Sunday, August 10, 2008

Vacation Time: Hawaii Journal Day 1

Sku is on vacation in Hawaii!!

This year marks the 30th anniversary of my first visit to the islands, and since then, it's been a regular vacation spot for me. I've learned to love the beauty of the place and of course, its spectacular food. Hawaii, and Oahu (my most common vacation spot) in particular, has all the makings of a great food destination. There is a dedicated Hawaiian food culture, with a growing haute cuisine scene and a veritable ocean of cheap hole-in-the-wall places offering excellent food, from the many neighborhood okazuyas (Hawaiian style delis) to Japanese ramen joints, to that island staple of starch and grease, the plate lunch. Part of the genesis of the local food is the uniquely Hawaiian mix of cultures and ethnicities. The sheer number of different ethnic groups that have influenced Hawaiian cuisine and more importantly, the mixing of those groups, is unparalleled anywhere in the US. (The state has no ethnic majority). Add to all of that a bounty of fresh tropical ingredients and you have the makings of not just a paradise, but a food lover's paradise.

Hawaii is crawling with food lovers, people who make it their business to know every hole in the wall ramen shop and have an opinion about every sushi bar or plate lunch shop. Indeed, none other than Hawaiian born and raised Barack Obama, whose visit overlapped with my own, reinforced this in his comments to the home town crowd:

I'm going to get a plate lunch. I might go to Zippy's. I might go to Rainbow Drive-In. I haven't decided yet. Get some Zip Min. I'm going to go get some shave ice.

Like many of my food loving brethren, and apparently the next President of the United States as well, my vacations consist of a detailed itinerary of meals and snacks with other activities designed to wile away the hours between those meals. (Did you know they have nice beaches here?) As I said, I've been coming here for a long time, so I have a long list of favorites I like to revisit (though there is no way to hit all the favorites in a single trip), but I am always interested in finding anything new and exciting. This trip, I have a one year old in tow, so you won't see any fancy schmancy Alan Wong or Chef Mavro. This year we will exclusively focus on the wonderful casual eateries that make up the bulk of island food culture and some of the best food anywhere.

My home base is a condo on the east end of Waikiki next to the zoo, and from there, I will journey outward to the diners of Kalihi, to the shrimp trucks of Haleiwa and beyond.

Since this is my first trip to Hawaii as a blogger, I decided that the best way to relay the full culinary experience will be through a simple food journal that will track my daily eats (Sku's Very Recent Eats? Sku's Nearly Contemporaneous Eats?). So, for the next couple of weeks, we will change format a bit, and I will post my latest Hawaii daily journal each week day through the end of my trip (except on Wednesday which will continue to be our regular Whiskey Wednesday).

Join me, won't you?

Day 1: Sunday

Breakfast: Eggs 'n Things

This is one of the only Waikiki joints I eat at, but it's worth it. In a town which takes its pancakes seriously and has numerous neighborhood joints flipping up great flapjacks, Eggs 'n Things is my favorite. Open from 11:00 pm until 2:00 pm, Eggs 'n Things has a nearly impenetrable crowd during the regular breakfast rush, but it's a perfect place for a mainlander like me to go on the first morning of my vacation, when I'm jet-lagged and up looking for breakfast at 5:30 Hawaiian daylight time (8:30 PDT). Joining a mix of Japanese partiers winding down, night shift workers just coming off and...jet lagged Americans and Europeans, I sit down to gobble up the greatest macadamia nut pancakes ever. Big, fluffy disks with mac nuts both baked in and sprinkled on top, along with a big scoop of butter, and powdered sugar, these are the pancakes I dream about. Adding coconut syrup, which is one of six syrups on the table, turns these from just great to transcendent, from the stuff of dreams to the stuff of revelations. I start my meal off with a fresh pineapple juice (which is harder to find than you might think in Hawaii). Eggs 'n Things has other good dishes as well. The French toast made from Portuguese pao doce (sweet bread) is lovely with their homemade, zesty orange syrup. But I only know that from tasting dining companions' dishes, every time I visit, I must have those pancakes.

Eggs 'n Things
1911- B Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815

Lunch: Gina's B-B-Q

What would cause someone who lives amongst the largest population of Koreans outside of Korea to go for Korean on the first day of vacation? The answer is Gina's awesome barbecued ika (squid). Gina's is a little take-out joint in a strip mall anchored by a Foodland grocery store at the top end of Kapahulu. It's really an adaptation of traditional Korean food to the traditional Hawaiian plate lunch which features several meat dishes with two ice cream scooper servings of rice and and one of macaroni salad (more on plate lunch in my later posts). Gina's cooks up all the Korean favorites: kalbi, bulgogi and lots of panchan which you order as sides, but my favorite is the barbecued ika. It's a whole squid, about 6 to 8 inches long, head on and all, coated with the traditional Korean chili paste and barbecued to perfection. The texture is both tender and chewy, the head is slick, the body hearty, the tentacles trap the sauce between their lovely little suction cups. If you love squid, you must visit.

Gina's BBQ
2919 Kapiolani Boulevard
Honolulu, HI

Dinner: Poke from Tamura's Fine Wine & Liquors

Poke [PO-kay] is a Hawaiian snack food staple. The traditional dish consists of raw pieces of ahi with onion soaked in a simple marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil and other spices, but there are all manner of variations. It's traditionally eaten as an appetizer or snack with beer, and is appropriate for any backyard picnic or big game. Tamura's is a great little wine shop and gourmet store which carries all manner of island products, a decent selection of single malts and even a gourmet cheese selection (it's one of the only places in Hawaii I've seen Epoisse), but the central attraction for me is poke, and have they got poke. Tamura's offers mussel, salmon, shrimp, mackeral and approximately 8 million varieties of ahi poke. I love the garlic shrimp poke, but my favorite remains the traditional shoyu (soy sauce) poke. Raw fish, onions, sesame oil, soy sauce, what could be simpler? Add a mediocre Hawaiian microbrew and you've got a fitting end to a great first day.

Tamura's Fine Wine & Liquors
1216 10TH Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 735-7100

Tomorrow: Malasadas, Plate Lunch in a Beautiful Setting, Thai Curries and Shave Ice


Anonymous said...

Sku, I can tell already this is going to be awesome. Enjoy your trip!!

D said...

Try Gazen, 2840 kapiolani 8187370230. Authentic Japanese Izakaya with great tofu dishes and everything else. Ask your local SSI lawyer for details.