Okay Canaliens, this is an urgent message, not to be taken lightly; Go to Hawaii. Seriously, start packing (follow Syd’s step-by-step guide here) and get your roaming, roving souls there. Graduated and geared up for your gap-year, or at the very least, travel-bender, before you sign your life away on the dotted line? Go to Hawaii. Only have a week vacay from your 9-5 grind that you keep telling yourself you’re going to quit at the end of the week? Month? Year? Go to Hawaii. Better yet, hand in your notice, you’ve already written it anyway, and GO TO HAWAII.
If these islands aren’t on your travel radar already, I assure you they will be by the end of these articles. We covered Maui, Oahu and Kauai, Maui and Oahu being a couple of the most frequented by travellers along with Big Island (astutely dubbed… yes, it’s the biggest island). We spent a week on each which wasn’t nearly long enough but (unfortunately) we had jobs to return to. We didn’t hit Molokai or Lanai, both considered Maui county, or Big Island (the islands of Kahoolawe and Niihau are a no-go for tourism) so if anyone has, connect with us and tell us your tale! If not, I’ll take one for the team and header back.
So, listen up, here’s why you need to set your sights on Hawaii:
REASON #1: EATS: The poke and the pupu will change your life, for the better
Poke, pronounced “poh-kay” is a Hawaiian dish to die for and pupu, pronounced exactly as you’re saying it in your head right now, “poo-poo”, refers to a snack or appetizer. Calling all my fellow foodies, or anyone who enjoys a good pupu; Hawaii is a must.
Cubed, raw ahi (yellowfin tuna) marinated with soy sauce, sesame oil, limi seaweed, chopped chill pepper, and maui onion, poke is best enjoyed posted up on the beach with a bikini blonde. Other variations include he’e (octopus), my personal favourite: salmon, mussels, crab, and pretty much anything else your heart desires. The dish is clearly influenced by Japanese and Asian-style cuisine as are a lot of other Hawaiian dishes, most notably spam musubi; an exquisite hybrid of Japanese and American cuisine. The best place to to cop this Maui wowie? Any island’s Foodland. Yep, you heard me. Make your own bowl, walk out the front doors across the parking lot and cross the street to mow down and watch the waves.
Another Asian-inspired dish that had us eating without breathing, the occasional “oh-my-god” in between bites: Kalbi. Char-broiled Koren-style short ribs inhaled at Side Street Inn in Honolulu, Oahu. Whether you have a borderline addiction to ribs or not, this local hot spot is a must. A funny spot, the ambiance and the plates don't quite sync. We ordered dishes with presentation and quality (and price) fit for white tablecloths and a bottle of merlot off of plastic menus with our hands wrapped around the pint of the day.
And they brew their own beer! Rogue Sidestreet Inn Ale, available on tap or at one of the zillion ABC Stores or Foodlands that litter the islands. Flavourful but not overpowering, a great complement for Korean Barbecue in all its sweet, savoury, and spicy glory.
Oahu’s eats definitely position it as a heavy-weight contender in the island-off. And you’ll be a heavier weight in leaving it. Prior to hitting Diamond Head U.S State Monument trail for a view of Waikiki, be sure to hit this paint-splattered gem of a food truck:
Ban’an! Check out their instagram: @Bananbowls
Froyo made fresh from locally grown fruit, served in locally grown fruit, these guys are going full circle; farm to table to farm. Not only are they supporting local production in purchasing locally, all of the food-waste the truck produces is brought back to country farms and turned into compost. These delicious and nutritious, next-level treats do more than just pack a punch to your palate, they’re connecting the communities and supporting the land. A cool and conscious company culture, these guys have froyo and ideologies we can get on our boards with.
There is no shortage of food trucks in Oahu, or Hawaii for that matter, but Oahu’s North Shore takes the win here. The food trucks alone are reason to add North Shore to your list (that and it being the surfing mecca of the world). They line the coast and cluster in the towns. I would be counting down the minutes until I didn’t feel obnoxiously full anymore so that I could sprint to another truck to do it all over again.
And of them all, hands-down, first place goes to The Elephant Truck Hawaii. Ya! Thai food! Hawaii is truly a melting pot of cuisine. Mmm… melting pot. After our SUP boarding session down the river in Haleiwa (rent here), the owner’s son recommended it to us when we told him we were looking for a good spot to eat (what else is new). Best food on the island, we were told. I was hesitant. I didn’t want Thai food… I lived off of Thai food for months last year in Thailand… Not going to get better than that. But I was hangry so I gave in and I’m sure glad I did. Home-grown thai food, using locally-soured produce and growing organic thai basil, mint, chillis and lemongrass around the truck... GEM! It was getting late by the time we arrived. They had an adorable candle-lit picnic table/patio set up and our Panang Curry and Kapow was straight from Chang Mai for all I could taste.
Shotty Iphone photo by yours truly (photo creds to the boyfriend)
Moving on to Maui. Everything about this island is perfect and you’re going to fall deeply in love with it the minute you taste your first avocado. There’s a roadside stand, right before Makena beach on the south side of the island, selling local (obviously) avocados, coconuts, mangos and the like. I'm ruined forever. After eating an avocado with a pit the size of our avocados here, pulling it apart with our hands, I’ll never be able to enjoy an avocado here the same way… If anyone is interested in a ripe investment (hehe…), I would like to pursue an avocado farm in Maui as my next venture so holler at me.
Before going to Maui, I was never really down for coconut. I didn't get what all the hype was about… everyone chanting that they’re in love with the coco all the time. I felt like I was missing something. NOW I GET IT. You haven’t tasted coconut until you’ve tasted it from Maui.
I’M IN LOVE WITH THE COCO!
Another roadside stand not to be missed. This girl just radiated happiness. But how could you not being born and raised in Maui?
In keeping with the roadside eats, we pulled over at the Nahiku Marketplace along the Road to Hana (details on the Hana Highway journey later). Located at Mile Marker 29 (of 64 FYI), 6 miles before Hana Town, we “snacked” (feasted) on some kālua pork and fish tacos from the Island Style Tacos stand. All hail kālua pork. Kālua is a traditional Hawaiian cooking method utilizing an “imu”, a type of underground oven. That image of a luau with Hawaiian girls in coconut bikini tops and grass skirts that you have in your head when you picture Hawaii? Kālua pig is what’s being served. And luau, in Hawaiian, is actually the name of the taro leaf, like spinach, which the pig is cooked with. As for the girls? Keep dreamin'. Grab a cup of Maui coffee and some famous banana bread from the charming little Nahiku Cafe before continuing on the road.
Add Mexican to the melting pot
Maui is home to the freshest (understatement) and most exotic produce… lychee, longan, rambutan, cherimoya, atemoya, soursop, chico sapodilla… the list goes on and on. And the best place to score these sweet (and sour) treats-of-the-earth? Mana Foods Maui. Located in Paia, a paradisiac surfer town which I will also be getting to later, this one stop shop for natural and organic goods supplies everything from produce to meats, raw foods to health and beauty products. And they don’t just toss ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ around, it’s ingrained in their mission, vision and biodegradable plastic-wear and to-go containers made from corn. Their meats and deli sandwiches are packaged with compostable gluten-free trays made from wheat stalks and the store’s lighting uses LED lights throughout to conserve energy. Mana Foods supports sustainable production and consumption sourcing goods from over 400 local vendors who even return to collect their compost.
We would roam the colourful isles, throwing the oddest looking produce we could find into our baskets (and believe me, there were some interesting options). A word of advice: if there’s a sign hanging over the basket of outlandish-looking mystery fruit reading “Do Not Eat Until Ripe”… DO NOT EAT UNTIL RIPE.
After a day exploring everything the valley island has to offer, which will have you crawling back to your hostel by the time it's done with you, we would ravenously attack Mana Food’s deli. Made fresh daily by their many masterful chefs, dishes include everything from tropical Thai specialties to local favourites (Kālua pork Kālua pork Kāluaaa pork).
Daily hostel breaky courtesy of Mana
And of course, being the 50th and most recent U.S state to join the United States, Hawaii brings that good old, mouth-watering, belly-patting American cuisine to the (picnic) table. We arrived late to Kauai fatigued and famished so we meandered towards the lone light next to our hostel. Refuge was found. To our delight, the light was a food truck (the odds were in our favour here) and not just any food truck… a Chicken in a Barrel food truck. These trucks (one in Kapaa, one in Hanalei) became a daily destination and we could spot that chicken riding that wave (aka barrel, snaps for the pun) a mile away. This family owned and run truck does smoked barbecue like none other. Using a custom-made 50-gallon drum Barrel Smoker, these artisans will craft for you the best burrito you will ever experience. Yes, that’s right. The quest is over. The BEST BURRITO has been found.
What you know about burritos??
Revived, we moseyed a little further, following the sound of tunes this time. We found ourselves amidst the hub of Kauai’s nightlife. Aka a Kombucha and Jun truck accompanied by a makeshift bar and some plywood set down serving the purpose of a stage. I’m probably speaking gibberish to some of you right now so I’ll back up. Kombucha is a fermented tea, produced by a “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast" (SCOBY).The yeast component includes a probiotic fungus and the bacterial component oxidizes yeast-produced alcohols to acetic and other acids. Fun fact: this concoction only began to be commercially bottled and available in North American retail stores in the late 1990s. Why the heck do you want to be drinking fungus and bacteria? Kombucha is promoted with claims to support digestion, stimulate the immune system and treat a wide variety of illnesses. Or, according to the glassy-eyed buch-tender floating around behind the bar, kombucha has “alllllll the health benefits” …his constant stream of chuckles mixing in with the lazy chatter as he bounces off to another group huddled over the bar.
Jun is a kombucha brew utilizing honey rather than granulated sugar as the sweetener. Or again, as our new friend the buch-tender describes, “the champagne of kombucha”. As the keg’s contents were poured into our plastic cups, or self-served from a communal bowl, the very diverse crowd nodded their heads apathetically to the man and his guitar on the “stage” or hula-hooped off towards the beach.
If you’d prefer to enjoy your beverage from a more legitimate source, start your day with a cold-pressed, organic, locally-sourced juice or elixir from Kauai Juice Co. Located in Kapaa and very conveniently next to an all-natural, raw foods bakery, I was obsessed and dragged my (very patient) boyfriend here daily.
BOOM all the health benefits
While the health benefits may be lacking, the selection of beers offered up on these islands are another main event. Our favourites were Maui Brewing Co.’s handcrafted ales and lagers. The Bikini Blonde Lager, the closest thing to a Canadian Lager but with a bolder, smooth taste. The Coconut Porter, brewed with hand-toasted coconut with a rich, silky feel and hoppy spice taste. The Mana Wheat, a crisp and refreshing wheat ale with a fruity sweetness. And my personal favourite, the Big Swell IPA, a smooth, malty Pale Ale with a big burst of hop.
Not sold on Hawaii yet? That’s fine, I’ve only just gotten started. Check us out next week and make sure you've renewed your passport.
Want more Hawaii? Continue this series with Part II.