Monday, May 17, 2010

Only In Hawaii

I'm back on the aina and I knew there were some foods I missed that I could only get out here in Hawaii, but boy did I not realize how much I missed these foods/products.
If you ever have a chance to come out to the islands, make sure you have a taste of these:

Sea Asparagus-

It looks like mini asparagus spears, but the taste isn't fooling anyone. Sea asparagus is salty and sweet with a far more stringy-quality than the vegetable that it is named after. According to The Star Bulletin: "Officially, sea asparagus belongs to the genus Salicornia, making it a distant relative of beets and spinach, but it's certainly neither of those. It is an intertidal plant, which means it grows in brackish water near the edge of the ocean, but not in Hawaii."
Because of its brackish water origins, in its raw form, sea asparagus is very salty indeed. The best way to prepare it is by soaking it in boiling water for at least three minutes, and then repeatedly rinsing it with fresh water. 
I used to it plain with chopped garlic, but today at the Haliewa Farmer's Market, I came across Dr. Sun's stand and fell in love with his sea asparagus, chopped tomato and onion salad. 

Because I only bought two containers, which I ate within a few hours, I bought the ingredients myself separately, this time adding lemon juice and it was amazing!

Li Hing Mui 

Li Hing Mui is a salty dried plum powder of Chinese origin found in Hawaii. Because it is a powder, it is put on practically everything- from dried fruits, to sour patch kids to popcorn. It might look a bit gross, but if you like sweet/sour combinations, this is amazing. 


Basically a cousin to the standard purple passion fruit, but yellow, larger, and less sour.

Hawaiian Papaya-

In case you didn't already know this, there are two types of papayas: Hawaiian and Mexican. Hawaiian papayas tend to be pear-shaped, pink or orange-fleshed, and weigh about one pound, whereas Mexican papayas are much larger, weighing up to 10 pounds  (and they are longer) and their flesh tends to be yellow. The flavor of Mexican papayas is commonly known to be less rich than the Hawaiian papaya so make sure you try one when you visit the islands. 

Boiled Peanuts-

Don't ask me why, but there is something about soggy, damp peanuts that make them more flavorful and salty. Apparently they are common worldwide, generally sold as street food in India, Ghana, Nigeria, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Salvador, and Bahia. 


Furikake is a Japanese condiment that tastes great, despite the oddity of the ingredients it is made up of. It comes in many different 'flavors' but typically consists of a mixture of dried and ground fish (bonito flakes), sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar, salt, and monosodium glutamate. Sometimes it can be salmon, egg, miso, or vegetable flavored. It is most commonly sprinkled on rice or popcorn, but I have been lucky enough to have it on roasted cashews. Yum. 

Furikake can easily be purchased at natural food markets on the mainland


I couldn't believe it myself when I first tried it, but poke, a raw fish salad, is amazing. Poke typically consists of cubed Ahi (yellow fish tuna) sashimi and served cold. Although all poke is marinated with some degree of salt and shoyu (soy sauce) WHAT sauce the poke is marinated in (and the quality of the Ahi) is what distinguishes good poke from shit poke. Some examples of popular poke styles are Limu Poke, Soy Sauce Poke, Wasabi Poke, and Hawaiian Poke. My personal favorite is Wasabi Poke, which is creamy (due to mayonnaise), orange in color, and very spicy and Hawaiian Poke, which as far as I can tell, has chili pepper, scallion, sesame oil, and seaweed pieces. As bizarre as it may sound, just think of poke like carpaccio or ceviche. 

Shrimp Flavored Chips-

I really have no excuse for eating these things-- they are my own dirty little secret. Maybe its the slightly buttery flavor, or maybe its the crunchy, airy quality of each bite, but I love these chips. There are lots of different types of shrimp chips, sometimes called shrimp crackers or prawn crackers, and let me just warn you: THEY ALL TASTE DIFFERENTLY. So, if you are intent on trying a shrimp chip that doesn't remotely taste like shrimp (just fat and butter), then opt for the Frito Lay Shrimp Chips. 

Irifune Restaurant on Kapahulu Ave-

No, it is not pretty. It's old, quirky, seemingly run-down, and very much a family-oriented restaurant. But, the establishment has been around for 35 years now and is famous for its dinner lines that extend outside to the sidewalk. Oh, yeah, and of course their grilled Ahi. You can find grilled Ahi anywhere in Hawaii, even at fast food joints like L and L Drive Inn, but Irifune is the cream of the crop. Give in to
the kitsch and taste a bite of pure heaven. 

Shave Ice-

Shave ice is a big deal in Hawaii and you have to make sure to call it "Shave Ice" not "Shaved Ice" or "Snow Cones" because, well, it's not. Hawaiian shave ice is a popular treat, consisting of fluffy, finely shaved ice topped with delicious flavored syrups and (optionally) served on top of a scoop of ice cream. The syrup flavors are plentiful and can include lemon, lime, coconut, cherry, strawberry, blue raspberry, cotton candy, watermelon, li

Hawaiian Avocados-

I suppose, having been born and raised in California, I should be partial to Hass avocados, but I most definitely am not. Although there are many different varieties of Hawaiian avocados, all Hawaiian avocados tend to be larger, longer (pear-shaped),  heavier, and greener than their mainland counterparts. This means that you have to wait longer for them to ripen but I personally like them when they are still a bit unripe as they have a crisp bite to them. The skin on these avocados is also much thinner and less wrinkly. 

All of the above avocados are Hawaiian, except for the Hass avocado in the lower left hand corner.

To appease Hawaiian food fans whose favorite foods I probably did not list, here is a list of other notable great strictly Hawaiian foods/products: Hawaiian rock salt, Kailua pig, Guava Jam, Spam Musubi, Leonard's Malasada's, mochi ice cream, poi, taro chips, kava, sweet bread, dried shredded squid, octopus, etc, onigiri, Poke sticks, macadamia nuts, etc....

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