Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hangin' loose in Hawaii

Next eating expedition following Chrissy would have to be that in Hawaii. We stayed in the tourist mecca of Waikiki and seemed to be eating and choosing restaurants more than sunning on the beach or swimming in blue waters, thanks to the weather at the time. The weather fined up as we left on Tuesday morning. Let me tell you that that isn't the first time I've had a beach holiday like that. The time I went to Cairns for a mid-winter break saw clouds and rain for the whole time we were there, and glorious sunshine the day we were due to leave. Beach holiday curse? Well, third time's a charm, don't they say?

After an early arrival on Saturday morning into Honolulu (the morning after the island-wide power outage which all the locals were talking about) the streets of Waikiki seemed a little on the quiet side. We were admittedly inland from the beach a little, but we struggled to even find somewhere to have breakfast (budget flight meant no airline food). My first meal on US soil was, rather appropriately, a bagel and a latte. I'm not overly impressed, but the latte was smooth and strong. My travelling companion reminds me that bagels have three times the fibre of regular white bread. Is that a good or bad thing? I tell her that her croissant is creating oil slick on the serving paper.

Ham and cheese bagel from Kimobean (Saratoga Rd, Waikiki)

A short stroll around Waikiki and one will realise the (over)abundance of ABC Stores. Someone said that it stands for 'all blocks covered'. Someone else said 'a bunch of crap'. They're a mix between a convenience store and a souvenir store, and everywhere. We counted at least 10 stores from the beach to our hotel alone, and that's not even a 10 minute walk. Saying that, they were mighty convenient for snacks and drinks, and even last minute trinket shopping. One of the more interesting items for sale I found is here:

Spam musubi (or nigiri) from ABC Store

Sitting pretty in a little warmer oven were these blocks of rice topped with a slice of cooked Spam wrapped in a strip of nori. Spam isn't really revered here in Australia, although it makes for a tasty omelette addition. However the Hawaiians are the world's second largest consumers of Spam. It's even served at McDonald's in Hawaii (with rice, even). I didn't end up eating any Spam while in Hawaii and I must say that I wasn't tempted by these musubi.

Following an afternoon stroll of Waikiki Beach in the searing sunshine (one of few times on the trip), we feel the need for refreshment. I feel it mostly in the form of a beer. We hit up one of the nearby bars - this one with a open balcony looking out to the beach horizon and decked out in more surfing kitsch that you can throw a wave at.

Beers on tap at Lulu's (Kalakaua Ave, Waikiki)

With plenty a beer on tap, I opt for the local Kona Brewing Co. Longboard Island Lager. It has a full, almost fruity flavour (I think I picked out passionfruit and pineapple), not dissimilar to our local James Squire Golden Ale. Companion has the first mai tai of the entire trip and declares it a rum experience indeed.

Mai tai and Longboard lager

This is also our first opportunity to taste Hawaiian fare. Pupu is basically an appetiser and there's a list of pupu on most of the bars we visit. Hawaiian cuisine seems to be a hodge podge of American-style dishes, Japanese, Chinese and and handful of other ethnic food. And I thought Australia was multicultural! We order three pupus as our 'server' tells us they are rather large servings. My travelling companion and I had ongoing rants and amusement at the US server and tipping system - which I'll get into another time. At this point we also realise that it's happy hour for a few of the cocktails on the menu - which suits me just fine for the next round.

Cocktail menu at Lulu's

I've heard of a few traditional and popular Hawaiian dishes that I'm keen to try so we order excitedly and admire the surroundings and sunset in the wait. Tourists fill the balcony seats, and the other occupied seats for that matter. Surfers come in straight from the beach. American tourists keep an eye on the NFL playing on plasma screens. And before long we're rewarded with our first ahi poke of the trip.

Ahi poke

Cubes of raw tuna are mixed with raw onion and cabbage and dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil, sprinkled with chilli flakes. The flavours are simple, and allow the freshness of the tuna to shine on its own. It's a little too much onion if one intends to speak to strangers in the next hours, but it's definitely a generous serving of this Hawaiian twist on sashimi. Personally, I prefer sashimi with the even simpler flavours of just soy and wasabi.

Next up is the coconut shrimp and I have to keep reminding myself not to call these prawns.

Coconut shrimp

They very closely resemble prawn cutlets, although they are smaller in size. These are battered, covered in shredded coconut and deep fried, lending an almost dessert taste to the dish pushed even further by the sweet mango dressing seen underneath.

And finally we succumb to the lure of sterotypical American cuisine: spicy chicken wings.

Death Valley chicken wings

This particular version is grilled (Chicago-style, apparently) and have been basted in a medium-hot spicy sauce and served with celery and a blue cheese dressing. The wings are unfortunately dry, probably as the grilling process is less efficient than deep frying. The sauce is tongue-tingling and matches oddly with the thick and creamy blue cheese dressing. We don't manage to finish this 'half bucket' serving but they're not worth stuffing ourselves for.

By the final lick of a chicken bone and pushing aside of raw onion, it's early evening and we're in search of a less casual atmosphere for a few more libations. Luckily for us this is Waikiki and they've got eateries and bars left, right and centre of the beachfront area. A minute stroll takes us to one of the hotel bars just down the road where the mood is most definitely convivial, the bar tenders friendly fantastic, the musicians laidback and the cocktails icy cold.

Tiki's Bar and Grill at the ResortQuest (Kalakaua Ave, Waikiki)

It's Hawaii and we're on holidays so this calls for (more) cocktails. The bar tender asks us straight up if we want shots. "Um, no. Thanks." Perhaps it's an Americans-on-holidays thing. The accent does have them a bit confused, I guess. It's a big cocktail menu, with options to have them in take-home tiki mugs or coconuts which unfortunately wasn't going to fly with us.

Mango daiquiri and lotus lycheetine

Drinks are ordered and arrive promptly, especially as we're seated at the bar. The daiquiri gains a fan but the lycheetini is a bit too sweet for me. We drink to the background of live Hawaiian music and a sunset in the distance - not a bad way to spend our first evening in Hawaii.

(I have to add that on the second round I asked the bar tender for something similar to the lycheetini but not as sweet. He looked at a loss and just suggested other cocktails: mai tai, mojito... I ask if he could make a lychee mojito. He gives me a weird look and says "If you want..." unconvinced. He makes, he tastes before he gives it to me and he's impressed. "That's pretty good," he said. Yay - bringing a bit of Sydney cosmopolitanism (?) to Waikiki!)

Kimobean Hawaiian Coffee on Urbanspoon

Lulu's Waikiki on Urbanspoon

Tiki's Grill & Bar on Urbanspoon

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