Sunday, December 06, 2009

Aloha and mahalo for all the mochi!

Yikes!!! I realized when I looked at the last post that it had been waaaay over a month since I last posted. Sort of hard to have a blog if you don't post, isn't it?

Stuff happens, as we all know, so I hope you forgive me when I tell you all about the much needed vacation that I took over Thanksgiving. As you may have figured out from the title and the photo accompanying this post, I had an exotic tropical vacation in Hawai'i...Honolulu to be specific. ( I just love saying "Honolulu"... it's such a fun word!)

During the summer, a friend invited me to spend the holiday with her and her extended family, who live on Oahu, and after emptying my frequent flier mile account, I was on my way to paradise.

I had a direct flight from Atlanta to Honolulu, and let me tell you, 9+ hours is too freaking long to spend on a plane and not be in first class...why, oh, why Delta, do you not let people who redeem their frequent flyer miles have a shot at the upgrade lottery? (That's all the whining I'll do, because it was so worth the ride!)

Hawai'i has always been a source of fascination for me...and not just for the whole Magnum, PI thing, either. It's always seemed so exotic and unattainable, and the closer it got to checkin time, the more I was bouncing off the walls in anticipation.

This trip was not the usual tourist trip--I saw and did some touristy things, but this was more of a "hang out with the locals" kind of trip...sort of doing a Bourdain and heading off the beaten (and expensive!) paths. For Hawai'i is nothing if not expensive...except for food. I found the food to be very reasonably priced, especially since we ate at a lot of local Honolulu spots.

I didn't do a luau--gotta save something for the next trip--but I did have a great Thanksgiving dinner with a decided Asian twist. And, since this blog is about food and the cooking and eating of it, let's get to it!

Day 1 in Paradise included a sojourn into Chinatown and a tour of the downtown area--gotta have your picture made with King Kamehameha, you know. Honolulu Chinatown is a wild market place, full of amazing little markets, exotic produce, and street food. My friend's dad, henceforth known as "Granpa," took us on a winding little tour through a market and down several streets. He would pop into a shop and come out with some little delicacy for us to sample. We had a giant rice noodle tube stuffed with pork and onions, drizzled with shoyu (soy sauce), and cut up into pieces that we ate with our hands. He passed around a bag of "dragon eyes," which turned out to be a fruit, longan to be exact When you took the outer shell off, it looks like the inside of a grape and has about the same texture. It was sort of sweet and tangy.

We traveled to the downtown area and saw the state capitol, which tells the story of Hawai'i by it's very structure. The building has a little reflecting pool around it, which represents the water surrounding the islands. There are two pillars visible underneath each side, which represent volcanoes and support each side of the legislature. Each of the legislative chambers is decorated in colors that reflect the island--one side is reds and oranges (sun and lava) and the other is greens and blues (for the sky and rainforests). Grammy walked us around the area and told us many interesting things about the downtown buildings, and having a local tour guide really made the day even more special.

We finished up with lunch in the food court of the Ala Moana Center, a very large, high-end shopping center/mall. Yeah, yeah, food court is not exactly what one has in mind when visiting a tropical paradise, but there was a lot of local places in the food court that were just screaming to be tried. Al Moana Poi Bowl was the place of choice for lunch, and I got the Local Boy special plate lunch, which was pretty much a tour of local Hawai'ian food--kalua pig, lau lau, lomi salmon, and poi.

Ah, poi...that's some mystical stuff...mystical icky stuff. Light purplish-gray, with a thick, pasty consistency, and it's got a wang to it. Evidently, it works better if you dip some food into it, sort of using it as rice. Let just say that I probably wouldn't order it again. I like taro for the most part--taro fries, taro chips are good, but poi is has no "joi" for me.

Laulau is interesting...the one I had was roast pork and a piece of butter fish wrapped in taro leaves and steamed. The taro leaves were like a bitter spinach, which I dunked in the poi to see if that made the poi edible (sort of). The pork was tender, and the fish was a little surprise, because I wasn't expecting it. The kaula pork was like salty barbecue--lightly smoked and very tender; I ate every scrap of that, of course.

There was also lomi-lomi salmon, diced salted raw salmon mixed with tomatoes and onions, along with rice and macaroni salad. It was finished off with haupia (a coconut pudding-style dessert), which was wonderful. This lunch was a version of the Hawaiian culinary staple, the plate lunch. Plate lunch, Hawaiian style, is usually 2 scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, and then a protein/entree; I subbed the poi for the rice, because I had to try it. Plate Lunch is a lot like the Southern "meat and 3" plate lunch.

I'm a big fan of plate lunches...a big fan, and we had another one at L&L Barbecue, a local chain that is slowly franchising on the Mainland. I can only hope that it comes this way soon. Plate lunch at L&L consisted of rice, mac salad, and some yummy Korean-style barbecue ribs. Forget the haute cuisine--I can eat Asian street food at every meal.

We went to L&L after a day of flying kites and hanging out at the beach, and then we followed up the meal with fresh hot malasadas from Leonard's next door. Malasadas are the Portuguese version of beignets, but better, because they're covered in regular granulated sugar rather than powdered sugar.

And, I did have a fine dining experience of sorts...we went back to the Ala Moana Center for shopping on Saturday after Thanksgiving, and we ate lunch at Alan Wong's Pineapple Room located on the top floor of Macy's.
Remember this post about the disasterous project in Regional Cooking? The Chiclet and I had Pacific Rim cookery, and I pulled together a great PowerPoint that included the 3 big names in Hawaiian cuisine--Roy Yamaguchi, Alan Wong, and Sam Choy. So when D's sister suggested this Alan Wong outpost for lunch, I was all over that!

Chef Wong is into local and sustainable products and features them on his menus. I had the Pineapple Room Burger, because I was just craving a burger for some reason, and I truly think it was one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. From the menu description: Kiawe-Grilled Kuahiwi Ranch Natural Beef Burger, Onion Rings, Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, and Avocado Salsa. There were two onion rings on the burger, one of which I had to remove to even pick the thing up. Those onion rings were made from Maui onions, and I have never had a more tasty onion ring than those. Those onion rings were just works of taste art.

The burger was served with Wasabi Potato Salad, which was good, but not bowl you over good. The wasabi imparted a nice little bite and cleared the ol' sinuses for a moment. D had the “Mac Garlic” Chicken Sandwich, which was chunks of a garlicky teriyaki type of chicken and topped with Furikake Macaroni Salad. Furikake is a salty Japanese condiment with seaweed, sesame seeds, and fish flakes, plus some other seasonings. If I ever made it back to the Pineapple Room, I'd have that next!

Hawaiians are big on snack food, and the one thing that I discovered that I really like is mochi. Japanese in origin, mochi is made from pounded steamed glutinous rice. It becomes a dough-like substance that is usually wrapped around a variety of fillings--peanut butter mochi was a particular favorite of mine. We also had mochi ice cream, which consists of balls of ice cream encased in the mochi--most tasty. Of course, I want more and am trying to figure out how to get it here. I may need to pay a visit to the Asian markets here in town and see if I can find some, or better yet, the Buford Highway Farmer's Market in Atlanta.

Monday after Thanksgiving was our military history day and my last day in paradise. We got up really early and went to get tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial tour. There's a lot of construction happening at the site, progress on a new visitor's center, and unfortunately, the Missouri was in drydock, so we didn't get to tour it.

When you go into the visitor's center, you file into a little theater to watch a film about the attack on Pearl Harbor. The park rangers are very clear that this is NOT a tourist attraction, that it is a grave site, and respect is the order of the day. After the film, a very solemn crowd filed out and onto an open-sided boat for the 20-minute ride out to the sunken ship. On our boat, we had a veteran...he wasn't a Pearl Harbor survivor, rather someone who w
as stationed there right after the attack. It was his first time back to Pearl Harbor since that time, and the staff gave him a special pin and allowed him to get off the boat first when we arrived at the memorial.

When you first see the marble wall at the opposite end of the memorial, listing the names of everyone who perished in the attack, it clutches at your heart to see how many are chiseled into the wall. War sucks, no matter what side you are on.

After the visit to the memorial, we had breakfast at McDonald's. And, yes, I really wanted to go to McDonald's, because I hadn't had that one staple of Hawaiian cuisine...drum roll, please!...SPAM!

At Hawaiian McDonald's, you have some choices that aren't available stateside. There's taro pies, haupia pies, both of which were not available, McTeri burgers with teriyaki sauce, and McSaimen, a noodle dish. And, for breakfast, there's the Local Deluxe Breakfast platter. The Local Deluxe consists of 2 scoops of rice, omelet-style scrambled eggs, 2 slices of grilled Spam, and 3 slices of Portuguese sausage. Best fast food breakfast ever, hands down.

(And, the coolest thing was that the trash cans said "mahalo," which is Hawaiian for "thank you")

After breakfast, we hiked around Punchbowl, the National Cemetery of the Pacific, where some of the Pearl Harbor casualties are buried. The view from the top of Punchbowl crater encompasses a large part of the Honolulu shoreline and is amazing. The 30-foot tall statue of Lady Columbia looking out over the grave sites is awe-inspiring as well. If you are of a certain age or watched Nick at Night, you may remember her from the opening credits of Hawaii 5-0.

For my last meal in Hawaii...and yes, I think all I did was eat and gawk at how amazing it is there...we went to Nico's at Pier 38 at the Honolulu Harbor, near where the daily fish auction happens. I had the Furikake Pan Seared Ahi w/ Ginger Garlic Cilantro Sauce and rice, and it was so very very good. I'm usually not a big tuna fan--hate the canned stuff with passion--but like it as sushi or sashimi. We had ahi poke one night at a family dinner, and I fell in love with it, so I ordered my Ahi rare to try and replicate that experience. It was a great meal to end my stay, and I really wanted it to never end. I'm going back one day, and hopefully sooner rather than later...heck, I'm just a winning lottery ticket away from retiring there, as one of my Facebook friends commented.

I mean, how can you not love a place where you see rainbows every single day?

(If you look closely, you'll see it's actually a double rainbow.)

1 comment:

J said...

Good to have you back and glad you had a vacation!