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.

 

Dinner Party at Chris and Antony’s House

While in Hong Kong, I stayed with a friend I first met some fifteen years ago, also named Chris.  He and his partner Antony are dear people, just wonderful to visit with.  They also live in a gorgeous flat in the western Mid-Levels.  Trying to be the best guest I could, I let them know that I looked forward to spending time with them but also didn’t want them to feel obligated to bend their schedule around my visit.  One thing Chris insisted I must be a part of was a dinner party they were hosting on Saturday night.

I’m glad I did as it was a lot of fun.  I also got pulled in as sous chef since it was a public holiday and the maid had the day off.  This is fine as I enjoy cooking and the opportunity to let someone else run the show is a good way for me to learn.

First, though, back to the topic of bamboo scaffolding.

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Here’s a view from the guest bedroom.  I noticed that some work was being done on a unit across the street, on about the twentieth story of the building.

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Notice how the bamboo scaffolding seems rather… rickety?  But it seems to be the safest way to get the exterior work done.  I’m curious how it is actually attached to the walls, though.

Okay, back to food…

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Chopping herbs, a combination of cilantro and Italian (wide leaf) parsley.  The little roller device was kind of a mess and I think just using the chef’s knife would have been easier.  Mix all that with a hefty amount of freshly-ground black pepper.

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Slice really good quality tuna into batons about 1 inch (3 cm) square.

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Coat the batons with the herb-pepper mixture.

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Here Chris is doing the coating while I take pictures.  Notice the huge library of cookbooks in the back.

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Sear the tuna in a hot pan for exactly 30 seconds on each side.

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The goal is to have the interior cooked like this, still pink.  These were lovely.

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I’m pressed into service slicing apples and cucumbers into matchsticks which are then soaked in a very lightly salted water bath.  These were served as a light salad to cleanse the palate before the main course.  Very nice idea, although I think it needs some color.  That would add flavor, though, which isn’t the idea.

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Dining room and living room ready for the guests to arrive.  Beautiful, isn’t it?  The antithesis of the style Tawn and I did our home in and I quite like it.  Very modern but still with an Asian undertone.

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Antony did the amuse-bouche, super easy but really complex in flavor.  Toasted whole grain bread circles topped with goat cheese, shredded baked beet root, and a few toasted pine nuts.  Bake in the oven for just a few minutes until the cheese gets soft and creamy.

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The appetizer course.  The tuna batons served with some pieces of fresh mango.  So simple, so good.

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The main course would have benefitted from some advance work as it took almost thirty minutes for the two Chrises to pull this together as the guests chatted.  Slices of salmon with a egg white and soy sauce mixture brushed on the skin side, which is then crusted with toasted sesame seeds and then pan fried.

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The salmon is then served over cold soba noodles with some citrus slices and a small rocket salad.  Very nice and I’ve recreated this at home since returning.  I think this needs to be something that you sear in advance and then maybe finish in a low oven, that way you don’t smell smoky while your guests are here.  I’ll work on that.

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For dessert, little molten chocolate cakes served with vanilla bean ice cream.  A bit rushed as two of the guests had to head to the airport, but very nice nonetheless.

As we neared midnight, fueled by two bottles of champagne and several bottles of wine, the guests became more animated.  One of them who has a history of performing in drag, decided to give us an impromptu runway show set to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”.  Since his identity isn’t clear in the video, I guess it will be safe to share it with you here.

Notice the disco lights.  Would you believe Chris and Antony had these built into their kitchen bar area?  They are hidden under the seating area.  Handy to have at such an event!