If you are planning to travel someplace warm this winter may I suggest Honolulu? For the food, of course. Honolulu cusine is an enchanting blend of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Polynesian cooking.
Five Regional Honolulu Favorites and Where to Eat ‘Em:
Saimin at Palace Saimin:
Saimin is a Hawaiin noodle soup dish inspired by Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino noodle dishes. Soft wheat egg noodles are served in hot broth with various garnishes such as green onions, sliced spam, fish cake, nori, and more. At Palace Saimin they’ve been making their specialty for 70 years.
Kame Ige, a Japanese immigrant, opened the restaurant in 1945. In 1975 she passed the business on to one of her waitresses, Setsuko Arakaki, and in 2011 her daughter Susan Nakagawa took on the business. They simmer their broth for hours every morning — pork, pork bones and beef tendon. The cement floor, cinder block walls, and neon sign stating “saimin and Bar-BQ” shout hole-in-the-wall. And you know what that means — the focus is on the food not the decor.
Poke at Ono Seafood:
Poke is typically cubed raw tuna marinated with sea salt, soy sauce, roasted and crushed candlenut, sesame oil, seaweed and chopped chili pepper. Poke variations may include octopus, raw tuna, raw salmon and other kinds of sashimi. Toppings include sliced or diced onion, hot sauce, chopped tomatoes, flying fish roe, garlic, and different types of seaweed.
Ono Seafood is another hole-in-the-wall, located in the ground floor of a low-rise apartment complex, tucked back from the road. One of the things that makes Ono special, is that unlike many poke places, their poke is made to order– not sitting in a cooler ready to go. With about six items on the menu, poke is truly their specialty. You can get either ahi or octopus with a few different sauces. Get the combo and enjoy two different flavors. Your poke comes with a drink and for two usually comes to about $15 dollars.
Spam Musubi at Mana Bu’s:
Spam musubi is a snack food composed of grilled spam on top of, or in between, blocks of sushi rice, wrapped together with nori seaweed. There are many variations. Sometimes furikake (dry Japanese seasoning) is mixed into the rice, scrambled eggs are sometimes added between the spam and the rice, and sometimes pickled daikon radish is added. Instead of Spam, sometimes the musubi might have hot dog, fried shrimp, chicken teriyaki, chicken katsu, or pork cutlet as the main ingredient. Condiments are usually soy sauce or Japanese mayo.
Manabu-san and his wife work overnight before opening and serve musubi until they run out around noon. The couple makes around 1000 musubi per night. Almost everyone agree’s that it’s worth getting up early as Mana Bu’s is the best on the island.
Kalua Pig at Helena’s Hawaiin Food:
Kalua pig takes its name from the method in which it is cooked. Kalua style food is cooked in an underground oven (imu) and is typically served at a luau. Traditionally a mesquite wood fire is built in a dirt pit. Rocks are placed in the pit to retain heat. Once the rocks are very hot, the hole is lined with banana leaves. The pig is salted, stuffed with more hot rocks, then wrapped with banana leaves. The meat is covered with wet burlap, then with sand or soil. Then the meat cooks for six to seven hours, absorbing smoke and steam from the mesquite and banana leaves. When the meat is fully cooked it is shredded.
If you aren’t going to go to a luau the best place to eat Kalua pig (cooked traditionally in an imu) is Helena’s. Helena Chock opened doors in 1946. In 2000 the James Beard foundation honored the restaurant with the Regional Classic Award. Today the restaurant is run by Helena’s grandson Katsuyoshi. Helena’s is a simple and unpretentious eatery serving hearty tripe and beef stews, poi, long rice chicken, fried ahi, lomi salmon, and, of course, Kalua pig.
Loco Moco at Rainbow Drive-in:
Traditional loco moco consists of white rice, with a hamburger patty, fried egg and brown gravy. There are many variations including chili, bacon, ham, spam, kalua pork, teriyaki beef or chicken, mahi-mahi, shrimp, oysters and other meats.
Seiju Ifuku, the founder of Rainbow Drive-In, learned to cook while in the Army, during World War II. In 1961 he and his wife, Ayako, opened the restaurant serving 50-cent chili with rice plates, $1 barbecue steak plate lunches, 25-cent hamburgers and 14-cent French fries — food that was geared to the working person. The portions are large, the food is handmade and the prices are reasonable. Where else should you enjoy a classic diner dish like loco moco, than a true to life 1960s drive-in?
Not going to Hawaii this winter? Here is my loco moco cheat.
4 cups cooked rice
4 cooked ball park burger patties
4 fried eggs
1 10.5 can beef gravy, heated
Divide rice between 4 plates, top with one hamburger patty, one fried egg, and equal portions of beef gravy!
Check out our other warm weather destinations in these articles:
- Cocina Criolla–The Food of Puerto Rico
- Putting the Fat in “Fat Tuesday”
- The Key to Eating in Key West
- Maui on a budget