Looking back, I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in my life my “what to see” list when traveling started to tip in favor of places to eat rather than sights and attractions to see. While Kaua’i is a beautiful island with stunning beaches, mountains, canyons, and jungles, as I made my list of what I wanted to do, it pretty much read like a list of local types of food I wanted to try. Along the way, I discovered Lonely Planet’s Kaua’i guide, a book that uses 296 pages to detail the island and does a lot of work to present it through a environmental/sustainable/locavore lens. Excellent resource.
Our first afternoon in Poipu Beach we decided to start with the nearby town of Koloa, a five-minute drive from Poipu. With its little town feel that would be right at home in an “old west” movie, our first stop was the highly recommended Koloa Fish Market. Known for good local “grinds”, I was anticipating a chance to sit down and enjoy some great food. We got the great food alright, but since there was no place to sit down we had to take the food back to the condo.
Everything’s on the chalk board inside this tiny market. The friendly staff readily explained things that we later realized were written right in front of our face. (Hey, it happens to the best of us!) With four of us, two of whom are not large eaters, we decided the following would be enough:
This mixed seafood plate has seared ahi tuna encrusted in sesame, boiled shrimp served with dipping sauce, seaweed salad, and poke. Poke (pronounced “poe-kay”, which means “to cut or slice” in Hawaiian) is a common side dish in the islands made from raw fish marinated in soy sauce and other ingredients. We ate a lot of poke and every bit of it was fantastic. Most often, it is made from ahi tuna, the quality of which is amazing. We also had it made with octopus, crab meat, and salmon.
Now, I will say this about seafood in Hawai’i. It is really wonderful and all, but I get really fresh, really inexpensive seafood in Thailand so there was a point where I was thinking that it was all fine and dandy, but not really that exciting. This echoes a problem that Michael shared with us. When he has guests from the mainland, there are a lot of very interesting types of food for them to experience because Hawai’i has a hodgepodge of Asian cultures that make up its heritage and a lot of the Asian food here is better than what the visitors may experience back at home. When he has guests from Asia, though, they are more likely to think something like, “yeah, we’ve got this back at home.”
Of course, that didn’t stop us from trying as many different things as we could!
Another thing we tried is the plate lunch. Well, the styrofoam box lunch. Today’s offering was a mix of laulau (pork steamed in taro leaves and ti leaves), kalua pork (slow roasted, traditionally cooked in a fire pit), rice, lomilomi salmon (minced salted salmon with chopped tomatoes and green onions), and a little serving of poke. Both types of pork were wonderfully tasty. The lomilomi salmon was fine but it was hard to identify that there was any salmon in there. We tried some a bit later in the week that had more noticeable amounts of salmon.
For dessert we shared a piece of the fish market’s homemade sweet potato and haupia pie, a market specialty. Haupia is a coconut milk dessert thickened with arrowroot or corn starch. It is very similar to a Thai dessert and is lightly sweet and salty with a thick, gelatine-like consistency. This version is served with a sweet potato base made from purple sweet potatoes, again something familiar to people in Thailand. It is served on a cracker-crumb crust. It was very nice, not overly sweet but pretty filling.
All in all, our first meal in Kaua’i was a thumbs up. Relatively inexpensive, good food, simply prepared.
Unrelated to the lunch at the Koloa Fish Market was our search for malasadas, the fried dough that came here with Portuguese contract workers, thousands of whom came to Hawai’i in the late 1800s. We were looking for for the one-woman stand known as Kaua’i Malasadas, located in from of the K-Mart at Kukui Grove Shopping Center in Lihue. Unfortunately, she was nowhere to be seen, so we stopped at Kaua’i Bakery & Cinnamons in the same shopping center to try some of the different malasadas.
The options included plain, chocolate cream filled, vanilla cream filled, and filled with both chocolate and vanilla cream. Lightly sprinkled with sugar and not too oily, I was nonetheless underwhelmed with these fried treats. They are donuts without holes, something that I can’t get incredibly worked up about.