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Honolulu report


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#1 Keith Talent

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Posted 26 July 2004 - 03:29 PM

Just back from a week in Waikiki. We had a great time, in spite of meals that were less than inspired. First, lemme get the gripes out of the way then I'll talk about some of the places we liked.

If I ever see another plate lunch, it'll be too soon. We hit all the popular local chains, and a few "independents". The appreciation of the plate lunch must be a cultural inbred thing, becuase the appeal was lost on me. Generally had grilled mahi mahi, with a few forays into katsu chicken, grilled ribs and grilled chicken. The greatest disappointment was the place run by the people behind 3660 located at Ward Centre. Kinda hoping for a creative modern take on the classic, sadly throwing pineapple salsa on fish doesn't show quite enough effort at innovation. The pork spareribs were average at best, meaty but swimming in an overly sweet gloopy sauce.

The meals we enjoyed were at Sam Choy's Crab, Dixie Grill, and a Carribean/Mexican place on Seaside acroos the street from the Imax and Thrifty Rental car.

Sam Choy would be popular anywhere. Good drinks, convivial atmosphere and truly excellent service, which is a rarity in my experience in casual places. The only downside was the place is by Vancouver standards, crushingly expensive, but then again most everywhere in Hawaii is. I started with an appetizer of Poke, which was excellent. Each cube of flesh looked liked a jewel, nicely translucent, with a rich sesame oil based flavour that gave the dish a rich meaty flavour. Had rare tuna next. Perfectly cooked with a shitake creme sauce, which in retrospect seems like an odd combination, but worked well. Who knew? The sauce was excellent, no "Campbells mushroom soup flavour", instead a strong shitake aroma and generous portion of the mushrooms themselves. Wife had the 22 oz. prime rib, which was on special. First, who the hell orders a 22 oz. prime rib? Nicely rare, made superb sandwiches with the 12 left over ounces the next day. Got pretty good bread at the St. Germain bakery in Waikiki across the street from the Ohana East hotel.

Dixie Grill was the place to dine with kids in Honolulu. Ate at the Ward Centre location, and although the barbecue is nothing special, the outdoor sand box for my hyper active progeny to terrorize while I suck ribs and drink vino was awesome. I beleve it was the only place we ordered a bottle of wine, as it was the only place we knew we could linger. Fat Bastard for twenty bucks, pretty good deal, nice bottle of BBQ wine. I had the sampler platter, with a side of collard greens (fantastic greens, slightly spicey, perfect texture, the pot liquor was THE place to dip my wifes hush puppies into.)

The mexican joint (little help with the name? Sorry I don't remeber, something with alot of "C's"?) On Seaside was the best food we ate on the island. Why can every city on earth with the exception of Vancouver support a good Mexican restaurant? Wife had Jerk Chicken, I had Pork Chile Colorado, lesser Talents shared a burrito, which they sucked back as quickly as their dad tends to do with good scotch, sure sign of quality.

Ate at a fair number of ramen holes in the wall in Waikiki. Universally good soup, universally poor gyoza. Very expensive by Vancouver satndards, maybe twice the price as here.

Couple last restaurant observations. Locals don't seem to eat outside except at the beach, why? Outdoor seating seemed rare at best, which struck me as odd. Ate lunch at the Cheesecake Factory our last day. I take back the bad things I said above about plate lunches, I'd gladly dine on them rather than go to this place again. I had a burger, which admittedly was excellent. Bless the USA and their fight for freedom to order a medium rare burger. My problem with the place was the obscene quantities of food served. I'm not shy about portion size, but this place goes so far over the limit as to be gross. The place has a creepy gluttonous vibe.

And one last bitch, non food related. Went to a beach on the North Shore. It was very busy and as it was time to leave, Mrs. Talent suggest I move the car into the loading area to free up a spot and prevent someone waiting in a hot car for us to load up all our gear and two pre-schoolers. Shower, dress, pack everything to the curb. Go get the car. Our own little gesture of Aloha spirit, honestly. Pull into the loading area, open the trunk, huck a bunch of stuff in and leave it open, stand 20 feet away in the shade of a tree with my daughters while Mrs. Talent finishes changing. Cop pulls up flips on the lights. Hmm, must be a disturbance on the beach, I think. He hops out, walks to the front of the car, writes the license plate number, as the rear was obscurred by the open trunk, and at that point, a light goes off. I walk the five paces and ask him if there's a problem. No parking, loading only he says. I am, I reply, see the open trunk? Then he tells me he's been parked there for five minutes behind me. Really, I query, seems odd being that I've been there only two, and I din't want my two daughters waiting in the hot car, as it hasn't been running long enough for the AC to be working yet. That doesn't make him happy. He gets aggressive. Want to take a ride downtown and discuss it he asks? What the hell? I'm going to get arrested over a minor parking infraction? Holy shit. No sir, I stammer, my apologies, yadda, yadda, yadda. This now goes into the books as most egregious tourist scam I've ever experienced. He clearly had the ticket written prior to arriving, slap the licence number on once at the scene and bully your way through any queries for the hapless victim. Aloha to you too, Honolulu Police department. Fortunately, paying the 30 dollar ticket is a snap online at the police web site.

I could go with a shave ice right now, large pineappple/coconut, with beans, please.

Aloha

#2 jamiemaw

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Posted 28 July 2004 - 09:42 PM

Gee Keith,

Mahalo very much. But what, for heaven's sake, is the world coming to? One week you're up in the Okanagan seemingly enjoying the wines(if not the Scottish servings), and the next you're in Hawaii, of all places. Did you forget that you HATE the beach? Or had you become re-enamoured after watching that terrific summer replacement, North Shore ?
Colour me confused.

So I ask--where will it all end?

Right about here.
from the thinly veneered desk of:
Jamie Maw
Food Editor
Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com
Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

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#3 FoodZealot

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Posted 29 July 2004 - 11:19 AM

Keith, thanks for the report. I'm genuinely sorry you had a bad interaction with the police officer, and I hope it won't mar your overall impressions of your visit terribly much. It's unfortunate when someone with misplaced priorities in a position of influence represents the state poorly.

~Tad

#4 jschyun

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Posted 29 July 2004 - 04:15 PM

Ate lunch at the Cheesecake Factory our last day. I take back the bad things I said above about plate lunches, I'd gladly dine on them rather than go to this place again. I had a burger, which admittedly was excellent. Bless the USA and their fight for freedom to order a medium rare burger. My problem with the place was the obscene quantities of food served. I'm not shy about portion size, but this place goes so far over the limit as to be gross. The place has a creepy gluttonous vibe.

In all fairness, I would like to say that Cheesecake Factory is a California import, which of course, explains everything.
I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.
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#5 stovetop

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Posted 30 July 2004 - 05:54 PM

Sounds like Whistler (Disneyland), you get about five minutes there, soon there will be no free parking in the whole valley, Vancouver is bad for tickets too, the tow truck guys will tow the cars in about five minutes, I have seen it with my own eyes, 4th and Arbutus area, I was eating at Sophie’s and this guy jumps out of his car, runs for an errand and he was gone like five minutes and this guy had his car jacked up and gone by the time he got back, boy you should have seen the look on his face, he was not even a tourist.
Traffic cops are Bastards all over the world
Thanks for the Hawaii stories
steve
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#6 Keith Talent

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Posted 03 August 2004 - 02:41 PM

So anyone have any guesses why locals don't eat outside? Hell, even the Starbucks rarely offered outdoor seating (and my sample size on that survey was huge, do you know how dense the concentration need to be to make a Vancouverite observe their preponderance?)

#7 FoodZealot

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Posted 04 August 2004 - 11:00 AM

I'll throw out a few half-baked possibilities:1. Bugs
2. Wind
3. Too hot, or too much sun - sweating and eating don't go together
4. Too cold - believe it or not, some people reach for a sweater when the tempertature plunges below 72° F at night...
5. If I want to eat outside, I'll grill or picnic rather than going to a restaurant.
I know, I know - bugs in Hawaii aren't nearly as as bad as _____, or it's not as windy as _____, or I wear shorts down to 50° F in _____, but even if you live in paradise, you still have to have something to complain about, right? [grin]

~Tad

#8 caroline

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Posted 04 August 2004 - 03:12 PM

When I was in Hawaii it was widely believed that there was a state ordnance that forbade sidewalk cafes. It was supposed to date from the days when Hawaii was worried that this would make it look sloppy. At least that's my memory. It may just be a myth.

Rachel
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#9 skchai

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Posted 05 August 2004 - 07:44 PM

I'm not aware of any specific ordinance, but would not be surprised if there are restrictions on seats extending to the actual sidewalk. But I wouldn't think this is just a Hawai`i thing - that seems to be the standard throughout the continental U.S. and I suspect Canada too.

There are actually a large number of places with outdoor seating, though most are lanai-type arrangements, such as Kaka`ako Kitchen, which I take it Keith visited but did not like, and many of the other places in the Ward Center and the Victoria Ward Shopping complex nearby. All have roofs, though. Without a roof, it would simply be too hot much of the year.

I did notice a large number of outdoor seating arrangements when I last visited Vancouver, but as far as I could tell they did not extend out onto the sidewalk proper, as sometimes seems to happen in France.

Interesting phenomenon that we noticed on Via Veneto in Rome last year - restaurants would put up little air-conditioned glass enclosements in the little arbor zones between the sidewalk and the road. Waiters would walk across the sidewalk to deliver the food. All the people-watching without facing the natural elements. . .

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#10 tooearly

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Posted 20 August 2004 - 09:10 PM

As a local, Hawaii is NOT the place to come for food....surf, nice people, good music, and weather yes...i know that will rub some the wrong way, but it is how I see it.

#11 skchai

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Posted 20 August 2004 - 11:05 PM

Care to elaborate, tooearly?

Sun-Ki Chai
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#12 stovetop

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Posted 21 August 2004 - 08:53 AM

I went to Hawaii in 1976 and I really enjoyed the food, the fish was amazingly fresh, the sauces on those fish seemed to come up as trends on West Coast years later, also I remember seeing this same trend being upheld in other Canadian cities at other times. The main dinning area we where at was on Maui; Kehei beach area, from what I was told and also from some visuals such as post cards and a few photographs, I gather it has changed a lot since I was there.
Although I am sure the seafood still is fresh and good, Mahi- mahi, Ai tuna, shark, marlin that was so fresh you would swear it still had the hook in its mouth, the restaurants all had great service and atmosphere, it had to be one of my favorite places, diving and beach boarding, the heat and torrential downpours, the sun peeking its self out again through the clouds, soon the heat and the sun was blasting us again, the humidity was amazing, being from Alberta where it is dry, this was a very alluring thing for me, it was a nice change.
This site has a few of you Hawaii naysayers, people say sometime in life if you have nothing nice to say, why bother flapping your gums, shit maybe you should change your venue, are you not looking what's around you??
steve
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#13 stovetop

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Posted 21 August 2004 - 08:57 AM

Yes please elaborate.
steve
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#14 tooearly

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Posted 21 August 2004 - 06:45 PM

why would anyone elaborate in response to a shellacking like that? did you here anyone complaining about life in Hawaii?

#15 stovetop

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Posted 21 August 2004 - 10:42 PM

As a local, Hawaii is NOT the place to come for food....surf, nice people, good music, and weather yes...i know that will rub some the wrong way, but it is how I see it.


Were you joking?:raz:

There must be a few overstated jokesters around E-gullet, cause I remember a few other over stated statements about hawaii on some other threads, do you all have this sense of humour and sarcasm.
steve :wacko:
Cook To Live; Live To Cook

#16 LarryG

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Posted 22 August 2004 - 09:51 PM

I can see the point of view that Hawaii is not the place to come for food. Of course, there is good food here. There is excellent food here. Compared to other places, though....

Before I moved here I lived in Tokyo. Before that, New York. In between I frequently visited many cities in Asia, Europe and some in Canada. So I was disappointed when I came to Hawaii with regard to the variety and quality of restaurants. I mean, just try and find a few good Indian restaurants, as an example.

As I learned more, I began to find some top-notch places. In comparison to Tokyo, though, or Vancouver, or New York, or London, it's slim pickin's.

Yes, there are restaurants here that can hold their own, but this is still a small town for eating out. I also noted the huge thing we make about the good ones we have. Roy's would be one of many in New York. Etc., etc.

I'm thankful for the good food we have, for the recent availability of heirloom tomatoes and other fresh ingredients at the KCC Saturday Farmers' Market, for the durian (which I love), the other Asian fruits and vegetables, for the tofu in the supermarket (try that in Iowa...) and for the restaurants reviewed here and elsewhere. I also miss the eating experience that is New York, and can see how someone used to something else might view Hawaii as coming up short in the eating department.

--Larry

#17 caroline

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Posted 23 August 2004 - 06:42 PM

Hi LarryG,

You are certainly right that Honolulu cannot offer the restaurant dining experience of Tokyo or New York. Certainly Indian restaurants (which are among my favorites) are not thick on the ground. Hawaii needs a software industry! And I can quite see that you want the sophistication of big cities. Your web page is eloquent and I loved it.

When I moved to Honolulu (though I'd never had the money or the opportunity to eat in fine restaurants) I was disappointed by what I found. But I ended up fascinated. And I'd love to be able to explain not only why but why Hawaii's food intrigues some of us.

High end restaurants are going to be difficult. The city is only one twentieth the size of New York or Tokyo. The restaurants should be compared to a small to medium sized American city not to NY or Tokyo. Specially since there isn't much money floating around. Locals are hard pushed with the high prices and scarcity of high-paying jobs.

What about tourism? Well, well-to-do tourists scoot straight off to the outer islands to avoid Waikiki. Hence it's hard for up market restaurants to survive (please comment those of you who know more than me!).

But, as I think Sun-Ki commented on another thread, you can taste things in Hawaii that you would never find anywhere else in the US. And, as I would say, you can find amazing eating experiences. High end, perhaps no. But palate expanding, for sure. And, thankfully, not all adjusted to mainland tastes. And wonderful ingredients in Chinatown and the regular (not the haole) farmers' markets.

I learned more about food in Hawaii than any other place I have lived. And if the way of the future (as of the past) is fusion food, then Hawaii is the future.

I could go on. But I just want to say I hope you find niches you like. And may you keep edging the potential of Hawaii's food up!

Rachel
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#18 oneidaone

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Posted 23 August 2004 - 08:38 PM

Aloha - I must make this brief as I am making corn chowder with Ewa Sweet and Waimanalo corn
with local red bell peppers, local russet potatoes, maui onion and it should be fabulous. In any case
Caroline, I wish you still lived here. There is now a Farmer's Market, a REAL farmer's market every
Saturday at KCC that you would really enjoy. We make the trek from the Windward side every
Saturday (although beginning Sept. 9th a second market by the same organizers) will be held in
Kailua on Thursdays. I agree that if fusion is the future the future may be right here in our backyard. I absolutely hate those city sponsored markets that rove around the island on various days as most of them sell stuff from the mainland/Mexico or wherever. I probably will extend my
answer to this topic but must go and attend to my soup!!!!!! A hui ho.........
"You can't miss with a ham 'n' egger......"
Ervin D. Williams 9/1/1921 - 6/8/2004

#19 LarryG

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Posted 23 August 2004 - 08:50 PM

Speaking of the KCC or (soon to start) Kailua markets, if you see this in time, please tune in to this radio program on Thursday. Here's my promo for it:
----------

There will be a new Farmers' Market in Kailua, and there's other news. In fact, we'll definitely take a bullish view of Hawaii's market future with guests Ryan Lum of North Shore Cattle Co., Don Murphy of Murphy's Bar and Grill, and of course Joan Namkoong, continuing on from her last appearance.

Tune in on Thursday 8/26 at 5 pm on Hawaii Public Radio, KIPO, 89.3 FM or via computer at:

hawaiipublicradio.org

if you're not located on Oahu.

It's a call-in program, so please call in with questions or comments. 941-3689 or toll- free from Neighbor Islands 1-877 941-3689.

-----------

If you miss the broadcast, in a few days the audio archive usually appears on the Hawaii Public Radio website.

Cheerz,
--Larry

#20 oneidaone

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Posted 23 August 2004 - 09:44 PM

Great!!! I'll be tuning in!!!! It is truly unfortunate KKEA has decided the entire state wants to only
hear about sports and cut out jobs (well maybe not full time jobs for those on the 'food shows') but
nonetheless is willing to plant mainland ESPN shows on their schedule taking away from any other
diversity besides TEDIOUS sports.

The last show of "Heckathorn's Hotplates" with Joan and A.Kam Napier is to air Friday. What a sad
day for a broad listenership on our Hawaiian airwaves.........a hui ho...........
"You can't miss with a ham 'n' egger......"
Ervin D. Williams 9/1/1921 - 6/8/2004

#21 caroline

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Posted 24 August 2004 - 06:28 PM

LarryG and Oneidone,

Thanks so much for bringing me up to date on somewhere that I loved and with which I am so hopelessly out of date.

Are all the city-sponsored farmers' markets so horrid? My favorite was always Kalihi at 8am on Saturdays where the produce was uncontestably local. And what has happened in Hilo? they had one of that kind too.

I guess I'm a hopeless romantic. How to put this. I want to see Hawaii roaring out saying learn to taste rice, try sweet potato greens, kamias, tamarind, banana flowers. Learn the varieties of mango and seaweed. If you want nifty bread, try an pan.

In the 50s and 60s Hawaii chased mainland trends, anxious to be up to date with their chicken cordon bleu. And much of that was great. But is the food community doing the same now wanting artisan bread and heirloom tomatoes? Will the effort to bring Hawaii up to mainland expectations of food look just as dated in a couple of decades? Just a question.

I see parallels in Mexico where I now live where in the 60s it was chicken cordon bleu and now it's nouveau Mexican. Both can be great. But where are the nopales, the cabuches, the colonche?

I remember sitting with Joan Namkoong in a little Vietamese restaurant just below the university that had truly great food. The two of us were bitching about the quality of cheese in Hawaii. And suddenly I though, this is nuts!

best,

Rachel
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#22 LarryG

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Posted 24 August 2004 - 08:11 PM

Depends on how you look at it. The pink tomatoes in Safeway are the standard, but at the KCC Saturday Farmers' Market you can get real tomatoes. No one, anywhere, should be made to eat those pink things when there are alternatives.

There are indeed a few excellent Asian restaurants, no argument. Several have been reviewed right here! Now,there is also plate lunch, some pretty fattening, tasteless, greasy, etc. There's McDonalds most everywhere.

I think we would like to have good local produce if we want to eat produce -- not only does it keep a Hawaii farmer alive, it also avoids paying for petroleum to carry the pink imitation stuff across the ocean to us. I feel I would like to pay even a bit more to avoid all that air pollution and support of repressive regimes etc. (Does buying a local tomato make me unpatriotic??).

The islands are no longer "Hawaiian" and so while the food of the original people is still here, and of course it is here in homes, it is in retreat from the asphalt and concrete being applied by the current occupiers. With this indisputably foreign invasion come the trappings of Western life, the expensive wines, restaurants of many nationalities, smelly cheese, fiery chillies, strange salt or oil anchovies, fermented fish sauce, Spam even, bagels, Macademia Nut Flavored Coffee, triple chocolate suicide cakes (hint: try Indigo's version), and so forth.

At least, I hope for the best of all that wherever I live.

Cheerz,
--Larry

P.S. I have heard that the city-sponsored markets are run by a very small number of wholesalers, and the produce is not necessarily local. They have garlic, for example, which is not grown here.

P.P.S. We could use some nopales, cabuches, and colonche here too!!

#23 oneidaone

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Posted 25 August 2004 - 02:08 PM

I don't think Hawaii is trying to 'keep up with the mainland.' What I do see is the emphasis
upon fresh/local ingredients available now and more and more becoming available. The
farmers are responding to requests of chefs and coming up with more and more in terms of
herbs and various vegetables, meats and fish. My travels only take me to Chicago twice a
year and the number of restaurants is overwhelming, many of which you must wear a certain type of clothing to dine in. For our fine dining levels it is great to be able to wear
aloha attire and go to food events in 'elegant aloha attire' as it is often called. Although I will
say that Hoku's has a long pants requirement, unaware diners are given long pants to
wear for the evening much like jackets on the mainland or on Lana'i at Koele.

With the emphasis upon freshness and a cuisine of it's own as initiated by the Hawaii Regional Chefs and the second generation of the Hawaii Island Chefs we see a continual
evolution of dining at all levels, certainly not all high end. It is up to us to support the
farmer's and certainly it is most 'patriotic' to buy local tomatoes as opposed to those
awful things that come from California or wherever. Even in California it is up to them to
buy the freshest that they can find and from what we see and read they do. Thankfully
the resources are available to us to indulge in the freshest possible ingredients. For years
I would drive to Nalo Farms to purchase greens and herbs as did many of my friends the
KCC market allows one stop shopping for a week of fresh and healthful eating. So that said
I am off to eat a lunch of greens from MAO farms in Waianae with some North Shore tomato
sprinkled with some roasted Ewa sweet corn. A hui ho.......... :biggrin:
"You can't miss with a ham 'n' egger......"
Ervin D. Williams 9/1/1921 - 6/8/2004

#24 caroline

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Posted 26 August 2004 - 05:19 PM

Hey, hey, hey, far be it from me, ardent advocate of the globalization of foods, to leave Hawaii out of the loop. Three cheers that they have the iconic heirloom tomatoes, fine wine, stinky cheese, etc.

But for me one of the neatest things about globalisation is that it kicks the local into high gear. Usually. That seemed to be happening in Hawaii in the 80s and 90s. And maybe it will now and the farmer's markets (and I'd love to know just who those farmers are by the way) will offer pea-sized eggplants and banana flowers along with the iconic tomatoes and will offer natto and kim chee along with the stinky cheese (if it's sold there) and purple rice sweets along with artesanal bread and . . . well you get the picture.

Leaving aside that these things are often terrific contributions to world cuisine, there is also the matter of (yes shout) TOURISM on which the islands depend. Tourists want something exotic if even if the tiniest doses. Local markets that are clones of those in San Francisco just aren't exotic. But perhaps that's just crass on my part.

But of course I'd be lining up for that artisanal bread

Rachel
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#25 oneidaone

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Posted 26 August 2004 - 09:25 PM

The show was very interesting. I appreciated the call from Marissa (sp?) that indeed asked about
the city run open markets and the produce which is not from Hawaii, addressed very nicely on the
show - we all had agreed this was the case.

I think that farmers from the Big Island showcasing fresh hearts of palm, offering samples and
passionately explaining their farming methods and where in fact a heart of palm comes from
(yes, a can in most cases......) but to taste and experience and see pictures of a real peach palm
is just so amazing. To know that cattle are being raised here on Oahu (who would imagine that
on an island that seems so over-populated and developed), goat cheese from Maui and the Big
Island - granted they don't stink, just evoke flavorful fantasies of herbs and fruit. Tourists abound
at the market and each week I hear their exclamations of wonder and awe at what they would have
missed had they not come to the market and only stayed in Waikiki - many enroute to the Neighbor
Islands. They say that they will ask if things are from here when they dine out, how great is that? This is a great exchange recently of ideas and philosphies from many origins that I have
found fascinating. Mahalo Nui Loa to Joan Namkoong, Dean Okimoto and the rest that have worked
so hard to make this vision a clarity appealing to so many of the people who live and visit Oahu.
You can always log on to HawaiiFarmBureau.org and see the weekly tip sheet for the market
on Thursdays. Everyone who has contributed to this discussion a big mahalo, you've made it
so interesting to be on this forum geographically.......a hui ho :wub:
"You can't miss with a ham 'n' egger......"
Ervin D. Williams 9/1/1921 - 6/8/2004

#26 skchai

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Posted 27 August 2004 - 04:03 AM

Don't know where to start here - of course judging food quality is a subjective business, so it's quite possible that contradictory opinions can be equally valid. So there's nothing objectively incorrect about anyone saying that Hawai`i has lousy food - it may indeed be lousy from their experience and tastes. Anyway, nothing seems to get people more excited about a local food / music / anything else, than someone coming in and slamming it!

Given that no one can claim objectivity, I'll try to restrict my "defense" of our food by discussing the extent that Hawai`i, and particularly Honolulu, fits into each of what, in my mind, are the three best-known "paradigms" for evaluating a fine food city . . .

(1) The haute cuisine paradigm. This paradigm is the kuleana of the Michelins, Gault-Millaus, and those who seek to emulate their influence in annointing temples of fine dining. No doubt, as far as this is concerned, that Honolulu cannot claim even auxiliary membership in the rarefied circles of haute cuisine cities - New York, Tokyo, Toronto etc. But as Rachel points out, this is hardly a reasonable comparison given the great differences in size. Indeed, the fact that anyone would think of comparing Honolulu, even unfavorably, with such places shows there that our high-end cuisine has more prominence than one would expect given our population. It would be hard to imagine someone even bothering to make such a statement such as: "Tulsa / Halifax / Buffalo just can't compare with New York or Tokyo for great restaurants!" No offense to any of those cities intended - I love BBQ brisket / saltfish and brewis / beef on weck! Indeed, some of my best friends . . .

Yes, Roy's would be just one among many in New York. But the fact that we have even one Roy (not to mention one Alan Wong, Mavro, Sam Choy etc. apiece) is a lot of visibility for a city of about 375,000 people, and a huge jump from where we were 15 years ago. Indeed, whatever you think about Hawaiian Regional Cuisine and other self-conscious culinary movements in the local restaurant industry, it's clear they have brought us greater visibility and influence in haute cuisine than any similar-sized city or territory in the world. This is true any way you measure it, whether it be restaurant and chef awards, mentions in foodie magazines, nationally distributed chef's cookbooks, influence on menus elsewhere in the country, etc. etc.

(2) The "terroir" paradigm. This is (literally in this case) the kuleana of the Slow Food movement, the proponents of controlled appellations, and such. Here, the emphasis is on distinctive food products that are historically tied to a particular territory, that are raised with great care and reverence, and (perhaps most important) are bound up in the identity of the people living there. Here, Honolulu and its surrounding areas are not really doing badly (again, given the size of the population), but at least in my opinion things could be better.

Yes, partly inspired by the HRC and its nouvelle cuisine roots, much more emphasis is being made on locally sourced ingredients, and farmer's markets are going up left and right. I agree with oneidaone that KCC Farmer's market is a great resource for the chef. Small producers, much celebrated by the local food press, are making everying from prime-grade steer to chocolate. However, as welcome as this trend is, and as wonderful as many of the products are, too often it comes across as a delayed and reduced-scale reflection of what has already taken place in many major mainland population centers.

But no, it's not a scandal that we can't get heirloom tomatoes in the same variety and quantity here as you can in New York. The real scandal is that it is almost impossible to find high quality taro or breadfruit here, despite the fact that have been the staples of the Native Hawaiian diet. Or, to take "aliens" that have been long-naturalized, that you have to go to extraordinary lengths to find a good ripe pineapple or high-quality Haden mango (unless, in the latter case, you have a neighbor with a tree). Most of the mangos sold in local supermarkets are from Mexico - that it in itself is not remarkable; it is just part of the modern parable of the global division of labor, along with Aloha shirts made in Indonesia. What is more extraordinary is that great local pineapple, mango, or litchi is almost impossible to find even in the farmers' markets.

Locally-sourced ingredients are not enough for fufilling the stern requirements of this paradigm. We need more of an emphasis on locally-sourced local ingredients. And no, Rachel, I don't believe that this is a cry for "authenticity", whatever that means. Instead, it is the notion that if a society seeks to buy into the Slow Food ethos of culinary communitarianism, it needs to define a reasonably stable set of food items to call its own. Each of such foods must be distinct enough to differentiate the society from others, well-suited to its physical climate if it is a crop, and established long enough to be integrated into the local cuisine. Whether these foods have been there for a hundred generations or one is less important. Heirloom tomatoes can't define "us", even if it is very nice to have them available here, because no one will view them as distinct to or particularly well-suited for Hawai`i. Some of the other foods I've mentioned above can, but need to be nurtured to develop into full-blown expressions of local identity.

(3) The diversity paradigm. Here, we're talking about the multiplicity of cultures and cuisines in one place, both juxtaposed and blended. This is, in my opinion, where Honolulu looks the strongest. Yes, I'm painfully aware we're missing quite a lot. Among other things, we don't have much choice in the way of good Indian, Mexican, or Arab restaurants here. Indeed, if you're looking for the sheer availability of a complete range of ethnic cuisines, then even here we can't measure up to New York, Los Angeles, or London, to take the three most diverse restaurant cities in the world. Of course, you may have to drive or ride the subway for quite a while to get to the best places in those cities.

Travel time aside, however, there are many ways in which Honolulu is unexcelled even by much larger cities. One is the widespread availability of cuisines that you would be hard-pressed to find even in some of these larger cities. One of course is traditional Hawaiian food, but we can include in this category the multitude of Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Thai restaurants specializing in one particular dish, or food from one particular subregion. Not to mention rarer findings such as the half-dozen or more restaurants serving Okinawan cuisine, a few well-hidden places serving Samoan or Micronesian food, etc.

More importantly however, is the constant, casual, and seemingly unconscious mixing of cuisines that goes on in Honolulu at the most plebian levels. "Ethnic" food of many kinds has insinuated itself into our own cuisine to the point that no one thinks that there is anything remarkable about the average, not-particularly-adventurous person eating pork adobo for lunch one day, Japanese curry the next, kalbi and kimchi the next, and laulau the next. Not to mention fried chicken on Friday. It's almost a cliché, but this kind of procession is just part of the normal diet here. And the great forum for this procession is the ubiquitous plate lunch, often served out of a lunchwagon where a single local lady may offer all the aforementioned dishes on one menu, all prepared on a tiny stovetop, with "two scoops" of rice the only constant, literally and figuratively the glue holding everything together. Sneer you may at the plate lunch wagon. O.K., the food is often carelessly made, and even I would love to see mac salad banished to the great `opala dump in the sky, but there is probably no site in the world at any time in history, with the possible exception of the old Singapore hawker streets, where a greater variety of culinary tradition are brought together in one great multicultural heap.

Sooner or later, moreover, things get mixed up, which leads to shoyu poke, chicken longrice, char siu saimin with katsuo broth, beef hekka, "meat juhn", mochiko chicken, kim chee burger, kalua pig pizza, Spam musubi of course, butter mochi, and on and on, as well as literally hundreds of other "fused" dishes that are seen as so routine that they have no name. This kind of stuff does happen elsewhere, but nowhere close to the same extent as it does in our city and state. I think that it is this diversity that caught Rachel's interest after she had lived here for a few years, and which she wrote about so beautifully in Food of Paradise, which is, as far as I know, the only book focusing on the cuisine of a single U.S. state to ever win a major culinary prize - the IACP Jane Grigson award.

SO. . ., even going by the conventional criteria, I think both Honolulu and Hawaii look pretty good, particularly when you take into account size, but even overall when it comes to diversity.

BTW, since this thread has long since ceased being a trip report, I think I will move everything from tooearly on to a new thread. Any objections? Stay tuned. . .

Larry, are there audio archives of the recent Town Square episodes - 5 pm is one of the most difficult times for me to tune in, but I'd really like to hear the shows with Joan Namkoong and the others.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#27 LarryG

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Posted 28 August 2004 - 07:52 PM

Yes, there are audio archives, though it could take a couple of days to a week or two before the program appears. The archives are at:

http://hawaiipublicr...g/Aarchive1.htm .

It is actually the "fusing" that you talk about that intrigues me most. On the Mainland, I think it is more the common thing that (for example) Japanese restaurants stick with the stereotype. Variations are few and often would seem weird in the home country (California rolls, for example, as "sushi"). The fusion sometimes works well, sometimes not.

This is probably an area of discussion where people will reasonably differ according to their own culinary preferences, experiences elsewhere, and expectations. Remembering back 30 years ago when I started coming to Hawaii, it certainly wasn't meeting my expectations. Things have come a long way in certain respects. For eating, speaking generally, I don't know where to place Hawaii on a scale at present, or how that scale should be calibrated. There are plenty of places I'd place lower. I recall going into a "Chinese" restaurant in Columbus Indiana (not Ohio) and ordering chow mein. It was peas and carrots mostly.

Cheerz,
--Larry

#28 Tess

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Posted 31 August 2004 - 01:55 PM

I think the Carribean/Mexican place you ate was Cha Cha Cha's. There is a place called Cha Cha Cha Salsaria, also billed as Carribean/Mexican, in the Hawaii Kai plaza where we sometimes stop for tacos on the way to one of the beach parks. i like that they use a lot of fresh vegetables in their dishes.

I don't have much of a chance to explore the restaurant scene in Honolulu, because the people we visit with are just not up for it. But I always enjoy the food because, as other posters have mentioned, you get wonderful fish and produce. Your average plate of fish in a bar on the beach is a lot better than most of what I can get on the mainland, at least without spending a ton of money.

If you're there dining with kids again, you might want to try driving over to Roy's. The branches in Hawaai are, in my opinion, much better than those on the mainland (that local fish and produce again), it is kid-friendly, and the service is never less than excellent.

#29 Kapuliperson

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Posted 31 August 2004 - 08:23 PM

I'm sorry you had a bad run-in with the police while you were there. I'm a local Hawaiian now misplaced (been travelling around the world for the past 4 years) and well- what can I say, I never really liked any of the restaurants or such there, especially around the Waikiki area. And that's pretty much why I decided to learn how to cook since my mom wasn't really into cooking either.