As part of my Hawaii eating odyssey and 2012 Oahu Eatinerary I’ve invited a number of local experts to participate in the Hawaii Foodie 5. Just like my Hong Kong and London Foodie 5 features, I’ve come up with 5 quirky questions meant to identify where locals eat and what tourists should do.
For the first installment of our Hawaii Foodie 5 I’m breaking with tradition a little and instead of featuring a Hawaii food blogger I’ve got a response from a local food expert that I discovered on Chowhound.
I was first clued into KaimukiMan when Mrs A|T was doing her food research and she found a Chowhound post describing an amazing driving tour of eateries [chow.com] around Oahu. Someone had asked about suggestions on planning an eating trip and KaimukiMan responded with a meticulously detailed and super informative driving plan that covered many of the places that we were thinking of.
Like many of the food experts I’ve found in Hawaii, there isn’t a lot of contact information for KaimukiMan but you can see his profile at Chowhound [chow.com] including a list of all of his posts and responses to foodie questions.
According to his profile his favorite meal is:
too many to choose from, ranging from a picnic of sourdough and cold cuts on the cliffs at lands end in SF, to home cooked meals with great friends, to wonderful meals in 3 and 4 star restaurants.
1.Where is the best place to go for a snack while Mrs A|T shops at Ala Moana?
It doesn’t get much mention but i think I would recommend the Crack Seed Center in ala moana center. Not someplace to sit and eat, but to pick up a variety of seed (pickled mango, li hing mui, preserved ginger or lemon peel, etc.). Then go sit near center court and watch the variety of people walking around.
2.What is your favorite place to go for local grinds (especially my favorites: poke, laulau pork)?
Well, there is no such thing as laulau pork. i think you are conflating laulau and kalua pork. On friday most plate lunch places have a hawaiian plate. Other than that it would be a toss up between Haili’s, Helena’s, Ono’s (in alphabetical order.) each has their devotee’s. I tend to lean toward Helena’s. A decade ago I would have suggested the farmer’s market on the mauka side of auahi in ward centers, but you just don’t find the variety there that you used to. If you want to get a little more “local” then check out Alicia’s market in Kalihi Kai. Parking is an issue, and there is no place to sit and eat, but wow, its good grinds. My fave for spicy ahi.
3.What is the best tacky tourist restaurant on the island?
Best? Meaning tackiest? Best food? The last real tiki bar on the island is LaMariana just off sand island access road. The Professor or Mrs. Howell might appear at any minute. Unfortunately the food, at it’s height mediocre, has gone downhill. Go sit at the bar and have a good stiff drink, maybe some pupu’s, and wait for one of the castaways to show up. The shorebird at the outrigger reef used to be pretty tacky, but they have renovated it, not nearly so tacky now. The Tahitian Lanai is long gone, as is Trader Vic’s. No doubt there is a tacky restaurant somewhere in the international marketplace, but i just don’t know any more. Wailana Coffee shop at the ewa end of waikiki is definite 60’s, but not especially hawaiian. The food isn’t bad, stick to basics. All those words and I’m still drawing a blank. I guess first place would go to the Willows, although it isn’t tacky, it is definitely tropical, and the food is mediocre to decent, but not wonderful, which it used to be.
4.Are there any great places to go for dessert (especially haupia pie)?
The best tropical pies come from Ted’s bakery on the north shore. They can be purchased at most major grocery stores as well. Ani’s bake shop has a good variety of haupia pie as well. But local people don’t really go for that kind of thing as much. Now guava chiffon or lilikoi chiffon cake from DeLite Bakery, or Coco Puffs from Liliha Bakery, or malasada’s from Leonards, Champion, or Agnes’… now thats some local kine desserts.
5. Can you suggest must-try local food that tourists don’t know about?
Depends on what tourists. I had some parents of a friend come visit a number of years ago and we took a trip around the island, stopping in the Foodland at Sunset Beach to grab snacks. I picked up a few items I thought they would like, but got some smoked tako poke for myself, knowing these people were not what you would call adventurous eaters (they eyed the spam musubi suspiciously before trying it.) They saw how much I was enjoying the tako (it really was good) so they decided that if they could survive spam on rice wrapped in seaweed, how bad could smoked octopus be? Suffice to say they ate the rest of it, and we had to go back for more. A whole new world opened up. Mind you this was 25 years ago and poke wasn’t something that was popular among any tourists at that time. They found tako poke, spicy ahi poke, crab poke, and on and on. A whole new world was opened up for them. And once they went through that they started in on sushi and sashimi. Even though they were native californian’s and ate japanese food on occasion, they had never been brave enough to eat raw fish. A month later I got a letter from my friend asking what i had done to her parents. They were dragging her to thai restaurants, japanese restaurants, vietnamese restaurants. She and her brothers were stunned.
All that aside, I think that two foods that are really undervalued here are Okazu-ya and Saimin places. Both are sadly dwindling away.
Of course you can get Okazu all over Japan, but they probably don’t have macaroni salad, baked ham, kal-bi ribs, American style fried chicken, or Hot Dog Rolls. I ponder how many tourists have stumbled into Fukuya or Gulick Delicatessen and wondered where the pastrami sandwich was on the menu.
And local style saimin, a combination of chinese and japanese origins (with some spam thrown in for good measure) can’t be found anywhere else. It saddens me to go eat ramen and see a restaurant crowded with Japanese tourists who are eating very good japanese noodles – that they could get on any street corner in Tokyo, when a few doors down the street 49er fountain, sekiyas, palace saimin, or the old saimin house have something unique to these islands.