Sampling Island Delicacies

My friend Kristen over at My Kids Eat Squid, is hosting a giveaway (for bison!) and in her post she asks readers to share one of the most unusual things they’ve eaten. I didn’t have to think back too far for my answer. On a recent youth group camping trip along the Kohala Coast of the Big Island, Hawaii’s rocky shoreline offered up a chance to try something new and unexpected.

“You want to try?” Lanakila asked, holding his knife out to me. On it was a bit of yellow…something. Looking past his knife to where he’d been working I could see the cracked remains of a haukiuki, a type of sea urchin.

Several kids stood around the campsite, lightly dusted with drying sea salt, hair still wet from swimming in the ocean. They clearly expected me to give this one a pass, none more so than my own 17 year old. I reached out and took the bit of yellow from his knife and put it in my mouth. Salty. Mushy. Meh. I wouldn’t go clambering over rocks to find more for dinner, but if there was no dinner? Good to know this creature’s innards are palatable.

Auntie Maile, on the other hand was in heaven. I know this because as she sampled little bits of haukiuki and opihi, she sighed, closed her eyes and repeated, “Oh! I’m in heaven!”

Being Party to a Chant

Last Friday I found myself standing in the middle of a muddy field as a light rain fell. All around me kids were working – or putting forth lots of effort as they tried to look like they were working. The kids had, for the last six weeks, participated in a Hawaiian cultural program and today we were prepping for their ho‘ike, a gathering to share the knowledge they’d gained.

Some of us erected tents to protect the guests from the intermittent rain while others tended to the imu, or underground oven. Kids cleared the area of debris, gathered banana stalks (to be turned into plates for the evening meal), and I taught some of the kids to make pu‘olo. Mind you, until an hour before, I hadn’t known how to make these ti leaf bundles filled with vegetables for the imu, but this is no surprise. It’s kind of an expectation that once a person learns a skill, they pass it on.

Then, over the noise of our activity, we caught the sound of a chant. The frenetic buzz of preparation stopped almost instantly. At the base of a hill, the entrance to the ho‘ike site, stood a man lifting his voice in spine tingling chant. Very few of the people on hand were fluent in Hawaiian, but it was clear that this chant was one of greeting, with the visitor asking permission to enter the site. The chant commanded our attention, as kids who, moments before couldn’t contain themselves, stood still, respectfully listening to this time honored tradition of Hawaiian protocol. And as tradition requires, Makua, the leader of our group responded in kind, chanting his permission and message of welcome to the visitor in Hawaiian.

The guest entered, the kids returned to work (or pretending to), and the rain came again.  But I stood for a moment more, absorbing the energy of those chants as it echoed from the trees.

(Photo credit: Perfect Box)

Tasty Treats Made in Hawaii

Leaving the Hawaiian Islands behind after a beautiful vacation can be bittersweet. While your bright blue umbrella drink isn’t going to pass customs, you can take the flavor of the islands home with you in the form of some locally sourced, locally made sweet treats. Neatly packaged and ready to go, these cookies, candies, and snacks are the perfect foil to your back to work blues.

Honolulu Cookie Company – That box of pineapple shaped, chocolate dipped macadamia nut shortbread you bought for Auntie Grace? It’s going to be so tempting, right there in your carry on. Better get one for yourself, too. It’s a good thing there are a dozen different locations in Hawaii where you can pick up sweet treats from the Honolulu Cookie Company. On Maui, look for them in Whaler’s Village. On Oahu, you’ll find retail stores inside the Waikiki Beach Marriott and the Hyatt Regency Waikiki.

Island Princess – While the Macadamia Popcorn Crunch from Island Princess is the go-to snack for many visitors, I’m a hardcore Mele Mac girl, myself. Chocolate, toffee, and mac nuts. What’s not to love? Island Princess products are well distributed throughout the islands, available at retail outlets like the ever-present ABC Stores and Costco. If you really want to delve into all things Island Princess, consider a stop at their factory store located near the Honolulu Airport.

Photo: istolethetv

Big Island Candies – Greet me at the door with coffee and chocolate and I’m yours. That’s just what they do at Big Island Candies on Hawai‘i Island. And if munching on free samples isn’t enough, you can watch through glass windows as workers hand dip the shortbread that’s made on site. Want to take a real island inspired treat back home? Consider the chocolate dipped iki, or chewy cuttlefish.

Here’s perhaps the best news of all. Even if your trip to the islands is still at the pie-in-the-sky dream stage right now, every one of these sweet spots offers online shopping. Aloha, delivered right to your door!

Monico’s Taqueria on Kauai

Following a morning of paddling up the Wailua River, Monico’s Taqueria was a spontaneous choice for lunch. Tucked away in the Kinipopo Shopping Center in Kapa‘a it’s an easy place to miss. I recommend you don’t. For weeks following our simple meal, I was tempted to hop back on a plane just to taste the fish tacos one more time. Since my budget isn’t set up for such frivolity, I settled for telling people about it. You’re planning a trip to Kauai? Oh, you MUST get to Monico’s for fish tacos!

Mind you, I’d never been a fish taco person. Fish? Yes. Tacos? Yes. But together? Not so much. Monico’s fish tacos, made with the day’s fresh catch and topped with a creamy jalapeno sauce, have changed the way I read a menu. Whereas in the past I would dismiss the fish tacos without a second glance, now I ponder the possibilities. Could these fish tacos be as good as those from Monico’s? Is that possible? And more importantly, dare I risk being disappointed if they’re not? While I’ve found some decent fish tacos in my quest, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll simply have to get to Kauai again soon.

If you go: The restaurant is itty bitty, with just a few tables inside (where drinks are served) and casual patio dining under shade trees. No alcohol is served outside. Monico’s is closed for a couple of hours in the afternoon, from 3-5 pm. Located on Kuhio Highway (Kauai).

Oahu’s Famous Shrimp Trucks

Photo: permanently scatterbrained

Oahu’s north shore is famous for big wave surfing, but another reason to make the drive to “the country” is for the food. Specifically? Shrimp. The road between Kualoa and the famous surf town of Haleiwa is peppered with Crayola bright shrimp trucks and hand-lettered signs. Just the kind of establishment that visitors might hesitate to visit. Take a risk though; pull off the side of the road and you’ll be rewarded with arguably the best shrimp you’ve ever tasted.

Fumi’s Kahuku Shrimp: Shrimp is harvested daily at Fumi’s and in addition to the cooked options, guests can take live shrimp home for dinner. The popular shrimp truck offers nearly a dozen different preparations. My money’s on the deep-fried coconut shrimp. Demand for Fumi’s shrimp led them to expand into a larger, more permanent structure, but just a few hundred yards away, the original truck is still in operation.

Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck: Arguably the least attractive of the north shore shrimp establishments, the graffiti-covered truck may also be the most well-known. Pull up a plastic chair under the temporary awning and dig in to the most casual shrimp scampi meal you’ve ever ordered. Service here can be hit or miss, but décor notwithstanding, if you’re traveling Kamehameha Highway, it’s worth a stop.

Romy’s Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp: Housed in a vivid red shack (not a truck) Romy’s offers up shrimp they’ve raised themselves. Large prawns doused in butter and garlic require plenty of napkins. The shrimp is excellent – but not fast, as this sign in the window proclaims: This is not a fast food. This is good food, as fast as we can make it. Guests order from an outside window and dine at picnic tables.

Hiking Kalopa State Recreation Area

About an hour’s drive from the famed Kohala Coast resort area and beaches, Kalopa State Recreation Area and Forest Reserve offers visitors a different view of the island. Situated three miles inland from Mamalahoa Highway at the 2,000-foot elevation, visitors to the park enjoy the kind of quiet and solitude that’s rare on busy beaches. Expansive lawns and picnic tables make this a perfect place to hang out with good friends (or a book). But perhaps a bigger attraction are the hiking trails.

The Kalopa Gulch Trail System borders (no big surprise) the Kalopa Gulch, offering views down into the 150 to 200-foot deep gulch an occasional glimpses of pools of water. What you might not expect to hear is this: Kalopa Gulch (and nearby Hanaipo Gulch) were “formed largely by meltwater from the Pleistocene glacial icecap of Mauna Kea.” Glaciers! In Hawai‘i!

What a gorgeous hike this is. We made our way up and down fern-lined trails through stands of eucalyptus, silk oak, paperbark, ironwood, and tropical ash – and saw only one other hiker.

The trail is moderate in difficulty, mostly due to a few steep (but short) climbs. We hiked along a portion of the Perimeter Rim Trail and then cut back to the cabins via a trail that bisects the reserve. That section of the trail is about four miles long and took us two hours to complete. I was hiking with teenagers who maneuvered the trail’s ups and downs easily, but if that sounds like too much of a hike for your family, there is also an easy family nature hike (0.7-mile loop trail) that takes you through a native ‘ohi’a forest, perfect for introducing younger kids to the plants of the area and the fun of hiking.

The park offers a couple of camping options, too. Tent camping is allowed on a large grassy area of the park, or there are group cabins:

These accommodations consist of 8-person units provided with bunk beds, toilet facilities, and hot shower. A centrally located recreational dining hall is equipped for cooking and serving the entire group. Furnishings include a gas range, water heater, refrigerator, freezer, limited dishes, cooking and eating utensils, tables and chairs, as well as restrooms.  NOTE: As of October 1, 2009, linen, bedding and towels are no longer provided in the Kalopa cabins.

Rates: $55 per night for 8-person cabins, special rates for large groups.

Entrance to the park is free, however there is a requested donation (get out your purse…) of twenty-five cents for each person who uses the trail.

Hawaii Brew Pubs Serve Up Island Flavor

If you’re one of those people who seek out microbreweries wherever you go, you’ll be happy to know that even way out here in the Pacific you can find a good brew. Whether your trip brings you to Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, or Kauai, seek out locally flavored ales, IPAs, and porters at these island brew pubs.

Kona Brewing Co. – With locations on the Big Island and Oahu, you’ve got two chances to try the fine brews from the folks at Kona Brewing Co while you’re in Hawaii. The brewery is located at the Kona facility where free tours are available. The pub on Oahu is outside of the bustling Waikiki area in the Koko Marina Center. The Pipeline Porter is a must-try if dark beer is your thing: brewed with 100% Kona coffee grown on the Big Island, the distinct coffee flavor might tempt you to switch up your morning routine.

Big Aloha Brewery – Famed island restaurateur Sam Choy brings plenty of aloha to his dining establishments, but you might be surprised to learn that he does beer, too. Big Aloha Brewery situated within Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch and Crab location, features a variety of beers from brewmaster David Campbell. Of note is the Kiawe Honey Porter, brewed with locally harvested kiawe honey. Monthly brewer’s dinners feature a five-course meal and a chance to try six different brews.

Maui Brewing Co. – How can you go wrong with a Bikini Blonde? That’s just one of the brews on tap at the Maui Brewing Co. pub. Their award-winning Black Pearl is a coconut porter aged in rum barrels, with notes of dark rum, toasted coconut, and molasses. Sounds like the perfect beer for Captain Jack Sparrow and his crew, doesn’t it?

Waimea Brewing Company – Located on the island of Kauai at the historic Waimea Plantation Cottages, the Waimea Brewing Company has about eight different beers on tap at any time. Choose from Waialalale Ale, named for Kauai’s famously wet mountain where average rainfalls top 425 inches each year. Enjoy your ice cold beverage with creative multi-ethnic pub fare, including fish dishes and island style pupus (hors d’oeuvres).  Sixty-four ounce growlers are available if you’d like to take your beer to go.

(photo credit: flickr user hawaii o58)