Eat Responsibly Day at Bo.Lan

Each first Saturday of the month, the upscale, down-home Thai restaurant Bo.lan hosts a farmers’ market they dub “Eat Responsibly Day.” Located on Sukhumvit Soi 26 in Bangkok, chefs Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava and Dylan Jones’ commitment to slow, local, organic, and sustainable food shines at this market, which is held on the front yard of the restaurant.

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Tawn and I visited in early April. We arrived shortly before 11:00 on a hot morning that threatened rain, midway through the market’s run, which begins at 8:00 and runs until 2:30. At least a dozen local vendors were present, selling everything from produce to prepared foods. Here is a selection of what was offered:

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From Samut Songkhram province, one vendor had fluer de sel (sea salt – left) and palm sugar (right). These are two staple products made in the smallest of Thailand’s 77 provinces and I had to chuckle a bit as the palm sugar comes from the sub-district where I used to volunteer as an English teacher. Every time I went down there, it was all I could do not to return home carrying several kilos of the palm sugar. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I could have repackaged it with a nice label and sold it as an artisinal product!

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Another vendor was selling freshly-baked bread and jars of homemade roasted tomato relish. This relish was amazing, full of whole garlic cloves and cooked at a low temperature for several hours until the flavors combined beautifully. The lady who makes it brought the recipe back from Europe and has been making it for friends, who would wash and return their empty jars, asking her to fill them up the next time she made a batch. April was her first time at the market, and I certainly hope she returns.

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Maarten Kaspersma runs a busines selling microgreens, evenrything from mustard greens to carrot, kale to mizuna. The business name is Mr. Maarten’s Microgreens and you can find them on facebook.

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We bought a pair of trays. I recall that one was mustard but I don’t remember what the other was. They certainly make for an interesting way to spice up the flavor of salads or sandwiches. I could also use a pair of tweezers and artfully decorate a plate with them and charge an extra few dollars. (If I was charging for my food!)

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Joe Sloane of Sloane’s Sausages made an appearance with his grill. Joe has gained fame around Bangkok as a purveyor of fine pork products. He doesn’t yet have a retail outlet so he informs his customers whenever he has purchased a hog or two (always organic breeds that come from up-country) and has more products for sale. In the near future, he hopes to open a proper storefront so he has more processing space.

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Cumberland sausages and fresh chorizo. These were so nice, I see no further need for me to experiment with sausage making at home!

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Homemade sauces and onion relish with which to tart up your sausages.

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Fresh baguette from Le Blanc on Sukhumvit Soi 39 with a heap of onion relish, fire-roasted tomato ketchup, and a chorizo sausage. Heaven on a Saturday morning.

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Accompanying Joe Sloane’s sausages was galangal porter, brewed at home by our friend Brian’s Happy Cat label. Hopefully, he will one day turn this into a proper business and make his fine hand crafted brews available for retain sale.

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We stopped by the table hosted by Pattaya’s own Lulu and Daisy Goat Cheese company and bought two rounds of medium-aged goat cheese. Nice and tangy, we’ve been shredding this on salads for a wonderful, rich flavor and aroma.

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Organic, free range eggs. Not sure if I understood correctly that these came from hens that live on the restaurant’s property. Perhaps I’m mistaken. They were tasty, though.

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The restaurant does have its own mushroom hut and so we purchased mushrooms freshly harvested on-site. While it has been more than two years since I wrote a review on Bo.lan, at which time I found the food very tasty but the prices just a little dear, I have to commend the chefs’ commitment to local and sustainable foods. Quite an emphasis on quality!

Breakfast

When we returned home, Tawn whipped up an omelet using the eggs, mushrooms, goal cheese, microgreens, and tomato relish that we had purchased at the farmers’ market. Another Eat Responsibly Day will be held on Saturday, 5 May and will continue on the first Saturday of each month at Bo.lan restaurant, Sukhumvit Soi 26. I already have my calendar marked! 

 

Swastikas Popping Up in the Oddest Places

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After our lunch of southern style dishes, Tawn and I did some shopping at Bangkok’s famous Chatuchak Weekend Market.  With thousands of stalls and vendors, you can find most anything for sale and the people-watching is entertaining, too.  Along the way, I stumbled across some disturbing signs: swastikas.

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First off, some of the interesting sights.  We encountered this cute Jack Russell terrier who was dressed in full kit including shoes.  He was nearly as stylish as his owner!

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We also encountered a fortune teller (in the bandana) who was giving a reading to the young man in the (potentially offensive – sorry) black shirt.  Based on the shirt’s message, I can only imagine what questions he is trying to have answered about his future.

Actually, as an aside, his shirt is an example of something I see often here in Thailand: Thais wearing shirts with English language messages that would broadly be seen as offensive or not particularly appropriate for wearing in public in an English-speaking country.  I always wonder to what extent the wearers understand the message and its meaning.  Would they wear the equivalent message if it was in Thai?

Which brings me to the swastikas.

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In a number of shops, I encountered buttons, t-shirts, and other items that featured swastikas.  Now, the swastika has a history that extends back a few thousand years before the Nazis came along and appropriated it.  Even in contemporary Buddhism, you see the swastika as a sacred symbol.  I feel comfortable, though, concluding that the use of the swastikas in this commercial context was not religious, but was meant to evoke the perceived “revolutionary” feel of the Nazis.  Witness the Mao Zhe Dong buttons as a similar “statement”.

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This sighting of swastikas brought to mind an incident from September, when a private Roman Catholic school in Chiang Mai (in northern Thailand), had a sports day in which a group of students dressed in a Nazi theme and marched carrying swastika banners and wearing swastika arm bands.

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There was widespread outrage and several foreign consulates as well as the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles denounced the event, citing it as insensitive and inappropriate.  The school authorities, no surprise, claimed they had not been aware of the students’ plans, even though their protestations seemed a bit thin.

What followed (before the floods) was a lot of discourse about how poor the Thai education system is and how the teachers and administrators had failed to educate their students.  There were others who pointed out that students in western countries are often just as unaware of similarly significant events in Asia’s history and are sometimes even equally unaware of the details of the Holocaust.

I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and denounce the students or the teachers.  There has been enough said to that effect already.  Suffice it to say that I was disturbed that in a short period of time, I saw several signs that the history of the Nazis and the Holocaust is not very well appreciated by some people in Thailand and the symbols of that history are seen as benign fashion statements.

There are probably countless examples in other countries where locals appropriate words and symbols from other languages, cultures, and countries, without fully understanding what the meanings are, sometimes causing offense.  I guess that more than anything, this is a reminder that we need to be aware when we adopt things, whether they are words or symbols, that are not originally our own.  Meanings are not universal and it is easy to be insensitive to others’ feelings.

 

Food in Bangkok: Prik Yuak

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Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market is popular among locals and visitors alike for its almost endless maze of vendors selling everything from fashion to frogs, souvenir trinkets to silverware for your dinner table.  Shopping isn’t the only reason to visit the market, though.  Hidden amongst all these vendors are several restaurants that are worth a trip, even if you have no plans to shop.  A few weekends ago, we ate at Prik Yuak, a popular place whose good food and convenient location makes it worth a visit.

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Prik Yuak is a Southern Thai style khao gaeng place.  Khao gaeng refers to the prepared curries (and other dishes) that are served with rice.  I shared a bit about this type of food in the third volume of my “Great Eats in Bangkok” series. 

Ordering at Prik Yuak is both easy and hard: easy because all you need to do is point and they will plate the dishes up for you.  Hard because you have to figure out what each thing is.  My advice: so long as you have no allergies, religious dietary restrictions, or adverse reactions to chilies, go ahead and point away!

Portions are small – think “Thai tapas” – and this allows you to try many different tasty dishes even if you come to the restaurant by yourself or just one other person.

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The restaurant itself is modest, located next to the edge of the market, immediately adjacent to exit 3 of the Kamphaeng Phet MRT station.  In fact, make a u-turn to the right as you exit from the station and then continue back as far as you can go (40 meters or so) and you’ll have reached the restaurant.  Grab a table after ordering and they will bring the food to you.

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Plaa kem tod – The name of the dish refers to the salty fried fish that is the main flavoring ingredient.  In this case, it is being served along with broccoli, although it is also served with other greens.  Salted fish is a popular ingredient in Thai food, especially in the south, where it is an easy method of preservation for a region that is close to the sea.  For foreigners, the taste can take some getting used to because it is very salty.  The saltiness is balanced by the clean, unseasoned flavors of the vegetables, though.

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Kai palow – This dish of stewed eggs and pork belly is often prepared with a Chinese five spice sauce.  In this case, Prik Yuak uses a palm sugar caramel and soy sauce.  This dish is ordered to accompany spicier dishes, as the sweet richness of the dish helps to counter the spice.

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Kuag gling moo – Shredded pork fried with spices, most notably turmeric, with a garnish of thinly sliced kaffir lime leaf.  This dish, which is spicy hot, has very assertive flavoring, making your taste buds come alive.  The texture is also very fun to eat, small shreds of slightly crispy fried pork and fried shallots.

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Gaeng tae po – This vegetable dish features something known locally as “morning glory” – not related to the flowers – a tubular green that grows near the water.  It is served in a curry and is quite spicy but in a way that is very pleasant.

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Panang moo – Panang style pork curry, which is milder than many other Thai curries.  It has a heavy dose of coconut milk which provides some richness on the tongue, countering other spicier dishes.  What makes Prik Yuak’s version of this dish unique is that they braise the pork first before cooking it in the curry.  The result is a bowl full of very tender pork.

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Pad prik king gai – Shredded fried chicken, cooked southern style with a dry curry (i.e. no coconut milk).  At first glance, this appears similar to the kuag gling dish, above.  But the flavor profile is very different.  Instead of having turmeric and lots of spices, this curry is made mostly of chilies, ginger, galangal root, coriander root, and lemongrass.  It is much more herbal and has a kick to it.

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Kai tom yang matoom – A common condiment for the khao gaeng shops is boiled egg.  Here we have boiled duck eggs done to a soft, creamy yolk.  Again, the richness of the egg helps counteract the spiciness of several of the dishes.  It is also an easy source of protein.

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To provide some more veggies, a little crunch, and some cooling relief to your mouth, a platter of crudité is served.  From left: kamin khao (white turmeric), long beans, and cucumbers.

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And to drink?  How about a coconut bowl of the favorite local cola: Pepsi.  While I normally don’t drink sodas, it is a very refreshing accompaniment to a meal like this.

Conclusion: The food at Prik Yuak is first rate in terms of quality, price, and flavor.  Best of all, the small servings allow you to try so many different things.  I hope that as you read the descriptions, you noticed how varied the dishes are and how they complement each other.  Something spicy, something sweet, something salty, something rich, something astringent – this is the quality of a balanced Thai meal, a feature that is lacking in a lot of western cooking, particularly in fast food America.  When I go for too long without Thai food, I find that my palate is bored from the lack of different flavors in a single meal!

Sunset at Amphawa

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A week ago we had two pairs of visitors, one on their final day in Thailand after a month-long vacation and another on their first day in Thailand on the start of a multi-week vacation.  While the two pairs had never met, I rented a van and driver, bundled them all in, and took them down on a Friday night to the floating market in Amphawa, a town about 90 minutes southwest of Bangkok.

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I’ve been to Amphawa many times but on each visit I discover something new or, at least, a new way to approach it.  As such, I feel like I’m refining this “tour”, if you will.  Each subsequent guest gets a better experience.  For example, I have decided that Fridays are a much better day to go than Saturday or Sunday because the market is much less crowded.

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I’ve also decided that it is best to hire a boat and visit several of the temples along the river in the hour or so before sunset.  This way you get few tourists but lots of interesting “golden” light.  This temple, which has been abandoned to the forest, is at Bang Gung (literally, “Area of the Shrimp”) and while I’ve visited here on bicycle before, I didn’t realize it was an easy walk from the river.  Add that to future itineraries.

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Riding a long-tail boat down the Mae Khlong River just after sunset it a breathtaking experience.  The sky is so beautiful and the water is so calm.  Afterwards we explored the floating market, ate lots of tasty, fresh, and inexpensive seafood and other treats before heading back to Bangkok.

Previous entries about trips to the market:
October 2010 – A trip to the market finds is nearly flooded.
June 2010 – A grade school friend and his children visit on a “top secret” assignment.
January 2010 – a trip to the market with a Xangan from London.
December 2007 – An early trip there with an American friend and his mother.

 

Los Angeles Farmers Market

Saturday morning we headed with our high school friends (who came down for the weekend to visit us) to the LA Farmers Market.  The market, located at Third and Fairfax near the CBS studios, dates to 1934.  This was my first visit and I was impressed with the range of different food stalls.  I didn’t look around the entire market, but my impression is that there aren’t really that many farmers offering their wares.  Here is a look at some of the food we tried.

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There are lots of seating areas, mostly in the shade.  You can order from different vendors and still sit at the same tables, which give you a lot of flexibility.  We were there by 10:00 Saturday morning and it wasn’t very busy, although by the time we left things were notably busier.

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Hard to tell the breakfast from the desserts!  Crepe with chocolate, strawberries, and bananas.

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Belgian waffle with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.  Someone’s husband didn’t wait until I took the pictures to begin

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Ran into a place called Moishe’s Village, which serves Middle Eastern food.  My attention was caught by the borekas, a flat bread with toppings cooked in a brick oven.  Basically, oblong pizzas without tomato sauce.

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Wide selection of borekas.

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I chose the sausage and egg and asked the lady to cut it into pieces.  She scolded me, saying that I should have ordered scrambled eggs so it would have cut more prettily.

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Another popular spot is Bob’s Coffee and Doughnuts.

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Yeast donuts.  Very tasty, although I’m not a huge fan of donuts.

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Tawn in his market gear.

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Loads of fresh fruits, especially the peaches, apricots, and nectarines.  Stone fruits are my favorite reason to come back to the US during the summer.

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Close up on the beautiful artichokes.

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Afterwards, one of my friends insisted that we must try Littlejohn’s English toffee. 

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The picture doesn’t do justice to the toffee, but it was pretty good.  Not as hard as a lot of toffee, so much easier on the teeth to eat.  Well, except for all the sugar.

We were going to go cherry picking afterwards but when we called ahead to the farm, we learned that thanks to the cool weather, cherries are coming in a few weeks late.  Sadly, no cherry picking this trip.

Great Eats in Bangkok Volume 2 – Khanom Krug

As I promised, my “Great Eats in Bangkok” series is in fact becomming a series and not just a single video.  Using my new wireless microphone that plugs into a Kodak Zi8, the audio quality is a bit better than the first time I shot the footage for this episode.  I’ll have to keep playing around with the equipment in order to learn to master it, but hopefully each successive volume of the series will get better.

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Photo courtesy yang1815

In this volume we explore one of my favorite Thai desserts, something called khanom krug.  “Khanom” is the broad term used for snacks and nibbly type of desserts and “krug” refers to the half-sphere shape in which these tasty treats are made.  You can loosely describe khanom krug as “rice flour and coconut milk pancakes”, although that description fails to capture what makes them so special and worth seeking out.

Here’s the 3-minute video.

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Photo courtesy yang1815

The interesting thing about khanom krug is how it is composed of two batters, both made with rice flour and coconut milk.  One batter is a little saltier and the other is a little sweeter.  The sweet batter is poured into the indentations in the pan, filling them about 2/3 of the way.  Then a few seconds later the saltier batter is added.  Savory fillings such as corn, taro, or free onions can be added (but just as often, are not) and then the whole thing is covered and allowed to bake and steam for several minutes.

Once the khanom are fairly firm, but still a little molten in the middle, the halves are scooped out and paired together for serving.  You have to be careful of a few things when eating them: first, they will be incredibly hot and the interior will decimate your tastebuds like lava flowing through a forest.  Second, don’t let the vendor put the container of them in a bag.  Steam is the enemy of these khanom and they will lose their crisp exterior very quickly.  Third, solve that problem by eating them right away!

I hope you enjoyed the video.  A third one is being edited now and the first volume, focusing on rice noodles called guaytiaw, is here.

 

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.

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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:

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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!

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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. 

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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.

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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.