Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Big Island Of Hawaii: Food For Thought

I'm back in Jersey, and I miss rice and Portuguese sausage for breakfast.

At home, I would only eat this combination first thing in the AM if I'd been snowed in for a few days and I'm running out of food. In Hawaii, however, it makes sense. Even McDonald's serves this delightful artery- and colon-clogging meal.

Most mornings, however, we ate tropical fruit on our ocean-view balcony: pineapple (low-acid), apple bananas (tiny and tart), white sapote (allegedly tastes like pears but I thought it tasted like air) and mangos (we found three at the base of a tree in the parking lot where we kayaked... yes, it was a mango tree... it would be weird if we ate mangos found beneath a Dogwood.)

Normally, I don't write about vacation food, but we were stunned by how many great meals we consumed. And even more stunned by how little most of those great meals cost. On Oahu, we might go out for one or two nice dinners, but the majority of our eating hours would be spent at Jack In The Box or California Pizza Kitchen.

On The Big Island, tasty food became a big part of the trip.

Before leaving the mainland, we purchased "Hawaii The Big Island Revealed" by Andrew Doughty, even though many web sites claim the locals despise this book. It turned out to be the best money we spent. Not only did we see and do things we never would have seen and done with only our AAA guide as a reference, but we "found" restaurants that, as tourists, we may never have discovered on our own.

In Kona, the fish burritos at Killer Taco ($5.50) were so much better than a Big Mac we ate there three times. The Vietnamese spicy lemongrass chicken sandwich at Ba-Le ($5.50) just might be the best sandwich creation since the Philly cheesesteak. (Caution: we discovered on the plane that Vietnamese food can make for some majorly stinky burps, so it probably wasn't a good idea to eat one just before flying. My apologies to the people who sat near us. Hell, my apologies to the people who sat six rows away.)

On the 25th anniversary of our first date, we went to the Kona Brewing Company-- because my husband loves local brew and I love pub grub... and I love my husband ($36.00 for two entrees, two beers including tip).

On our way to South Point, we took the advice of the book (confirmed by a couple of friends from Hawaii) to eat pork chops ($9.95) at the Manago Hotel. What other people see as "homey" some folks might see as "run down". We saw it as homey yet run down. I was only 11:30 AM when we arrived so there was no possible way we could consume all the food the other folks seemed to have no problem consuming at 11:30 AM. The side dishes are served family style-- it's kind of like being stuck at a not-very-well-thought-out neighborhood BBQ-- Large bowls of baked beans, rice, potato salad a fried onions are placed on your table before the entree even arrives. (I'll never understand why Hawaiians insist on eating rice and potato salad together. It's just wrong on so many levels.)

We opted instead for the fish sandwich ($6.50) which came with a side of potato chips which are made at a shop next door. (Yes, we picked up a bag or two of those chips on the way to the car.) But don't even think about handing the (somewhat joyless) waitress your credit card. This is a cash-only establishment.

On our own, we found freakishly good pad thai at the ridiculously named Thai Rin located almost across the street from the Royal Kona hotel. I don't know how much it cost because hubby went for take-out. I might be shocked when we get our Mastercard bill.

The Royal Kona, by the way, has an ultra cool ocean front tiki bar with great happy hour specials. I think their "world famous mai tai" is only five bucks for a few hours each day. I had the mid-afternoon full-price mango tango while hubby had the beer sampler which was much more reasonable. Then I made him take Lactaid pills and help me finish my drink (which had to be 1,000 calories).

Hilo is a lot less touristy, so we were determined to try more local fare. Our experiences were hit and miss. The loco moco at Cafe 100 ($1.99-$5.49) was so strange my husband felt guilty taking the free "I Love My Loco Moco" bumper sticker. Although, he somehow managed to inhale the egg, rice, meat, gravy dish like he was a vacuum cleaner and it was cat fur.

The strawberry mochi at Two Ladies Kitchen ($3.75) -- described as "a doughy rice flour desert stuffed with bean paste"-- was a little too much for our Western palate. My husband said it was like "if candy grew skin."

The mahi mahi pita with curried rice at Puka Puka ($9.95) , however, was to-die-for, but all the garlic sent my GERD into a tailspin making me fear that lunch was something I really was going to die for.

The folks at Low International (not mentioned in the book) surprised us when they served a fish sandwich wrapped in a thin egg crepe. (We feared they were playing a joke on the Mainlanders.) But we threw on a little Korean ketchup (they charge extra for condiments) and it was edible. The place is really famous for their bread which is baked on the premises. We bought a loaf of Mango bread ($3.75) and devoured it within 24 hours. The local birds liked it too. Although they eat like birds while we ate like Summo wrestlers.

Also not mentioned in the book, was a little Indonesian restaurant near Waipio where they cook the food on a grill on the patio. We split a chicken entree ($15.00) because we had just hiked the valley (one mile up at a 30% grade) and, while we knew we needed food, we were too tired to eat a whole lot of food. But even though we were near death, we enjoyed it, sensing it just may be our last meal.

But, our best meal by far, was the recommended Kiawe Kitchen located in Volcano Village. Our plan A was to buy a hot dog at Volcano National Park. So we were thrilled when we checked the book once again and went with Plan B. As you can probably tell by now, I am a sucker for a good sandwich and an outdoor table, so as I sat on the front porch eating an amazing lamb sandwich ($11.00) , I think a tear came to my eye. They also served local Hilo brew which hubby drank even though we hadn't started hiking yet. Oh well, he's Irish, he can handle it.

Toss in a few Maui-made cookies, some Big Island Tropical Dream ice cream, Kona coffee-covered macadamia nuts and lots of coconut rum and it's no wonder we each gained a few pounds even though we hiked and paddled and stayed busy nearly every minute of every day.

Oh well, we'll take it off... eventually. Tonight, while writing this in New Jersey, I had a salad for dinner. Of course, I'm still drinking coconut rum. I guess I'm not ready to let go of Hawaii just yet. Maybe I'll have rice and Portuguese sausage for a big Sunday breakfast tomorrow. And then it's back to oatmeal... I swear.

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