Appetite: Island bites, part one

With an increased number of flights to Hawaii — accompanied by correspondingly more competitive airfares — including resumed direct routes out to Kauai, it’s easier than it’s been in years to get to that island getaway you’ve been dreaming about. My recent visit yielded plenty of rewards for foodies — not to mention some excellent hotels that are offering various discounts and deals. 

This time around, I focus on street food and the KCC farmer’s market in Honolulu, then food on Oahu’s fabulous North Shore, surfing capital of the world. Stay tuned for a multi-part series on neighboring oasis Kauai and Honolulu’s bars and restaurants.

HONOLULU

KCC Farmers Market: 

Held in the tony Diamond Head neighborhood — adjacent to the touristy but absolutely breathtaking hike over the Diamond Head Summit trail from Waikiki — I’d call this farmer’s market a must for any foodie. It’s got passionate purveyors, memorable local eats, and a bustling crowd. Here’s my ultimate game plan for KCC.

Start with taro dips from Tom Purdy of Taro Delight. I liked his red chili and coconut milk and his Thai green curry – taronaise, a taro root substitute for mayo, made for an interesting alternative. 

From there, move on to Korean-influenced sausages on a stick from Kukui Sausage Co., in particular the kimchee and pineapple sausages, which I loved. Savor an ultra-salty salmon fried rice from Ohana Seafoods, cooked on a wok right in front of you. Order two to six pieces of Kona Coast abalone. Wash it all down with refreshing kalamansi lime, ginger, and seltzer drink made with PacifiKool’s award-winning ginger syrup

Also availabe at Saturday’s KCC farmers market were OnoPops, one of my favorite tastes from the entire trip – they’d be a massive hit in San Francisco. Ultra-fresh ingredients are paired in unique flavor combos like ume Thai basil and kalamansi coriander. Lilikoi (passionfruit) 50-50 combines passion fruit with cream, while the tart kumquat pop is loaded with candied kumquat rinds. Pick a flavor – you cannot lose here. Coupled with a sweet staff, this cart is a must-stop. 

The Soul empire:

Available at his restaurant Soul and his food truck named Soul Patrol, chef Sean Priester is overtaking Honolulu with authentic Southern soul food — something you don’t find much of on the islands. Though it felt wrong ordering chicken and waffles ($12) in Hawaii while surrounded by foods unique to the region, I was pleased to taste Priester’s authentic flavors, which strangely enough, felt right at home on the islands.

 

NORTH SHORE-HALEIWA

Driving from Honolulu along Oahu’s Eastern side to the North Shore was one of the most delightful experiences in my time on Oahu. Unforgettable vistas and quiet beach towns unfolded before us, waving their gentle, aloha welcome as we passed by, compelling us to stop for multiple beach strolls along the way.

The famed North Shore is certainly a crowded surfer’s mecca. It’s a bit of a kill joy to suddenly be in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a two-lane road through such an otherwise relaxed setting. But the beach town vibe of Haleiwa is enchanting nonetheless – and its shrimp trucks and shave ice make it all better.

We trekked to a nearly private beach further west of Haleiwa, tromping through fields of flowers and horses to get to the beach, where we could swim in solitude and lay on the sand watching sky divers jump out of a plane above.

Giovanni’s Original White Shrimp Truck:

 If you find yourself in Kahuku, the tiny town on Oahu’s northeastern shore, look for the dinged-up white truck covered in scribbles that only a good day would qualify as graffiti. You’ll be rewarded with kick-ass shrimp. Giovanni’s, the first shrimp truck on the North Shore, launched the shrimp truck craze that has since taken over the area.

The original has similar offerings as its competitors, from spicy to lemon shrimp, but Giovanni’s signature is shrimp scampi, loaded with butter, a delightfully generous amount of garlic, two scoops of rice, and a squeeze of lemon to complete the dish. 

Eat your meal surrounded by local families under a large, covered patio, drinking juice from a coconut purchased at a neighboring juice truck. You’ll catch the spirit of Kahuku: laid back, funky — and delicious.

Romy’s:

Another Kahuku gem. The joy of Romy’s, besides more winning shrimp (sweet and spicy!) is that they farm all their own shrimp in a pond behind the bright red storefront. Red picnic tables dot the grounds near the pond and under awnings next to the shrimp shack. But plan ahead – the wait for a simple plate of shrimp can grow to agonizing lengths at mealtimes: come early or late.

Grammer be damned — don’t call it “shaved ice,” especially at Matsumoto’s

Matsumoto’s shave ice:

Shave ice is a North Shore invention and Matsumoto’s was the originator of this snow cone-like treat back in 1951. The humble little Haleiwa shop has a perpetual line out the door, movie star clientele, and tons of touristy merchandise surrounding it. 

More finely milled than a snow cone and reminiscent of my beloved sno-balls in New Orleans, Matsumoto’s shave ice is ideal on those balmy island days. Shave ice colors are unnaturally neon bright, which gave me cause for concern. But I chose flavors carefully: a mix of lilikoi, coconut, and Chinese sour plum, with azuki (red) beans on the bottom. You can also get condensed milk poured on top, but I chose vanilla ice cream, which melted over the beans and ice. It’s oddly addictive, a quintessential North Shore experience I highly recommend. (Note: Aoki’s Shave Ice is a popular alternative a few doors down.)

Ted’s Bakery:

Another Haleiwa classic, there’s only one reason to go to Ted’s: chocolate haupia pie, a layered dessert made of a tier of the traditional Hawaiian coconut pudding like dessert, haupia, and chocolate. I’m not a cream pie fan and this old school pie has a crust like those you buy in a grocery store, and a thick pudding texture. But for a couple dollars, it’s worth trying a slice — the haupia exudes a rich coconut essence that contrasts nicely with the pie’s chocolate.