Food in Kauai: Puka Dog, Yumi’s, and Jo-Jo’s

A bit over two weeks after we left Kauai, I’m still trying to wrap up blog entries on the trip.  To make some progress, I’ll combine three eateries into a single entry: Puka Dog, home of the “Hawaiian style” hot dog; Yumi’s, a small cafe in Waimea; and Jo-Jo’s Anuenue, the “original” (kind of) Waimea shave ice shop.


First up was Puka Dog, the Kauai branch of this “Hawaiian style” hot dog shop featured in Anthony Bourdain’s show “No Reservations”.  (He visited the branch in Waikiki, on Oahu.)  The concept is staight-forward: polish sausages (or veggie dogs) served in a bun with secret sauce (mild, spicy, hot, or hot hot, none of which are particularly spicy) and topped with various tropical relishes (papaya, mango, coconut, banana, etc.).


“Puka” means “hole” in Hawaiian and so the buns, instead of being split along the side, are instead impaled on this medieval looking contraption above.  What is it?  A European style hot-dog bun roaster, of course.  That’s why it looks medieval!  The point (no pun intended) is that the interior of the bun is toasted.  Sauce and relish are pumped into the hole, serving as lubricant to help slide the sausage in.  Sorry, this blog entry may not be appropriate for all age groups. 


The puka dog is a bit hard to eat as when you bite it, the juices have nowhere to go but towards you.  As for the flavor, the relishes are all a bit sweet and so you get the salty, meaty sausage with very sweet relish, but there needs to be something to cut the flavor.  Maybe the spicy sauce is meant to do that but we ordered “hot hot” and it wasn’t spicy enough.  Maybe something like pickled hot peppers, fresh Maui onions, or else sauerkraut would have been enough?


After our puka dog we went next door to the ice cream parlor for some locally made Papalani gelato, available in all manner of tropical flavors.  This was pretty tasty.  I had a lichee sorbet and Tawn had a macadamia nut gelato.

. . .


Our final day in Kauai, the four of us drove to the extreme west of the island, going down several miles of an unpaved and badly rutted dirt road until we reached the beach at Polihale State Park.  Looking at the Google Map now, it appears there may have been a paved option that would have led us there, but the signage was not clear.  We bumped along for thirty minutes, driving v-e-r-y slowly, until we reached the beach.  It was clear that Tawn was not having a good time.


When we did reach the end of the road, though, we were rewarded with these spectacular views of the Na’Pali coast, the one section of Kauai’s coast that cannot be accessed by road.  The beach is very long, very wide, and almost completely deserted.  The cliffs loom over the water, the layers of lava laid down by subsequent eruptions clearly visible.


The face of a husband who was trying his best to maintain a sunny disposition after being bounced down the road like a rock tumbled in a clothes dryer.  He gets bonus points for patience.


On the way back to Poipu, we stopped at Yumi’s Restaurant, a small family run place located in the storefront of the art deco Waimea Theatre.


The place was deserted, thanks in part to the street construction that was going on directly in front of the shop.


This menu board gives you an idea of the range of local “grinds” – breakfast all day, plate lunches, and various sandwiches.


On special was futomaki, a catch-all term used to describe sushi rolled with seaweed wrappers on the outside, filled with various ingredients with complementary colors and flavors.  These had tuna, egg, green beans, and carrots – very basic.


Tawn ordered the chicken cutlet, which is basically katsu-style chicken (breaded with panko and fried) but instead of serving with a tonkatsu sauce, it was served with generic brown gravy.  This caused a bit of a disconnect between taste buds that were expecting the sweet flavors of tonkatsu sauce and the reality of a salty, savory gravy.


Longing for some breakfast, I had simple fried eggs, bacon (which was supposed to be Portuguese sausage, an oversight that was quickly corrected), and the ubiquitous rice.


My mother had a small portion of the “loco moco”, a typical Hawaiian breakfast dish with rice topped with hamburger patty, egg (scrambled in this case, usually fried, though), and gravy.  Definitely a heavy start to the day!


My father had a teriyaki beef burger that was pretty flat, both in terms of flavor as well as size.


One of Yumi’s specialties is apple turnover, so we ordered one of them to share.  The crust, made with lard, was flaky and flavorful.

All in all, given the prices, Yumi’s was a fair value.  The food, though, wasn’t very exciting and I don’t know that I would make it my highest priority to return.  There are some other places on the west side of the island, including Da Imu Hut Cafe in Hanapepe, which I’d like to try next time, based on positive recommendations from my cousins.

. . .


After lunch we walked across the street for some shave ice.  Waimea is famous for its rival shave ice shops: Jo-Jo’s Original Shave Ice and Jo-Jo’s Anuenue Shave Ice.  The story is a bit confusing, but my understanding of the story goes something like this:

In the ’90s, Aunty Jo-Jo sold her popular, seven-year old shave-ice shop on Kaumuali’i Highway in Waimea, called “Jo-Jo’s Clubhouse,” to another family, in order to finance her return to school.  The new owners didn’t do a very good job keeping up the reputation of the shop, possibly because Aunty Jo-Jo hadn’t given them all the recipes.  In 2007, Aunty Jo-Jo opened a new shop at a new location just around the corner under the name “Jo-Jo’s Anuenue Shave Ice.”  The owners of her original location were unable to produce the contract they claim contains a noncompete clause, so Aunty Jo-Jo has continued her business in the new location and the owners of the “original” Jo-Jo’s continue their business, too, under the name “Jo-Jo’s Original.”

Confused yet?


In all fairness, we didn’t take the time to go to both locations and do a proper comparison.  Instead, we just patronized Jo-Jo’s Anuenue Shave Ice, figuring that Aunty Jo-Jo is probably worth the visit.  The place is mighty modest inside and there’s no place to sit other than a bench and a few plastic chairs out front.  The young lady who was working (I told her she must be the single most photographed person on the island, to which she laughed) pulled together our orders with a practiced hand, mounding the ice high and pouring the neon syrups generously.

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My parents, setting their inner children free as they get a chance to sample Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice.  After three shave ices during the trip, I have to say that this is a treat that can get overwhelming very quickly.  Something about half the size would be enough.  Maybe two people just need to share one, right?

. . .

We drove back to the condo and Tawn and I had an hour to pack before we headed to the airport and our flight to Honolulu, where we would spend one evening and have dinner with Xangan Michael.  Unfortunately, Tawn and I both managed to have a serious lapse in attention and missed our flight.  We left the condo about 4:00 for our 5:40 flight, arriving at the airport around 4:40 or so.  There was almost nobody at ticketing or security, so proceeded through those quickly. 


Once inside the terminal, I glanced up at a wall of clocks that showed all the time zones in the world.  Unable to find Hawaii, I noticed the minute hand showing ten minutes after the hour so in my mind I thought it must be 4:10.   Of course it was 5:10, not 4:10.  We went to Starbucks and sat down with some coffee to write post cards.  The shop is air conditioned and enclosed from the open air portion of the terminal, so we didn’t hear the “final call” announcements.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Hawaiian Airlines jet rolling down the runway and I thought, “That’s odd – the plane should be arriving about now, not taking off.”  And then I looked at my phone and realized that we had missed our flight.

Credit to Hawaiian Airlines for running a tight ship – that plane actually took off about two minutes before scheduled departure according to the time on my phone.   But we were late, missed the “be there ten minutes before departure” warning, and there’s no disputing that.  They were accommodating and put us on stand-by for the next flight, which left two hours later.  Unfortunately, that meant we had to miss dinner with Michael.

By about 9:00 we had finally made it to Waikiki and checked into our hotel for our final night in Hawai’i.  More about that in the next entry.


North Shore of Kauai

On our second to last day on Kauai, we drove from Poipu, where we were staying on the south shore, to the north shore of the island.  While the entire island is very tropical and green, there is a notable difference between the south and north sides.  The north side is the windward side and you can tell that the level of precipitation is much higher.  There is one main highway that runs around the island and it took about an hour and a half to go from Poipu to Princeville.


The view from my aunt and uncle’s rental condo in Poipu, looking inland towards the mountains.


Our first major stop was Kilauea, a small plantation town that is home to this lighthouse situated on a dramatic bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  One item on our itinerary that we were not able to fit in was a stop to the Kauai Kunana Dairy, a small family-run goat farm and micro-dairy in Kilauea that makes fine goat cheeses.  They offer tours but only on Thursday.  A future visit will have to include a stop there.


My parents in front of the lighthouse.  I remember visiting here in the 80s as a family.


We continued our drive through Princeville, then stopped at a scenic overlook before descending into Hanalei Valley.  This is the view of the taro fields in Hanalei Valley.  Such pretty shades of green.


As we descended into the valley, we were able to get closer to the fields themselves.  Hanalei is a small beach town of surfer dudes and the hippie vibe has not faded.  The reasons for the reference to the town of Hanalei in the song “Puff the Magic Dragon” are easy to understand. 


While in Hanalei we stopped at a small shopping center that featured shops selling local crafts and souvenirs.  This one had this pretty cat napping amongst the towels.  He looked too comfortable to disturb.


We worked our way along the highway, making a few stops here and there, until we came to a point that overlooks Wainiha Beach Park (pictured above) and Wainiha Bay (below).  You have to park at a cut-out on the road, being careful to give plenty of room to passing cars.  Then there is an easy climb just a few feet down a hillside to the lava rocks, which give a great view and put you just above the reach of the waves.


Looking back at the beach in Wainiha Bay.  Tranquil, isn’t it?


Tawn takes a picture as waves crash with Wainiha Beach Park in the background.


We continued all the way to the end of the road at Haena State Park.  Since we weren’t planning on doing any hiking on the Kalalau Trail along the Na’Pali Coast (and couldn’t find any parking in any case), we backtracked to Makua (Tunnels) Beach, a wide stretch of sand where we managed to run into my newlywedded cousin and her family.


At Makua Beach, I saw this man lying in the sun, Christ-like in pose, beard, and dress, looking like a sun-chasing hippie that might be fried in more ways than one.  Birds pecked around him and I can only assume that the lifeguards were aware of him and knew him to be alive.


Tawn practices writing his name in the sand.


And then sees his identity washed away by the waves.


The noth shore is very beautiful and while none of the four of us (me, Tawn, and my parents) are sun-worshipers, it was hard not to appreciate the beauty of the beaches.

Here’s a video I made that combines clips I shot from the north shore as well as other scenic sights on the island.  Not only is the footage beautiful, but the music, a contemporary Hawaiian song titled “Manauleo” by Keali’i Reichel, Uluwehi Guerrero, and Kekuhi Kanahele is well worth a listen.


Kayaking the Wailua River

The morning after Kari and Nathan’s wedding, we piled into our vehicles and drove to the east side of the island in order to kayak on the Wailua River, Kauai’s only navigable river.  I’ve never been kayaking before, although I’ve long thought it would be a fun way to explore the water.  This relatively easy half-day excursion proved to be every bit as enjoyable as I expected.


After a brief orientation, we were transferred to the launch site by van.  We paired up and started paddling upriver, the wind to our back.  The paddling itself takes only a minor amount of coordination.  The challenge is to ensure your paddling is complementary, if not perfectly matched to, the paddling of your partner.  We headed about 45 minutes upstream, approximately two miles.  From our perspective on the river, we were in the middle of the wild.  Looking at the area on a map afterward, I realized that roads and “civilization” was actually just out of sight beyond the ridge line.


After coming to shore in a small tributary of the larger river, we began a one-mile hike through the jungle.  Again, while it looked like we were in the middle of nowhere, of course we were actually on a well-worn path.


Severe jungle… holy houseplants, Batman!


At one point, the path crosses a twist in the river and we have to use a guide rope to get across the water.  The water at this point is only knee-high and not running that rapidly.  One could easily imagine a scenario, though, where the crossing could be more difficult.  On our return, my uncle was filming us and trying to encourage one of us to fake a fall into the water for dramatic purposes.


Our group, all relatives of Kari and Nathan, posing by the river about half-way into our hike.


Our destination, after about a 45-minute hike, was Uluwehi Falls (“Secret Falls”), a 130-foot waterfall that has a very nice pool at its base.  We sat on the rocks around the falls and ate our lunch, which we had packed in.  Various other groups came and went and there were a few dozen people at the pool most of the time we were there.  It is a bit hard to see in the picture above, but see if you can make out the small bowl of flower set next to the rocks, near the bottom of the photo about one-third of the way from the lower right corner.


The Wailua River was/is considered a very sacred river and in this pool next to the falls there is a fresh arrangement of flowers that appears to be some sort of offering.


After lunch our group poses at the base of the falls.  Some members of the group went in for a swim, although I didn’t.


The wide, meandering river.  We were well ahead of the pack.  Of course this wasn’t a competition.  Right?  The trip back was more challenging because the wind blows off the coast and up the river.  When returning, we are paddling into the wind.  The guide pointed out that if we stayed to the far left (north) of the river, we were mostly sheltered from the wind and the going would be easier.

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Kayaking relatives finally make it back to the launch point.  Since my cousin Kelly and I arrived first, I pulled my camera from the dry bag and took pictures of everyone else as they arrived.  The newlyweds were the last to make it back.


My cousin Kelly and me, first upriver and first back. The secret?  We were the only unmarried couple paddling!  Seriously, when we were going through the orientation, the guide warned us about the nickname for kayaks – “divorce boats” – because couples can get into all sorts of disagreements, usually caused by the wounded ego of the stronger paddler (usually the man) in the back.  Since Kelly and I aren’t married, there was no ego involved, nothing to prove, so we just focused on paddling.  I let her set the pace and tried to match her.  Since she’s in the Navy, I figure she should be the expert at something boat-related, right?

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Afterward, we stopped in the nearby town of Kapa’a, a neat place that I wish I would have had more time to explore, for some shave ice at Ono Shave Ice.  Shave ice – not shaved ice – is this great treat that can also involve ice cream and various toppings in addition to the ice and syrups.  We had some very good shave ice while there but I can say that it is a dessert I don’t need to have all the time.  Quite sweet.

The Main Event – Kari and Nathan’s Wedding

The main reason we were in Kaua’i was to attend the wedding of my cousin Kari to her fiancee Nathan.  They exchanged vows on Sunday in the late afternoon along a beautiful stretch of Shipwreck Beach near Poipu, which is on the south shore of the island.  There were about two dozen family members who had made it for the ceremony, probably a few more than Kari and Nathan had originally anticipated.  Needless to say, it was a beautiful ceremony.


Tawn comes prepared for the occasion with a nice hat.


My cousin Brad and his wife Silvia.  Brad is Kari’s younger brother.  The cliff in the background served as a focal point for the ceremony.


Tawn and I pose for a self-portrait.


My uncle Dick and aunt Sandy and their first grandchild Tommy.  Dick is the older brother of Kari’s mother.


Orchids are strewn along the beach, marking the path along which the bride walked.


As is probably increasingly the case these days, it seemed everyone (myself included) was trying to get pictures of the ceremony rather than just witnessing it!

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We needn’t have worried, though, as the official photographer did a marvelous job and made these photos available on his website.  I will say that if you are ever looking for a great wedding photographer, for the Hawaiian islands or elsewhere, I would recommend Gelston Dwight.

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The lighting of these photos was really spectacular.  They have a “Hollywood-esque” quality to them and capture the couple’s glamor as it looks in everyday life!

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This is about half the group – just Kari’s side of the family.  From left to right, cousin Bill, his son Tommy, his wife Alex (also my cousin), Tawn, Me, my mother, my cousin Kelly (Kari’s sister), my father, Nathan, Kari, Kari’s mother Pat, father Carl, brother Brad, his wife Silvia, and my uncle Dick and aunt Sandy.  Probably more than you needed to know, right?


My cousin Alex designed the invitations, menus, and all the other printed materials.  She’s quite a talented designer and you can see more of her work at her website.  Fresh local pineapples made the perfect centerpieces.  The reception was held at the nearby Plantation Gardens Restaurant.


My contingent – father, mother, husband, and me.  That shirt my father is making?  My mother made that in 1980 for a trip to Hawai’i the family took.  In fact, she used matching fabric to make shirts for both my father and me and mumus for her and my sister.  Of the four of us, only my father still fits in his outfit!


Some concoction my cousin Silvia was drinking.


Appetizers – called “pupus”


Kailani farms arugula salad with local mango, papaya, cherry tomatoes, onion, avocado, and a lilikoi cider vinaigrette


Lobster bisque with garlic croutons


Grilled beef tenderloin with gorgonzola mashed potatoes, local green beans, sauteed mushrooms, and merlot reduction sauce.


Fresh local fish with mango and avocado salsa, pan fried green beans and black bean sauce.  Can’t remember what type of fish it was.

There was also a seafood lau lau – fish, shrimp, scallops, and vegetables steamed in taro and ti leaves.  The picture didn’t turn out, though.


When it came to the cutting of the cake, there was such an explosion of flashes that I ended up with several of these “ultra-exposed” shots.


A picture of the beautifully garnished cake.  This was a lilikoi wedding cake (lilikoi = passionfruit), a white vanilla cake brushed with passion fruit syrup and filled with passion fruit butter cream.  One of the tastiest wedding cakes I’ve had.

Food in Kauai: Koloa Fish Market

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.


First Day on Kauai


After our long journey to reach Kauai, we spent our first day relaxing.  Tawn was a little under the weather, so extra napping was called for.  We were renting a 2-bedroom condo with my parents in the Poipu Beach area on the south side of the island, and all of my cousins and aunts and uncles were in houses nearby, although at this point we didn’t all know where exactly everyone else was staying.


The beach was literally just around the corner from our condo, maybe a two-minute walk.  The nearest area was very rocky but a sandy area (Brennecke Beach) was another minute or two away.


The weather was extremely pleasant with a nice breeze, so I went walking down by the water, first with Tawn and then later with my mother.


A beautiful tree we saw.  I stopped by a nursery later in the trip to find out what type of tree it is.  It is called a “monkey pod”.  Looks like something out of The Lion King.


The sun starts to fall towards the horizon.  We saw some beautiful sunsets while on the island.  Interestingly, Kauai is twice the size of Singapore, but has about 80,000 residents compared to 5 million on Singapore.


One thing we saw plenty of on the island were these wild chickens.  Without any snakes, mongoose, or other natural predators, their population is pretty out of control.

In the next entry, I’ll share a bit about the food we had.


Aloha from Kaua’i

Apologies as we interrupt the regularly scheduled blogging…

Aloha and greetings from Kaua’i, the Garden Isle.  We’re ending our last full day here and have had a lot of fun experiences over the last four days.  Many tales to tell and stories to share including a beautiful beach wedding, some tasty local grinds, and some gorgeous scenery.  Our return itinerary will include an overnight stay in Honolulu as well as two nights in Hong Kong.  Hopefully some additional good stories to share with you from those two stops.

Until then, please enjoy the remaining few days of pre-programmed blogs.  Mahalo!