Monday, March 6, 2017

When In Rome, Eat As the Romans

One of the first things anyone should notice when visiting Kauai are all the chickens. They are literally everywhere. They are leftovers from the colonial era when passing ships left them, gave them away or some escaped. They are wild all over the island. Seeing that the island is composed of almost a third by people of Filipino decent, and as a culture they wouldn't let a wild chicken go to waste, I was a bit baffled. I asked a few people but nobody could really give me an answer to their live and let live policy of the wild chickens. One of the oddest sounds though was hiking through a dense jungle and instead of monkeys or birds, all I could hear were roosters crowing everywhere.

Poke (pronounce poke-ee)
I'm a pretty adventurous eater and a firm believer that when going someplace new, I should try to eat as the locals due. However this is sometimes a double edged sword. One one hand, I get a lot of advice from people saying you must eat such and such during your visit but on the other hand, half the time I suspect they are more fascinated with my reaction than actually giving me sage advice. However when it comes to Poke, I think they were right on because I saw lots of locals eating it.

Poke is a raw fish salad served over top rice, most commonly sushi rice. The fish chunks were usually coated in a mayonnaise based dressing with some spices and other local ingredients. It was outstanding and above was our favorite version served from the Kealia Poke food truck near a string of shops in the town of Hanalei on the north shore. Now normally I would think twice about eating raw fish out of a food truck but over the years, I've found most food trucks are more immaculately clean than many kitchens in brick and mortar restaurants simply because they are more visible. Also being surrounded by an ocean, I figured it had to be fresh and it certainly tasted extremely fresh. Over the course of our week, we would try poke at many other places but none of them were nearly as tasty as the version above.

Puka Dog and Mexican fish bowl

The resort where we were staying at had something like seven restaurants on site and there were brick and mortar restaurants everywhere we went however, due to their middle of nowhere in the Pacific locations, they were insanely expensive by Midwest standards. While we could afford to eat at them, our fiscally conservative nature plus we were usually on the way to somewhere anyway, led us to find many a meal from food trucks or small island shops. These two were from small shops at a small strip mall.

Puka dog was another thing everyone told me was a must have and I firmly believe that this is one of those things made for tourists. I'm sure the locals had one now and then but it wasn't a staple of their diet which was what I was after. It was essentially a grilled hot dog stuck into a bun with a hole cut down the center that was pumped full of liquid cheese and a mango relish. It was tasty but not what I was seeking. We also tried the Mexican fish bowl from another nearby vendor and while it looked good, it was vastly under seasoned. In fact, anything remotely Mexican that we had during our trip was pretty bland. Fortunately, we didn't go there for the Mexican food so steered clear of it for the most part.

Hawaiian burgers from Ono Char-Burgers
We had two combinations of these burgers, one from a rival chain Bubba Burgers, and both were outstanding and on my top ten list of best burgers I've ever consumed. Both were hamburgers served with lettuce, tomato, pineapple, swiss cheese and drizzles with teriyaki sauce. The pineapple and teriyaki sauce were both something I've never thought to put on a burger but were what made these so delicious. On a related note, tomatoes and lettuce are both things that can't be grown in Hawaii and are shipped in so if you order anything with either, be forewarned that it will cost you more money.

While these most definitely aren't local but are stereotypical of being anywhere tropical with a beach, we did have a couple drinks one evening at the hotel while listening and watching some local talent play. However, those things cost us over $20/each so we mostly stuck to drinking the local water which was free and quite good.

Plate Lunch
This is one of those foods that is still up in the air as to whether locals eat this regularly. While it looks local, it seems like a carb overload to me. A plate lunch was rice, macaroni salad, meat (in this case chicken steamed in a banana leaf), and those thin clear noodles. In the two cups were some chopped veggies and in the other an octopus salad which was quite delicious.

I did see a few locals eating these and didn't see many tourists eating them but the paring of things full of carbs seemed odd. It was very filling (as one would expect) and was tasty, especially the two salads in the white cups, but it isn't something that I would every crave. I ate this one and then stuck to other foods for the remainder of the trip.


Kelly said...

Well I'd have to pass on most of that, though the Puka Dog sounds very interesting! (I use to prefer hotdogs over hamburgers any day in the week). I've watched enough food shows to be familiar with Poke (not to be confused with 'poke salad' I ate once when I was a child). In fact, the last season of Top Chef had a contestant from Hawaii who often drew from his Filipino roots in his dishes. I wanted him to win, but he came in third.

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

No spam?!?! A lot of the local places on the Big Island serve similar carb filled plates like the one you shared with a couple of slices of fried spam. :)
It looks like you enjoyed a lot of good food. The "best of " Hawaii is lost on me a bit since I can't eat seafood. I know Poke was one of my dad's favorites when they moved there.

Ed said...

Kelly - One of the limitations to being vegan is eating as a local, unless there is a vegan culture somewhere that I'm not aware!

Pumpkin Delight - I actually forgot we did have spam musubi. It was kind of like sushi but with spam. It was actually pretty good. However, being married to someone originally born in the Philippines, a spam-centric economy, I am already used to eating various forms of it from time to time so it wouldn't have impressed me as much as others.

Kelly said...

It doesn't help that I don't like seafood of any type, either. So even before my plant-based days, I would have been limited. I've never been fun to dine out with on the coast since I don't even like the smell of seafood! (and I've honestly tried most everything - just don't like it)

Ed said...

Kelly - As I tell my children when they don't like something, "that just means more for me!"

Leigh said...

Wow, look at all those pictures of food! Now I'm hungry. I do love seafood. I agree about trying the local cuisine - that's half the fun of traveling. Hawaii was one place I never made it to, and it will likely stay that way because I do believe my traveling days are over (because of our critters.)