting about Hawaii and its regional cuisine. I'm still picking up our Kauai guidebook and reading about places I should have gone, just to torment myself. It's sick, really, and quite unhealthy.

In Honolulu, we went to Shirokiya, a giant department store filled with Japanese goods and foods. It was hard restraining myself with dozens of dried fish snacks, fried sweet potato puffs, a plethora of take-away bento boxes, and an entire counter dedicated to mochi. It was truly marvelous to behold. Too bad I forgot to take a picture. Here's our hand-picked selection of mochi and cakes for the road. The cake on the far right was shaped like a little chick, and was filled with salted egg. The tastiest of the four was the purple mochi filled with a sweetened taro paste. This tiny cake was no larger than an egg but was so dense you could cause serious damage if you lobbed it at someone's head.

For lunch, we stopped at the Ala Moana Shopping Center food court. They had a nice selection of Korean, Japanese, local, Chinese, Thai cuisines. Yes, it's in a mall. But no mall in upstate NY has this much variety! Usually the only Asian faces I see in our malls belong to those working at the Cajun food booth handing out Bourbon chicken (Why is that? What's the correlation between mall Cajun food and Chinese entrepreneurs?). It was nice to see my people all over the place for a change, and not only stuck behind restaurant and dry cleaning counters. It was also great not being in the minority, for once, and to hear English being spoken all around me. I felt right at home! If only I could find a way to afford life in Hawaii. It's an expensive place, I've heard.

Tony (finally) made a winning choice and ordered a plate lunch from the folks at Yummy Korean BBQ. On his plate: glass noodles, fried tofu, beef kalbi, fried gzoya, pork chop, kimchee, and seaweed salad.

Since I hadn't the opportunity to eat real laulau and other Hawaiian foods, I thought I might do so at a place called the Poi Bowl. Big mistake to order this at any mall. My plate lunch: laulau, kalua pig, lomi salmon, chicken long rice, and haupia for dessert. After ordering the "local boy" special, I brought my spoils back to our table. Upon opening up my styrofoam container, Tony suddenly sat up with a look of alarm and disgust. "What smells like a barnyard?!" he asked. Sure enough, after one whiff, we both confirm that it's the laulau. (Laulau is a bundle of pork butt and butterfish wrapped and steamed in taro and ti leaves). It's stinky. In usual fashion, I ate it anyway. Funky smells never stopped me from eating anything on my plate before. However, this unfortunately tasted like a barn. Or rather, used straw in a barn. We cooked laulau in the hotel class I took last fall, and I remember it being quite delectable with no trace of barn whatsoever. I can only conclude that either I don't like real Hawaiian laulau, or I made a bad call in getting a so-called "authentic" dish in a mall food court. It's probably the latter. Just for the record, I choked down most of it anyway since it seemed a shame to waste all that *good* meat, even if it did taste like a farm animal. Mom, Baba, look what happens when you teach your kids to finish everything on their plates! In this case, my guilt for leaving food uneaten overrode my discriminating palate (or common sense not to eat rancid meals).

We followed up Tony's great meal (and my lousy one) with a mango snow ice from the Shirokiya smoothie counter. Shaved ice, condensed milk, and mango jam - what's not to love?


Hawai'i eats continued - the sushi post

One of the nights in Honolulu we were too exhausted to go out hunting for dinner. Less than a block from our hotel (actually connected to the property) was one of those sushi conveyor belt places where the fish glides around their makers on a little track, and diners wantonly pluck and eat any dish their choosy hearts desire. Sadly, the generic sushi here was better than anything we get in Ithaca. The tuna seems so different than in upstate NY; it hasn't the least bit of metallic blood flavor that I usually find so appalling in tuna sashimi.

One of the best things about Hawai'i are these abundant onigiri, handrolls, and musubi that folks can pick up at any convenience store (7-11, Safeway, ABC Stores) for a quick snack or lunch. Just this fact alone makes me want to pick up and move to the Islands. I'm not kidding, it's seriously a huge motivator. Why can we only get dessicated hot dogs, Hot Pockets and Hostess fruit pies at our convenience stores? It's not fair. Here's a half-eaten spicy tuna handroll and some fruit eaten on our hotel balcony.

Below is an example of really bad saimin at the Kauai airport. We had delicious saimin at Hamura's Saimin Stand in Lihu'e, but I neglected to take a photo. We met this great local family at Hamura's who advised us on the best restaurants and beaches in the area, and also turned us on to eating BBQ meat sticks along with our saimin. Saimin basically tastes like the ramen that we make at home, except with thicker egg noodles and a hard-boiled egg instead of a poached one dropped in at the last moment before serving. The green onions, char siu and wontons all stem from Chinese cuisine, while the dashi broth and fish cake slices are distinctively Japanese. I also am enamored with the fact that saimin can be slurped down at almost any time of day at saimin stands all over Hawai'i. Much better than fast food burgers, although with comparable sodium counts, I'm sure.

Yet more Hawaiian food to come in another post...


In the land of mochi and spam

The Hawai'i trip has sadly ended, and now I'm back in rainy Ithaca blogging away in front of the computer.

Obligatory beach shot before food pics commence:

We hiked up the Kalalau Trail in Kaua'i to see the Na Pali coastline. Here's Ke'e beach, filled with snokelers and feral roosters.

One of the hotels we stayed at gave mini cupcakes and water at nightly turn-down service instead of chocolate on the pillows. How novel is that? The cupcakes varied each night, but this coconut one was my favorite. I wish tiny cupcakes magically appeared every evening in my bedroom.

While I was working, Tony explored Honolulu and had food adventures of his own. Here's the result of one of his sojourns - okonomiyaki! According to Harumi Kurihara, (Japan's version of Martha Stewart) in Harumi's Japanese Cooking, okonomiyaki is a popular family style of eating with ingredients that vary from region to region, but usually is a layered concoction consisting of a seafood and veggie pancake, fried noodles and eggs. Hawai'i's version of this pancake included kimchee, fried eggs, and cabbage topped with soy sauce, mayo, and dried nori. It really freaked the food stand server out to see this skinny haole (white) boy ask for an okonomiyaki with all the fixings. It's a gruesome mess of ingredients that Tony claimed was actually really tasty, but it definitely could be confused for the aftermath of a lab dissection in the photo.

Lastly for today, since I'm on this pancake roll, is a pic of the obscenely huge pancakes served up at the Hilton Prince Kuhio's restaurant Mac 24-7. It's hard to show how big these flapjacks actually were, but take my word, they were immense and awe-inspiring. We ordered the kona coffee mocha cakes which came with guava, maple, and coconut syrups. Oh, and they were drizzled with warm butter caramel. It's a diabetic's nightmare, I know.

Despite our good intentions and best attempts at finishing, we only trimmed off a fourth of the pancakes. It looks lame, but they really were three huge pancakes, and each one was about 2+ centimeters thick.

More to come soon!