In the Hawaiian language, ono means delicious, and it’s the perfect word to describe Hawai’i nei. Ryan and I have traveled to Hawai’i separately during our youth, but this is our first trip to the island together. The motivation for our trip was a friend’s wedding. Arthur, Ryan’s college buddy, gave us the honor of being a groomsman at our wedding, and Ryan returned the honor by being a groomsman at his wedding. Suffice it to say that now, we’re all equally honored.
Ryan and I began our island vacation at the Big Island and stayed in Hilo with my Dad’s very welcoming cousins. The “aloha spirit” is genuine and contagious. It’s indeed world-class, top-notch hospitality. I suppose when one lives in a tropical island surrounded by beautiful vistas and beaches, filled with colorful flora and fauna, where the residents are relaxed and laid-back, and where good food abounds, it’s hard not to feel good.
Speaking of good food there are a few people worth thanking whose ono cooking and/or ono local food and eatery suggestions were a godsend. My Hilo relatives: Aunt Betty, “ate” Beth, Aunt Jocelyn, “Lola” Levry, “Lola” Nita, Aunt Tina along with Aunt Evelyn, and Aunt Marisol are all great home cooks. Then there’s Uncle Pepe who harvested ‘opihi for us. I should also mention two Washington State resident friends, LeAnne and Bryce, who are both Big Island locals whose food stories of their hometown subconsciously influenced our own opinion of Hawaiian cuisine – not that we didn’t love it already. Then there’s my O’ahu relatives: Aunt Lisa, Lola Carr, and Aunt Digna who put together a dinner for us and gave a tip for a good malasadas joint. As for eatery suggestions, our sources are: our friend Chris T., an O’ahu local living in Seattle; Derek, a Californian foodie on a business trip in Hawai’i, who we met in Chinatown while we were food window shopping; and our friend, Arthur, who talked about Macky’s at North Shore as if it’s the best shrimp truck. And it is. I’d be remiss if I don’t mention Aku of Aku Eats. If there’s a guy who knows O’ahu’s food scene, he’s definitely the kane. Mahalo nui everyone!
Hawaiian local cuisine is wonderful and diverse, just like the people of Hawaii. It is indigenous Hawaiian foods happily intermingling with Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Portuguese foods. Incredibly ono.
So… Aloha and explore the diverse gastronomy of the Big Island and O’ahu with my relatives and friends.
October 7, 2010
Our food exploration of local cuisine started at Aunt Betty’s and Uncle Jeffer’s home, where my father’s relatives put together a welcome dinner for us. We had an early afternoon arrival, with a flight from Seattle to Honolulu then to Hilo, and not getting a chance to eat a proper lunch, we were starving when dinnertime came around . Dinner for the night consisted of: Meat and Vegetable Chow Mein, Fried Chicken, Chop Suey, Beef and Broccoli, Beef Stew, and fresh-from-my-aunt-and-uncle’s-garden Papaya. Most of the dishes were take-out except for the beef stew and the papaya.
The food was delicious. But the shining star was the papaya. Hrmm, how to explain its rich, sweet, buttery, fruity goodness… Excellent. I just did.
October 8, 2010
Yet another family dinner. But who’s complaining, eh. The dinner was held at Aunt Marisol and Uncle Randy’s place. After a day touring Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and the Macadamia Nut Factory, we were ready for a serious sit-down meal. My relatives do not disappoint. With Aunt Marisol at the helm, another local eats feast was prepared. On the table were: Lumpia, Grilled Mackerel, Milkfish, and Tilapia, Chicken Stew with Green Papaya and Bitter Melon Leaves, Pansit, Seafood Stew, and Steamed ‘Opihi seasoned with shoyu.
All were delicious and I’d have gone for a third plate were it not for feeling full from eating too fast. I normally eat slowly, except when I’m really hungry. The dishes that moved me were the chicken stew (because I love bitter melon leaves!) and the ‘opihi. Harvesting the simple-shelled mollusks takes some skill since it can get quite dangerous. ‘Opihi can be found on the underside of rocks along the shore where the waves crash and pound. You can only imagine how able-footed and careful one has to be when gathering the tasty limpets.
Coolest activities ever: Touring National Volcanoes Park and walking through a lava tunnel.
October 9, 2010
The way to Kona from Hilo takes about two hours. For the locals, that is a pretty long drive. On the day that we planned to visit with Aunt Tina (who is also my younger sister’s godmother), Ironman Hawaii was happening. Traffic was diverted and getting to Kona was next to impossible. Eventually, we did arrive at our destination, but along the way we stopped by breathtaking scenic points, visited Akaka Falls State Park and Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, purchased a cup o’ joe at Royal Kona Museum and Coffee Mill, got inspired by the Ironman athletes, and had a light lunch of Saimin, Loco Moco, and Malasadas at Tex Drive In, the only eatery Ryan and I checked out in the Big Island.
Tex Drive In and Restaurant: 45-690 Pakalana St Highway 19, Honokaa, HI 96727
Why eat out when the relatives kept preparing ono meals for us. Though we had to try Tex Drive In since it happens to be a big hit with the relatives and a popular restaurant with the locals. I got a saimin and the Hubz got a loco moco; both hit the spot. But it’s the malasadas that got my attention. Delicious, fluffy goodness. Plain or filled, it is a heavenly bread. I do believe the archangel was over my shoulder wishing and hoping I’d share. Get your own, Gabriel. Not sharing my malasadas is worth going to hell for.
Aunt Tina, with the help of her niece, Evelyn and her husband, prepared Lumpia, Sautéed Shrimp, Filipino style Grilled Eggplant and Tomato warm salad, Grilled Beef, Kare Kare (a Filipino beef curry stew),and Pinakbet (a stew made with okra, squash, bitter melon, and long beans flavored with garlic and fish sauce). Suman, which are sticky rice cakes steamed in banana leaves, were brought by Aunt Betty. We were tired by the time we arrived at Aunt Tina’s but the food was good and gave us second wind.
Coolest activity ever: Watching Ironman.
October 10, 2010
On our last night at Hilo, my relatives pulled out all the stops and cooked a feast of Filipino dishes that nearly made me cry. The women are such fabulous cooks and Ryan and I are honored to have been the center of attention and be the reason behind the yummy spread that they put together.
During the day, ate (pronounced ah-te which means older sister in Tagalog) Beth took us to the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center at University of Hawaii – Hilo. From October 5th until the 10th, ‘Imiloa showcased 50 digital planetarium films for their first Fulldome Film Festival. We were lucky to catch the tail-end of the event and to watch a film called “We Are Astronomers”, narrated by the talented David Tennant and also a collaboration of respected British universities (UCL, my recent alma mater, among them) provided content for the film. Thanks to ate Beth’s membership, we got to watch three films which we chose from a list of 8-10. After ‘Imiloa, we went to a small open market at downtown Hilo where tables and tables of beautiful produce attracted our attention. We then parted ways with ate Beth, but her husband, son, and Aunt Betty’s daughter, Jebe, took over the duty of showing us around. We all ended up going to a grocery to buy sandwiches, ahi poke, and a six-pack of (wait for it) a Northwestern brewed blueberry-infused beer. Ironic? You betcha. We should have picked up a Kona Brewing Company beer, but noooo. Instead we opted for the one with a slutty-looking blue hippo on the packaging. We had lunch at 4 Mile Beach and after we downed the goods, we changed to our swimsuits and went for a swim. That’s right superstitious folks, we violated that fundamental rule of “never swim after eating”. Some rules are meant to be broken. Because we smelled of food, we attracted the sea turtles and they ventured towards the shore and swam along us. I joke about the reason why the sea turtles came towards the shore, but no joke about swimming with the sea turtles. And no, we did not touch them. The sea turtles are protected under Hawai’i law and touching them is forbidden. Consider it kapu. Swimming with the honu was such an amazing experience. To think that we had an unexpected meeting while others pay to swim with aquatic animals at marine parks – it makes our experience even more awe-inspiring.
The evening began with an amazing dinner of Mung Beans with Greens, Chicken Stew with Green Papaya and Bitter Melon Leaves, Fish Stew, Kare Kare, Miki (a noodle dish reminiscent of curried udon), Katuday Salad (which are flowers from scarlet wisteria a.ka. S. grandiflora with tomatoes and seasoned with fish sauce), and Achara which is a pickled salad made with grated green papaya, carrots, and onion). On the side was Karyoka/Karkason, which is deep-fried rice flour dough dusted with sugar. Dinner was followed by a couple of fun hours of karaoke and then packing. At an ungodly hour the following day, we left for O’ahu.
Coolest activities ever: Watching the planetarium films and swimming with the honu.
Stay tuned for our O’ahu sojourn stories…