I just ate a fresh lychee from the branch I bought for tallasiandude at the local Indian market, and maybe it is the heat but it took me straight back to Hawai’i and made me want a shave ice. With lychee and liliko’i and li hing syrups. Sigh.
We both seem to have developed a preference for lychee + liliko’i + li hing mui syrup on the ice, with vanilla ice cream underneath, or mac nut ice cream if it’s available, and azuki beans too if the mood strikes.
Aoki’s on the North Shore of O’ahu is so far the absolute pinnacle of the shave ice arts that we have tried. Holy cow. Absolutely perfect in every way. Superfine ice, really fresh, true-tasting syrups, good quality ice cream. yum yum. Someday when I have a couple of extra hours I am sure I will slog the line at Matsumoto’s next door just to try it, but there’s really no point. I can waltz right up to the counter at Aoki’s and be drowning in yum before any of those poor suckers get through the door at Matsumoto’s.
At Aoki’s we had vanilla ice cream, azuki beans, and liliko’i, lychee and li hing mui syrup. NOM NOM NOM.
Kaua’i is perhaps the most awesome vacation spot on earth. I didn’t expect Hawai’i to be like this; I had all the usual stereotypes of Waikiki in mind, and the mostly-rural but insanely-perfect vibe of Kaua’i surprised me when we were here in 2008. We loved it, of course. And once we took a surf lesson we loved it even more and couldn’t wait to come back.
This trip we were surf-focused from the get-go, and we surfed every day except for the day we arrived, the day we flew interisland, the day we hiked Na Pali, and the day tallasiandude was down with the 24-hour flu. We are still noobs, but we are a lot better than we were when we started — we are surfing on 10′ 2″ epoxy boards instead of the 12′ soft-tops, so we are all proud of ourselves and stuff.
But you people want to know what we ate.
Kaua’i has some amazing food, and some that’s less amazing. I was less dazzled by it all this trip, and have faced the fact that lots of Kaua’i’s restaurants are simply OK… but that doesn’t change the fact that I love island-style food in general, and will always go back to Kaua’i with nothing but joy.
Here’s the rundown.
As is now our habit, our first stop was Hamura’s Saimin. Having now eaten saimin in several other places, we know for sure that this stuff is worthy of its reputation. We got the special saimin with all its goodies — won ton, egg, roast pork, veg, spam, kamaboko — plus a couple bbq sticks and a slice of liliko’i chiffon pie. The chicken stick beats the beef stick by a nose, and that pie is nom nom nom with its crispy crust, cool whip topping and whispering passionfruit foam.
Another night, we tried a pho shop in Kapa’a, in the same little mall as the Long’s and Safeway. Decent pho and bun, nothing crazy good, but light and enough to scratch the viet-food itch.
After our first day of surfing, we made tracks immediately for Duane’s Ono-Char Burger in Anahola, and ordered the same exact thing we had last trip: a Local Girl burger plus an Aloha Special for me and an avocado-cheddar burger and a vanilla shake for tallasiandude. A Local Girl burger is teriyaki sauce, mayo and a pineapple slice, with melted swiss. An Aloha Special is possibly the most refreshing beverage in creation, being papaya-pineapple-banana plus crushed ice.
We hit up the Kapa’a farmer’s market and scored some tropical fruits: ice cream bananas, scarlet papaya, rambutan and mangosteen. The ice cream bananas are supercreamy and mild, and the scarlet papaya (i am pretty sure i have the name misremembered) was much sweeter and less funky-smelling than regular papaya. The rambutan and mangosteen were not as good as the ones we got in Hilo last trip, not as sweet and the rambutan didn’t peel away from its seed properly so every bite had icky hard stuff on it. We still ate it all up happily.
We went back to Genki Sushi in the Kukui Grove mall. It wasn’t quite as awesome as I remembered it, but I think that’s because we were definitely there at a weird off hour and they weren’t making much fresh stuff until we started asking for it from the waitress instead of plucking it off the conveyor. The garlic salmon and garlic ahi are still completely nom, and we had a hot-dog maki that was actually hilariously great with its dyed-red dog and egg filling and furikake sprinkle, just one of many local foods that should not be delicious but IS.
We also noticed that the Kukui Grove mall has mangosteen trees growing at the end of every parking lot row. How awesome is that?
Every morning on the drive up to Hanalei Bay to surf, we stopped at the Menehune gas station quickie-mart and bought spam musubi and a coffee for me, because I couldn’t bring myself to cope with the cottage’s coffee maker. These musubi were not as transcendent as the ones we used to get on the south shore, being much less teriyakied, but they were still pretty good and I have to tell you that rice+nori+spam is one of my very favorite ways to start a day. Any rice ball with filling, really, will do the job, but there is a beautiful everyday poetry to what spam becomes in this context. Just make sure you buy them before 10am (before 9am on a weekend) or they’re gone for the day.
We tried out the Korean BBQ place just north of Wailua, and found it to be pretty good, not the sort of traditional Korean food we’re used to but a distinct island-flavored variant. There was macaroni salad, though it was hard to find any actual macaroni amid the potato and mayo. There was also something called meat jun, which is thin slices dipped in egg and pan fried. The kalbi was a bit sweeter than I’m used to. It was all tasty and tallasiandude had a butterfish with stir-fried vegetables that really hit the spot. My combo plate also had a very nice fried mandoo and some tempura shrimp that were crispy enough but not the freshest shrimps ever.
I got some ahi-limu poke and spicy ahi poke at Dolphin Fish Market in Hanalei, and some tako (octopus) kimchi poke at the Foodland in Princeville. The tako was tangy and good, and the ahi pokes were also good but had a weird whiff of chlorine about them. Not sure what to make of that.
One day we were surfing later than usual and were too hungry to go off looking for a restaurant, so we took Nephi’s advice and got kalua pig tacos from Pat’s Taqueria truck parked near the beach at Hanalei Pier. Damn, that’s a hell of a taco. Moist smoky pork shreds (theoretically baked in a pit but I don’t care if he used a crock pot, that shit’s delicious) with some cabbage and tomatillo salsa and guacamole on a couple of corn tortillas. Life does not get better than eating one of these on a surfing beach with a cold guava nectar or passionfruit orange drink.
We got some shave ice at Wishing Well’s truck in Hanalei. Tallasiandude tried some condensed milk on top of his here instead of ice cream, which was nice but I think if I am going for a dairy experience with my ice I’d rather have the ice cream. Wishing Well had really good mac nut ice cream, and we enjoyed our treats, though I think that some of their syrups taste a little fake. I think I had liliko’i + coconut + li hing this time, and the coconut was what really seemed chemically to me, especially when compared with some other shave ice we had on the trip (*cough* Aoki’s *cough*). But that’s a different post.