Yo, tourists! Eat more Hawaiian food. Now.


According to potentially unreliable internet sources, there are 64 McDonald’s restaurants, 27 Subway restaurants, and at least 15 Starbucks outlets in Hawaii.  I don’t mean to be cruel to America’s favorite chain restaurants–I am, after all, apparently enough of a McDonald’s expert to be cited as reference #58 on a Wikipedia article about McDonald’s.  But there’s something particularly sad about the proliferation of crappy chain food in Hawaii, because Hawaiian food is effing amazing.

Why didn’t anybody tell me about Hawaiian food before we went to Hawaii?  Almost every American I’ve ever met has been to Hawaii, and the only thing anybody ever mentioned was some bullpoop about Spam sushi.  And my mom couldn’t stop talking about some delicious-looking fried doughnuts called malasadas, which are actually of Portuguese origin.  But nobody ever told me about poke or lau lau or chicken long rice. WTF?

Apparently, tourists in Hawaii are too busy eating Big Macs to even notice that Hawaii has its own cuisine.  It makes me sad that McDonald’s seems to massively outnumber Hawaiian restaurants, especially near touristy areas like Waikiki.  Really, would you rather eat some fish prepared by a smiling Hawaiian, or would you prefer to eat a boxed meal served by this creepy dude?


this is why I have scary dreams about clowns… I mean, the guy isn’t even offering any food, he’s just standing there, smiling and looking creepy, like he’s going wait until I turn my back, and then club me over the head with a brick of lard and eat my innards


Anyway, we managed to dodge the millions of Happy Meal-munching tourists at Waikiki, and we headed up to a small North Shore town called Hauula, where we rented an awesome little studio from a really nice Hawaiian family.  They fed me a ripe papaya straight from the tree in their yard (“grown with aloha”), and that means that I’ll love them forever.

And if that wasn’t enough, our Hawaiian hosts kindly sent me across the street to a place called Papa Ole’s Kitchen, where I ate an amazing dish called pastele stew, made from shredded pork, olives, and Hawaiian chili peppers, and served with two large mounds of rice and some (tasty, but totally unnecessary) cole slaw.  Really, the world needs more dishes made from pork, olives, and Hawaiian chili peppers:


mmm… massive mounds


After Papa Ole’s whet our Hawaiian food appetites, we decided that we needed to try lau lau and poi, so we found a deli in Kaneohe called Masa & Joyce that serves a “Hawaiian plate.” For a mere $11.50, our new Hawaiian friends fed us lau lau (spiced shredded pork, cooked in some lily-like greens called ti leaves), chicken long rice, white rice, lomi lomi salmon, and a dessert called haupia.  The lomi lomi salmon was basically a fishy version of pico de gallo, but the chicken long rice was an absolute revelation.  It’s like the best chicken soup ever, but with cute clear noodles instead.



Our $11.50 meal also came with a dessert called haupia–it’s sort of like a chewy coconut jello cake, except that it’s actually really good. We also felt obligated to try poi, a Hawaiian staple made from mashed taro root.  It wasn’t really my thing–it’s a glutinous, flavorless purple glob, served slightly chilled–but I can see how it might go well with lau lau if you’ve developed a taste for the stuff.


poi might also go well with brains


And then, we discovered the awesomeness of Hawaiian poke (pronounced “POKE-eh”).  It’s basically Hawaii’s answer to ceviche, made from raw fish or squid or octopus or seaweed or even edamame, soaked in any of a number of soy-, chili-, garlic-, algae-, seaweed-, or citrus-based marinades.

Very few restaurants on Oahu’s North Shore serve the stuff, so we raided a Foodland grocery store for soy-garlic edamame poke, a wonderfully tender imitation crab poke with marinated onions, and some fantastic ahi limu poke, made from ahi tuna marinated in soy sauce, garlic, chili flakes, and a type of Hawaiian algae called limu.



For our final breakfast in Hawaii, we returned to our friends at Papa Ole’s Kitchen, and tried the loco moco ($9.25):  two big scoops of rice, a massive (easily ¾ of a pound) hamburger patty, and three fried eggs, all topped with a wonderfully salty beef gravy.  I’m pretty sure that “loco moco” is Hawaiian for “holy shit you crazy little white dude, you’re going to eat this whole thing?!?”


yes, the hamburger patty is large enough to stick out from under three fried eggs… and yes, of course the little white dude is going to eat the whole thing


I ate the whole thing, with the exception of a few stray bits of rice and burger.  And that was just breakfast.  My dreams of fitting into my bikini were completely ruined, but at least I was happy, and had avoided the ubiquitous Hawaiian Egg McMuffin during our trip.


I win! (Bikini not shown.)

Papa Ole's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Papa Ole’s Kitchen
54-316 Kamehameha Hwy
Hauula, HI (yes, tourists: you can take a bus there)

Masa and Joyce on Urbanspoon

Masa & Joyce
45-582 Kamehameha Hwy
Kaneohe, HI 96744

3 Responses to “Yo, tourists! Eat more Hawaiian food. Now.”

  1. gman says:

    I’m not saying you should like poi but I believe, like many things, if it was introduced correctly more people would like it.

    It’s basically the starch in Hawaiian food. Hawaiians didn’t have rice originally AFAIK. So, you use poi the same way you use white rice in Asian dishes, you use it to dilute the overpowering high flavor things. Think of it as rice or potatoes with nothing on them.

    Example, take a bite of lomi salmon then a bite of poi. Sure, native Hawaiians might also like poi plain, and some people can eat mashed potatoes without salt, butter, or gravy. The rest of us though tend to flavor them by combining them with other things on our plate.

  2. jill says:

    Man, I miss Hawaiian food. When we honeymooned there we canceled most of our fancy restaurant reservations and ate from deli’s, road side stands, grocery stores, etc. I go to Sunrise Mart here in NYC as often as I can to buy salmon and make my own version of poke, which is really more like a tartare than a ceviche, as it isn’t acid cooked. For a party I made musubi, poke, kahlua pork, haupia, mochi, bought some hav’a chips from Brooklyn General….
    On another note, for breakfast once McDonald’s was the only thing open. I had eggs with portuguese sausage, rice, and a haupia pie. Best Micky D’s I’ve ever had.
    Really enjoying reading through this! Let me know if you want to take another shot at Swedish food – I can help you out

  3. Thank you for the comment, Jill! Congratulations, you just made McDonald’s sound unusually delicious.

    I would love to take you up on the Swedish food! Feel free to drop me a note at unitednationsoffood@gmail.com — I think I’m ready for repeat performances of a few cuisines. 🙂

Leave a Reply