Monday, April 13, 2015

Fooding in O'ahu, Hawaii

Almost everybody I know who has been to Hawaii has told me that other than enjoying the gorgeous weather, all you can really do there is hang out on the beach and indulge in ocean-related activities, and people who claim to be foodies tell me that the food is very mediocre. Well, if you just stay in the hotel/resort, sure, that's all you can do, and the food is bound to be not just mediocre, but quite sad (big difference between resort food in India and resort food here)! When I visit a new place, I like to go out and explore, and soak in the culture of that place as much as I can. And being a foodie, I of course like to check out local food. Thankfully the family has realized the joys of venturing out too.  

Here's a snippet of our fooding while in O'ahu:

Highlight 1: 

Ko Olina Hawaiian Bar-b-que: 

Went to the Hawaiian BBQ place near the resort without expecting much. Surprisingly, it was actually very tasty! The Loco Moco was in fact extremely delicious. Loco Moco is a Hawaiian dish that comprises of white rice, topped with a hamburger patty, and an egg (sunny side up, or fried- your choice), and all this is smothered in a delicious (usually brown) gravy. The garlic mahi mahi and the garlic shrimp were very delicious too. The garlic sauce is to die-for! Super garlicky, and yet mellow. Their lunch plate comes with a side of macaroni salad, which was nice and cooling in that heat- and the vegetable is one lettuce leaf! ;) For taste, I'd give it full points. Price-wise- now clearly Hawaii is not cheap. A regular plate lunch is anywhere from $12 to $15.

The menu

Plate Lunch Menu

Garlic Shrimp- with 1 lettuce leaf ;) 

Garlic Mahi Mahi- delicious!! 
Loco Moco (ref: 12850507203_7393638144_o.jpg)

Highlight 2:

Little Village:

This restaurant is located in China Town, and as you enter, you might hesitate a little bit just by the looks of the inside. There are chairs that have been duct taped, and the general look is not that great. But never judge a book by its cover! The fried rice looked pretty plain, for being called "The Mother of All Fried Rice." They make it with salted fish and minced chicken. But one spoonful into the mouth, and there was a flavor explosion, literally! It was oh-so-delicious!! The Shoyu Tofu with Leek and Chili was amazing- the tofu looked almost like thick noodles, and was beautifully firm. The shrimp sizzler was delightful. All the food was gobbled up in no time! The service was very good, the people were friendly enough, and above all, the food was crazy good. So good that we went there a second time for dinner! This time I tried eggplant tofu curry, which I was afraid would be sweet (most Chinese restaurants here sweeten up their sauces, that I am not a fan of). So with a bit of suspicion, I put an eggplant into my mouth. Imagine my joy when I tasted real curry flavor, without any sweetness- mm, it was superb! They had used both purple and green eggplant, with nice and firm tofu, and it was very delicious indeed. Overall, awesome food, great service, and as for the price- we've already established the fact that Hawaii is not a cheap place for eating out (or even groceries, for that matter).

The Menu

Some of the dishes on the menu

Shrimp Sizzler

Shoyu Tofu with Leek and Chili

Eggplant Tofu Curry

Highlight 3: 

Food Trucks in Northshore/Haleiwa, Kamehameha Hwy:

Utterly glad that we decided to check out this gem of a place, filled with food trucks including Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, Dat Cajun Guy, 'Okina Cafe, Snow Factory, VJ's (burgers and tacos), and a couple more. I wanted to try the Hawaiian specialty- the poke bowl. Poke is basically raw fish combined with soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, and sweet onions. A poke bowl consists of this marinated raw fish over plain steamed rice, and topped with fried wonton. Now I am not a big fan of sushi or sashimi. Or I guess, more precisely, I prefer my seafood cooked. So I wasn't sure if I'd be able to eat this stuff, but I simply had to, as it was on my to-eat-in-Hawaii-list. One bite, and I was bowled over! That ahi just melted in my mouth! There was nothing fishy about it at all, which means it was fresh as a daisy (well, OK, freshly caught fish, in this case!). The fried wonton added a nice crunch factor, and I thoroughly enjoyed that ahi poke bowl. I of course had to take a bite of everybody's food. Giovanni's Shrimp Scampi was ridiculously delicious, as was the "No Return Spicy Shrimp." The spicy shrimp was very spicy indeed, but a bit too acidic. I'd cut down on the vinegar, but it was delicious nevertheless, with the shrimp cooked to perfection. Be prepared to use your hands to peel off the shell- it could get a bit messy. The mahi mahi tacos were alright- could have used more seasoning. So the tacos, I'd say, weren't that great. 

We tried another Hawaiian specialty- the combined shave ice, cookies and cream flavor. The lady told us that it was 50% shave ice, and 50% dairy. Whatever it was, it was astoundingly delicious, almost like cotton candy ice cream, in fact even better. It is definitely the best dessert I have eaten in a long time! Oh, and we tried the other famous Hawaiian parfait- The Acai Bowl. To be honest, I think it is a bit overrated. Frozen acai berries are blended with a liquid such as coconut milk or almond milk and made into a scoopable smoothie, then topped with granola, followed by sliced bananas, strawberries, and maybe a few blueberries. It sure looks very pretty. But that's about it. I am not sure why it is a such a big deal. But that's just my opinion. All in all, this food truck spot is highly recommended. 

Tip: Be prepared to shell out a good amount of cash. A couple trucks accept credit cards, but cash is preferred. Again, even though these are food trucks, it is not a cheap affair (especially if you are a  foodie family of four!). 

Giovanni's Shrimp Truck

Shrimp Scampi

"No Return" Spicy Shrimp

Ahi Poke Bowl
Melt-in-mouth Ahi
Mahi Mahi Tacos, with garlic sour cream

Cookies and Cream Combo Shave Ice

Acai Berry Bowl 

Highlight 4: 

Kua'Aina Sandwiches and Burgers: 

We just happened to spot this place. It was late, and we were exhausted roaming around in the heat. We had gone to Diamond Head Crater earlier that afternoon. What they claim to be a "hike" is really just walking up a bunch of steps, and passing through a concrete lighted tunnel that is 225 feet long, followed by more steps. First stairway consists of 74 steps, second stairway has 99 steps, and then finally 52-54 more to reach the summit. The view is spectacular. 

So anyway, we thought burgers and sandwiches for dinner might not be a bad idea. Once again, what a surprisingly good place- the food was delicious! I again opted for mahi mahi, and it was great. We got an order of fries to share- they were shoestring fries, perfectly seasoned. They actually scoop out half an avocado and put it in your sandwich- it is beautiful. The burgers and sandwiches also come with grilled onions, some lettuce, and tomatoes. Come to think of the price, this was actually very well priced- probably the cheapest food we ate during our entire trip. So there, great food at a decent price- we were happy! 

Kua'Aina- born in the same year as me! ;) 

Mm mm! 
The mahi mahi is right there, under the avocado and onion....

Other than the Food: 

I found the general atmosphere to be tranquil. The hand gesture, "shaka," is so cool. I wish people around here too would start using the "shaka" while driving rather than getting all upset and sticking up their middle fingers at each other! ;) The place reminded me of Delhi and Bangalore (India), places I grew up in- mostly because of the vegetation all around. Hibiscus seems to be growing wild. Not to forget, those beautiful, colorful and fragrant flowers are everywhere too. And oh, my old favorite, bougainvillea! That place sure is a tropical paradise for plants. We got to attend an evening of music and hula (traditional Hawaiian dance form), and it was marvelous. The hula is such a graceful dance, and every move has a meaning, which is just lovely. The two young men who showed off their ukulele skills were excellent. What a show it was! 

We also visited the historic Pearl Harbor. The movie about USS Arizona was quite moving. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to visit the memorial itself because of strong winds that day. The other places we went to were the very beautiful Tantalus Lookout, the serene Valley of the Temples, and Diamond Head Crater. Other than that, we drove around the place, and just kept going, "ah, ooh, wow!" at everything we saw (especially yours truly- I tend to get a bit too carried away, you see....!). 

Hawaii is more than just the blue ocean, beautiful weather, and gorgeous sunsets. There is so much more to see, and experience there. And this is just the island of O'ahu we are talking about. 


More flowers


Going back to food- to summarize, the Hawaiian food scene is in fact quite spectacular, with an abundance of seafood, as well as fruits, of course, and veggie options too. In fact, I'd say the food options there are very healthy. O'ahu is full of fruit trees, including papaya, mango, plantain, pomegranate, etc. I think I spotted a few lemon trees too. And how can I forget those coconut trees? And of course there are pineapples growing everywhere. They also grow coffee- though I am not too crazy about Kona Coffee- it is much too light for my palate. I also realize now that food doesn't always have to be smothered in spices (now that's something for this ghost pepper fan!).

Plantain, with flower and all

The only two foodie things I couldn't do were attending a Luau where they roast a whole Kahlua pig, and eating poi. Well, there's always a next time!

My souvenir- Hawaiian Rice Paddle (made in China!) 

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