Aloha! My fella and I just got back from 7 beautiful days on the Big Island of Hawaii. I expected huge hotels, mumu-wearing tourists and lots of bad key chains. What I found was one of the most beautiful, topographically diverse and relaxing places I have ever visited. I have been to Maui twice, once to run the Maui Marathon ( I bring that up as often as I can) and the second time simply to explore. As majestic as Maui is, there is one thing inherently missing that I found on the Big Island and that is, the spirit of “Aloha”.
The residents of Hawaii of all shades, from caramel to Ivory, have a certain “I don’t know what” about them that radiates an aura of friendliness and relaxation. Every person I came across from hotel workers to grocery store clerks were all kind, lovely, helpful and smiling. I am not sure if I would be smiling all the time knowing that I live on an Island with Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano in the world, but they are.
I don’t write travel posts and I can’t say that Hawaii is the culinary capital of the world, but I would like to share a few of highlights from my trip.
I love small plates or tapas and in the case of Hawaii, PuPu’s. I said PuPu on this trip as often as possible. The top picture shows what was listed on the menu as Macadamia Nut Cesar Salad… now I aint no salad expert, but that don’t look like a salad to me. It was tasty, however… a novel take on miniaturizing a salad. I will use it. Those little chicken nuggets weren’t crusted either. I think you would call it breaded, but crusted sounds sexy? Anyhoo, I love PuPu’s. Did I say that already? The other two pics are of the Fairmonts “mixed nut” selection, which really only entails candied and wasabied peanuts and an occasional Mac nut that is not shown here because those are the first to go. The little Ahi tacos were quite tasty. They were topped with what tasted like an avocado, wasabi mayo. Yum.
The fella and I ventured over to the other side of the Island seeking green. The West side of the Island where the high- falutin resorts are located is all lava, with the exception of the perfectly manicured resorts sprinkled along the coast. The East side of the Island is a tropical paradise. From zip lining through rain forests, humungous waterfalls and botanical gardens to molten lava flowing into the ocean. If you want lush and green, don’t miss the East side of the Island. I love drinking fresh coconut water and vowed that if/when I hit the jackpot, I will have an entire refrigerator stocked with coconuts. Coconut water is barely sweet and full of electrolytes. It is a great hangover remedy and extremely hydrating which explains the 5 or so brands of coconut waters you can find at grocery stores today. I will drink those in a pinch, but nothing compares to drinking it straight out of the coconut.
The little berry in my fingers is a Brazilian Grape or Jabuticaba. I tasted one in the gift store of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. I highly recommend a visit to this incredible place. There was a little bowl of shiny almost black balls at the cash register. I immediately asked what they were and if I could try one. The skin is a little tougher than a grape and slightly bitter, but the actual fruit was soft and sweet with hints of pear and lychee.
We were starving on the way back to our hotel from the East side and it was getting late. We looked in our little tour book and it mentioned Huli Sue’s in Waimea. We drove through the mostly dark and closed town twice and finally had to call to locate the place. We were the only ones there. Waimea is tiny and the dinner rush probably happens around 6, not 9. I have never loved an empty restaurant more. It was homey and the ribs were said to be the best on the Island. I had the ribs. They were super tasty, but a little dry, but it was probably because we were the last customers. My guy ordered the Ono, which means tasty in Hawaiian. Ono is a lovely fish that I would describe as Halibut meets Seabass. Moist and mild without being oily or bland. It was $16. We had a comparable fish at our resort that rang up at $46! Huli Sue’s sources most of their produce and meats from farmers within a 5 mile radius. They also give farmers Huli Bucks in exchange for produce. They gave me the recipe to their famous Mama’s salad dressing. They use it on a lot of dishes, including the veggies that accompanied the Ono. This sauce/dressing is incredible! It tasted like butter, but contained no butter. Did I mention they gave me a little blanket because I was chilly? I love this place. I will include the recipe at the end of the post.
I like to keep my liquor simple, which is why you will seldom see me with a froofy cocktail in my hand, but not having tropical cocktails in Hawaii is simply unacceptable. One of the most memorable cocktail moments was the coconut cloud martini at bar at Tommy Bahama’s in Kamuela. I have been searching the world over for a coconut cocktail that is not too sweet and really tastes like coconut and I found it in none other than a chain restaurant. Recipe below.
And now my friends, I leave you after an extremely long post, with a Hawaiian sunset and a rainbow. Recipes and tips to follow!
HULI SUE’S – MAMA’S VINAIGRETTE –
(they gave me the recipe in gallon form.. I have adapted it the best I could)
3/4 Cup canola oil (olive oil would be too strong)
3 Tblspn sushi vinegar
1 Tblspn Soy Sauce
1 Teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 Teaspoons minced shallot
1.5 Teaspoons grated ginger
1.5 Teaspoons honey
Combine all ingredients with a wisk. Put on salad, grilled veggies or fish.
TOMMY BAHAMAS COCONUT CLOUD MARTINI
1 part Tommy Bahama White Sand Rum
1½ parts Vanilla Vodka
1½ parts Coconut Rum
½ part Coco Lopez
Combine all in a cocktail shaker, shake shake shake, pour into a martini glass. Spill. Make another one. Top with toasted coconut. Forget all your worries.
PACIFIC RIM EGG SALAD SANDWICH
(tried this sandwich on the night Manta Ray snorkel boat.. insane)
Add 1/2 a teaspoon of wasabi to one cup of your regular egg salad recipe. Serve on untoasted high quality white bread. Enjoy. I have some wasabi peas in my pantry and I think I am going to grind some up and throw them in, in place of wasabi.
MANTA RAY NIGHT DIVE/SNORKEL: One of the most memorable experiences of my life. Snorkel or dive at night with 1000 pound Manta Rays. I highly recommend Jack’s Diving Locker. Make sure Keller is working. He is hilarious.
BEACHES AND LODGING: Hawaii can get really expensive if you stay at a resort. I would rent a more modest place with a kitchen close to the really nice resorts. All beaches are public in Hawaii. The beach at the Mauna Kea hotel is big and beautiful. The cove at the Fairmont Orchid is full of turtles and the cove at the Beach Club at Mauna Lani has incredible snorkeling.
LUAUS: Not for me. I found the Kalua pork to be super bland and the rest of the food to be pretty bad as well. I don’t like buffets in general. I found the Luau to be expensive and not worth it. The show was lovely. If I could find a Hawaiian show with no buffet, I would do that. I am sure you can YouTube a Luau and have a better time, but that’s just me.