Burgers are an American favorite for good reason. Nothing can compare to quality ground beef grilled to perfection and served up on a bun. Bill’s does one better with a patty made from Big Island grass fed beef. Grass fed beef tends to taste slightly different from traditional mass-produced corn-fed beef, because the cattle are allowed to roam, developing muscles and feeding in pastures. The result in this burger is an almost buttery flavor, deliciously paired with pickled chillies, rocket and herb mayo, and crispy French fries.
The truth is in the name at Heavenly in the Shoreline Hotel. The eatery specializes in locally sourced, healthy options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One of the dinner favorites is the Big Island Kulana Ranch rib eye steak. It is served steaming on a skillet with grilled vegetables. If that’s not enough, it’s served with Naked Cow truffle sauce to make an already mouth-watering meal positively tantalizing. Try it with a signature cocktail from the bar
for a well-rounded meal.
Azure is one of Waikiki’s premierefine dining locations, with Chef Shaymus Alwin, who last year was invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House. It’s no surprise that the restaurant takes steak seriously. Its Hawaii rancher’s rib eye steak is a prime cut of local beef, cooked to the diner’s preference (although a nice rare is always delightful), then served on a bed of creamed kale and Hamakua mushrooms, with creamy Yukon potatoes. The steak is topped with crispy shallots and a divine red wine sauce. Be sure to wear loose clothing, because you’ll want to eat every morsel.
The Hawaii Agriculture Research Center is working to keep agriculture alive in the Islands
For centuries, Hawaiians were self-sufficient, able to live off the bounty of the ocean and the fertile land, harvesting the plants and livestock they had brought with them across the Pacific, such as taro and chickens. When Captain James Cook first landed on Hawaii in 1778, he found a place rich in culture and not lacking in natural resources.
But with the introduction of Western culture, Hawaii started to change. Soon Kamehameha the Great united the Islands into a single kingdom, and then began trading with colonial powers.
Within 100 years of Cook’s landing, Hawaii’s landscape and culture had changed dramatically. Foreign investors planted large sugar plantations across the Islands to take advantage of the tropical climate, and immigrants from around the world were employed to work the land.
The different sugar plantations were always searching for the best strain of sugar to grow and harvest. So they came together in 1895 to fund a research center to find the best varietals for Hawaii.
Sugar production declined over the past 50 years, and, in 2016, the last sugar plantation closed on Maui. But the research center that the industry initially funded has morphed into the Hawaii Agricultural Research Center (HARC), located in Kunia and Maunawili on Oahu. The now nonprofit organization works to research agricultural techniques to promote viable farming in modern Hawaii.
“As the plantations closed, they asked, what could they do to replace it,” says Tyler Jones, Maunawili station manager. “While sugar declined, that opened up space to work on other crops.”
The question of what to do in post-plantation agriculture is at the heart of HARC’s research. Along with a small staff, Jones works on developing new agricultural techniques that will benefit local farmers in the wake of Hawaii’s plantation past.
One of the projects Jones and HARC has focused on is finding ways to commercially grow and cultivate koa wood. Koa, meaning “warrior,” is a strong native hardwood in Hawaii. It’s incredibly valuable as a building material for canoes and furniture, but it’s also the traditional material to make ukulele and has been adopted to make guitars and other instruments.
It’s illegal in Hawaii to cut koa trees on government-owned lands. Because of this, koa is hard to come across, and very expensive. But, Jones explains, “On private land, people can grow and harvest koa.”
The problem is that it’s not the easiest tree to grow commercially. It’s susceptible to fungus, so HARC has been working with generations of koa trees to try to determine which koa family lines are more naturally resistant to fungal growth.
HARC has also worked to see if it could be beneficial to intersperse koa trees with other crops, such as cacao and coffee. The result is a small batch of chocolate, and a larger crop of coffee that is being sold as Maunawili Farms Coffee.
“This is our first commercial crop this year,” says Jones. Previously, the coffee was just to show proof of concept. Additionally, the farm at Maunawili holds trainings and workshops to show local farmers its process.
HARC also aims to assist local agriculture through affordable housing. “One of our focuses has been preserving agricultural housing in Kunia. It’s the last remaining plantation village in Hawaii,” according to Jones.
The housing project is a way both to preserve some of Hawaii’s plantation history, and to help with current housing shortages.
Even though HARC is currently selling coffee and a small amount of honey when available, as a nonprofit, making money through coffee or honey production isn’t the goal. The goal is to do research and development that will perpetuate agriculture in Hawaii’s future, even as land costs and the cost of living increases.
“Ultimately the purpose of this is not to grow and sell coffee,” says Jones. “We use it as a demonstration space for farmers.”
For more information about HARC and where to purchase Maunawili Farms Coffee, visit www.harc-hspa.com
SOMETIMES IT CAN BE HARD NOT TO DEVOUR EVERY BITE OF AN ENTRÉE TO SAVE ROOM FOR A SWEET FINISH. BUT IF YOU CAN HOLD OFF AND KEEP A LITTLE SPACE FOR LATER, WAIKIKI’S TOP RESTAURANTS HAVE SOME OF THE BEST DESSERTS AROUND, USUALLY WITH TROPICAL FLAVORS AND ONLY THE FRESHEST INGREDIENTS.
Azure is known for its stellar oceanfront views and use of locally caught seafood. It should be no surprise that its dessert menu is also top-notch. The pineapple key lime pie is a prime example. It’s served with a pavlova, a pineapple chip and a scoop of vanilla gelato. Perfection.
Pineapple and coconut are two of the standard fruit conjured up when Hawaii comes to mind, but while pineapple chunks and even whole pineapples are commonly found in desserts around Waikiki, not much more than coconut flakes have made a similar showing. Japengo’s coconut brûlée is the exception. The delectable sweet is served in a coconut husk that adds both flavor and character.
FLOUR & BARLEY
Flour & Barley is already popular in Las Vegas and San Diego, where it serves up pizza pies and craft beers. Now the restaurant is saying aloha and bringing its tried and tested recipes to Waikiki. The cannoli at Flour & Barley is a classic Italian dessert. Pastry shells are filled with sweet ricottamascarpone and garnished with pistachios and chocolate. You’ll definitely take the cannoli after a meal here.
No meal at an Italian restaurant is complete without tiramisu. Tiramisu literally translates to “cheer me up,” and the version at Arancino certainly inspires joy. It delicately layers coffee-dipped ladyfingers with custard and is topped with powdered cocoa. This house-made tiramisu is a signature dessert for the restaurant, with good reason.
The ukulele is simple: four strings, a dozen or so frets and a gently curved wooden frame.
Within an afternoon, a novice player can pick up a song or two. There’s something beautiful in its minimalism. Songs can be as simple or complex as the player desires. No matter the song or technique, whenever a tune is strummed on a ukulele, Hawaii comes to mind.
For over a century, the ukulele has been the emblem of Hawaiian mele, or songs. Few places are so closely associated with a single instrument as Hawaii is with the ukulele. And like so many of the icons of Hawaiiana, the ukulele didn’t originate on these sandy shores. Instead it was transplanted during the plantation boom.
Sugar plantations that were tended by close-knit communities of immigrants fueled Hawaii’s economy for decades. The plantations started bringing over laborers in the mid-1800s from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and eventually from Portugal and Puerto Rico. Each influx of people brought their own cultural traditions, from food to language and especially music.
In 1879 a boat laden with workers from the Portuguese island of Madeira pulled into Honolulu Harbor, and some of these newcomers brought small four-stringed guitars called machetes. These instruments evolved in Hawaii, taking on four standard sizes and tuning, eventually settling into a modern ukulele. By the turn of the 20th century they had solidified as one of the most popular instruments in Hawaii.
There is no consensus on how it went from machete to ukulele or what precisely “ukulele” translates to. The most common translation is “jumping flea,” because of how musicians’ fingers seemed to jump around while playing. That’s probably why the song people sing to tune is “My Dog Has Fleas” for each note: G-C-E-A.
Ukuleles made their way to the international stage during the 1920’s, when jazz musicians made heavy use of them. Their popularity waned somewhat for the next few decades, but hits like Tiny Tim’s 1968 “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” kept ukuleles in the popular consciousness throughout the years.
Now ukuleles are popular all over the world, thanks in part to the hit success of Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and virtuosos like Jake Shimabukuro. There are many small craftsmen who build stunning instruments throughout the Islands, but four companies have risen to the height of the industry in Hawaii: Kamaka, Kanile‘a, KoAloha and Ko‘olau. They’re affectionately known as the four K’s. Instruments by these master builders are guaranteed to have a stellar sound, and many professional local musicians prefer instruments from one of these companies.
So while you enjoy a perfect dinner in Waikiki with resident musicians serenading you on the ukulele, take a look at the instruments. Chances are, that “uke” came from one of these four companies.
Kamaka is the oldest ukulele manufacturer in Hawaii. It’s been family owned and operated since 1916. The company started when Sam Kamaka Sr. started making koa wood ukuleles out of the basement in his Kaimuki home, and it grew from there. By the 1930s he enlisted his two young sons, Sam Jr. and Fred, to help in the shop, even though they were both still in elementary school. Now, at 92, Fred Kamaka still helps with factory tours four days a week, where he regales visitors with stories from his youth and how the company came to be.
Fred tells how his father gained a reputation for creating quality handcrafted instruments. During the ukulele craze of the 1920s Sam Sr. experimented with body shape, and engineered the first “pineapple” ukulele. That original pineapple ukulele—painted to look like a pineapple—is on display inside the shop.
After Sam Kamaka Sr. died in 1953, Sam Jr. and Fred took over the business and honed the skills they had started to learn as children, making ukuleles by hand. Now their sons run the business.
With the new generation have come new innovations. While much of the assembly is still done by hand, some of it is now automated. The necks and front and back panels are all cut by machine then put together. Chris Kamaka, Sam Sr.’s grandson, checks each instrument before it is shipped out.
2017 marks the 101st year in business for Kamaka Ukulele and it’s going strong. “What happens the second hundred years?” Fred will ask visitors. “I don’t know. I won’t be around.” But it’s clear that he’s not worried. The business is in good hands.
Tours are offered Tuesday through Friday at 10:30 a.m.
Kanile‘a Ukulele was founded by Hawaii-born couple Kristen and Joe Souza in 1998 in the hope of producing heirloom quality instruments.
The majority of the ukes that come out of Kanile‘a are made from koa wood that was largely harvested on the Big Island. In addition to koa instruments, Kanile‘a uses walnut and a few other wood types, often by request in custom orders.
Kanile‘a blends traditional by-hand construction methods with some newer mechanized steps. The necks are cut by machine and a special laser cutter generates the pearl inlays. Everything else is done by hand. The resulting instrument is quality checked before being sold. Any instrument that doesn’t pass muster is sent back to the factory and not made available for sale.
In addition to handcrafted instruments, Kanile‘a also has a more affordable line of instruments called Islander Ukuleles. These ukes are shipped in from overseas and while less individualized, they are still good instruments that are great for a new player.
Owners Joe and Kristen also have a vested interest in conservation, and run a nonprofit geared towards protecting and enhancing koa wood forests. Their nonprofit is called Reforest Hawaii.
Tours are available daily at 10:30 a.m.
Unlike Kamaka and Kanile‘a, all aspects of forming the body of the ukulele at KoAloha are done without machinery. “Everything is cut and glued by hand,” says employee and tour guide Daniel Nakashima. It’s clear that Nakashima, as well as all employees, takes great pride in the work.
The instruments here utilize an interesting internal bracing system. Instead of traditional bracing along the interior of the ukulele and by the sound hole, KoAloha has a unibrace that gives it increased stability. They are so stable that, during a factory tour, Nakashima will place the body of a ukulele on the floor and stand on it. It’s a cringe-worthy sight, as most instruments would buckle under the weight of an adult male, but the KoAloha uke holds.
The company uses a wide variety of wood including koa, monkeypod, rosewood and mahogany. The different types of wood all produce their own sound. The only items not made in-house is the instrument’s necks, which is laser cut overseas then glued onto the body.
Tours are available Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
KO’OLAU GUITAR & UKULELE
Ko‘olau Guitar & Ukulele is a custom shop, with no standard models. Patrons will pick and choose the shape, size, type of wood and design based on personal preference to produce something customized to the player.
This is another family-run business with a father and son, Jon and Noa Kitakis. Noa crafts the instruments. Because it is a custom shop, Noa has the freedom to tailor every detail for optimum sound. That careful attention comes at a price. Ukuleles from Ko‘olau routinely sell for $2,000 or more.
Part of that cost is the intricate inlays Ko‘olau is known for. Just about any design you can imagine can be made into an inlay including tropical flowers, green sea turtles and taro leaves.
The other three ukulele shops make custom orders upon request, but that isn’t the primary business.
You might think that with a tight market for high-end ukuleles these companies might have a strong rivalry, but that isn’t the case.
In most of Waikiki, shirts and shoes are not a requirement for service. The laid-back beach and tropical weather tends to inspire casual clothing and many restaurants cater to visitors in all states of dress.
At Hy’s, however, collared shirts and closed-toe shoes are a must. The lavishly decorated restaurant features tuxedo-clad servers, and only premium food and wine. It’s a fine-dining establishment in Waikiki and, at the end of 2016, it celebrated 40 years in business.
Hy’s is known for its in-house aged steak, seasoned with its proprietary spice blend, all grilled over a live fire stoked with local keawe wood as diners look on. Greens are often locally sourced, and all steaks are prime.
Executive Chef Justin Inagaki takes pride in refining the award-winning menu, and finding specialty foods like Big Island cheeses, to make unique specials.
“This is a calling for me,” he says. Food and cooking have long been a part of the chef’s life. He was born and raised on Oahu. When he was young, his family often had luau, where he first learned about cooking and Island flavors.
That love of food led Chef Justin to study culinary arts at Kapi‘olani Community College, where many great local chefs got their start. He’s been the executive chef at Hy’s for the last two years.
Chef Justin likes to be creative in his kitchen, and enjoys the freedom to play with the menu and food sourcing. “They actually let me do what I want to do,” he says.
That passion and liberty makes for an interesting blend of ingredients from near and far. The steaks, for example, often come from small farms, sometimes tended by Amish farmers in Pennsylvania. “I always want to find a company that’s unique in what it does,” says Chef Justin.
In addition to that prime beef, Chef Justin uses lamb from Niihau, the Forbidden Island, venison from Maui, and he offers occasional Big Island steak specials. “That was my goal when I came here,” he says, “to use local products.” That attention to detail in ingredients is part of why Hy’s is such a classic Waikiki restaurant and has been for almost half a century.
Hawaii may be the youngest state in the Union, but that doesn’t mean the Aloha State hasn’t fostered a love for American food. Waikiki in particular has an abundance of classic American comfort foods, often with an Island twist. If you’re visiting from the Mainland and feeling a little homesick, these restaurants are for you!
Tucked away on Lauula Street between Royal Hawaiian and Seaside avenues, Aloha Table is a hidden gem, and one that even comes with parking. The restaurant specializes in fresh foods made from local ingredients. The local all-star hamburger is a great example of an American favorite with local flare. An all-beef patty is served on a taro bun with lettuce, tomato, onions and minced pickled ginger. Instead of traditional French fries, it’s paired with sweet potato fries made from Big Island sweet potatoes. Other restaurant favorites include garlic shrimp, loco moco, a pupu sampler and signature acai bowl.
The United States has always been a melting pot for different flavors from Europe in the same way that Hawaii has long blended different types of Asian fare. So while spaghetti and meatballs may technically have its roots in Italy, it’s now a beloved meal in all 50 states.
Giovanni Pastrami serves up mama’s spaghetti and meatballs in a slow-cooked Italian beef sauce with two giant baked meatballs, all topped with Parmesan cheese. It tastes like it just came out of the family kitchen.
Nothing says good southern cooking like barbecued ribs, and nobody in Waikiki does ribs better than Tony Roma’s. Get a full or half slab depending on what your stomach’s telling you, and have it smothered in the signature sauce of your choice. Pair it all with your favorite sides for a perfect meal.
While you wait on the ribs, treat yourself to an appetizer or two. The kickin’ shrimp is a seafood lover’s dream, uniquely served in a jumbo martini glass. Or have the signature onion loaf. It’s hard to go wrong with the comfort flavors at Tony Roma’s.
In Maine, more than a hundred years ago, lobster was so abundant it was considered a cheap food and served to orphans. The tasty crustacean has gained in popularity since then, and now the New England staple is also a staple of fine dining the world over. While you may have heard of lobster mac and cheese as a decadent side to a perfectly seared steak, d.k Steak House takes it a step further with lobster mashed potatoes in a creamy garlic sauce. It’s a taste of the divine.
Of course no steak house journey is complete without the main course. d.k premium steaks are free from growth hormones, antibiotics and steroids. Try the dry-aged, bone-in ribeye for a classic steak, or if you need a little more lobster, go for the surf and turf filet mignon and lobster tail.
Food challenges are a uniquely American trend that is gaining in popularity throughout the country. If you want to test your tummy, head to M.A.C. 24/7 at Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel and try the M.A.C. Daddy Pancake Challenge. It’s three jumbo pancakes stacked with different fixings, weighing in at a hefty five pounds. If you can finish your plate in 90 minutes or less, your picture will adorn the M.A.C. Daddy Wall of Fame. Pictured are the Elvis pancakes, which are topped with bacon, bananas and peanut butter drizzle.
For a lighter meal, M.A.C. 24/7 serves breakfast 24 hours a day with traditional American and Island favorites like classic eggs benedict or loco moco. The restaurant also has non-breakfast items available and showcases live music nightly around the corner at the LBLE lounge.
TROPICS BAR & GRILL
Did you know that eggs benedict originated in New York City? The exact source isn’t exactly known, but the practice of topping an English muffin with ham, eggs and hollandaise sauce definitely began in the Big Apple.
At Tropics, the luau eggs benedict is treated with a Hawaiian flare. Instead of a traditional English muffin, it’s served on a taro roll and the ham is swapped with kalua pork. The poached eggs and hollandaise are what you’d expect though. It’s a great way to fuel a day of sightseeing around Waikiki.
CJ’S NEW YORK STYLE DELICATESSEN/RESTAURANT
Some food concepts are genius in their blending of unlikely pairings of exotic ingredients. Others are genius in their sheer simplicity of combining classic favorites in a new way. CJ’s mac and cheese omelet is a clear case of unbridled brilliance in the kitchen. This omelet uses a classic extra cheesy mac and cheese in an egg envelope, served with bacon and potatoes for an ultimate breakfast experience.
Lunch and dinner options at CJ’s are also full of comforts. The restaurant serves an array of all-beef ballpark-style hot dogs that snap when you bite into them. Have one plain, or get one smothered in chili and cheese.
Most people think of raw food and immediately assume sushi, or possibly a simple salad. But there is much more to the world of raw foods. Cured meat, fresh seafood, cheese, and herbs and fruit are all items that are not always cooked. Read on for more information about a few raw plates Waikiki has to offer.
Cevich an Oyster
Traditional ceviche is cured, raw seafood with citrus juice like lemon or lime, popular in coastal regions of Mexico. Each order of ceviche from Búho is made fresh, which is why it’s so flavorful. Búho has three types of ceviche on the menu including a Peruvian ceviche with fish and octopus, Kauai shrimp ceviche, and the award-winning ceviche with yellowtail tuna, Serrano pepper, apple cider reduction, and pickled watermelon rinds. In addition to these raw savories Búho serves fresh oysters with a specialty house sauce.
Cured Meat and Caprese Salad
There’s something beautiful in the simplicity of joining sliced tomato, mozzarella, basil and balsamic vinegar to form a caprese salad. The flavors in Il Lupino’s caprese salad come together perfectly in an unassuming yet delicious starter. Also available as a starter is a selection of cured meats and cheese. Mix and match from an extensive list of options to create the perfect plate.
The Brazilian superfood acai has found a new home in Waikiki. Acai bowls are common on breakfast menus here, and Goofy has one of the best. This colorful bowl starts with a bed of granola, then is topped with a frozen acai puree. It’s finished off with fresh seasonal fruit like pineapple and banana. It tastes like eating dessert for breakfast, and the best part is it’s actually good for you!
No raw food article would be complete without at least one sushi restaurant represented. Miyako at the New Otani Kaimana Beach hotel makes outstanding sushi. The California roll and rainbow roll are top sellers with great flavor. Miyako also has sashimi and nigiri sushi for those who prefer smaller portions. Dining at Miyako is an intimate experience, and the outdoor section has stunning views of Kaimana Beach.
Few places hold as much romantic allure as the white sand beaches of Waikiki. It’s a dream location for weddings, honeymoons and anniversaries or just to get away from the Mainland with someone special. But even love-birds need to eat from time to time. Here’s our guide to some of the best date spots for romance in Waikiki.
NOI THAI CUISINE
At Noi, all guests are treated like royalty. The whole staff, from the head chef to the bussers, strives to make each dining experience something special. Each dish is as much a work of art as it is a delicious meal. Most plates are adorned with cucumber carved in intricate patterns or shaped to resemble flowers and animals. The food is exceptional on its own with top flavor and quality, but Noi always puts on an extra touch. Located on the third floor of the Royal Hawaiian Center, Noi is centrally located for visitors and residents.
Also at the Royal Hawaiian Center is Wolfgang’s Steakhouse. Wolfgang’s embodies elegance and extravagance in dining. With dry aged steak seared to perfection and a seafood menu to match, it’s clear why Wolfgang’s is bustling with happy diners. The seafood platter is a wonderful way to start the meal with jumbo shrimp, crab, poke and oysters. Lobster and steak are a perfect pair for the main course, and lobster mac and cheese is a tasty complement to round out the meal.
Uncle Bo’s has long been a local favorite, located up Kapahulu Avenue from Waikiki. Its subdued lighting and crimson-lit bar provide an ambiance that lets couples feel cozy. Try the Thai-style steamer clams for a sure bet on starting the evening on a good note. A full pound of Manila clams are simmered in a mild chili and garlic oyster sauce. These clams are always a bestseller, and for good reason.
Instead of just dinner, why not enjoy dinner and a show? Pikake Terrace at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani has a gourmet buffet with king crab legs, prime rib, fresh sushi, a dessert counter for lovers of sweets and traditional Island favorites like kalua pork and poke. Enjoy dinner then head upstairs for the show (not included in dinner pricing). During dinner, enjoy a preview of Te Moana Nui, as performers enchant you with songs and dances of the Pacific. Either way the food and entertainment at Pikake Terrace will delight any lovebirds.
TIKI’S GRILL & BAR
For an animated evening, have a tropical libation and listen to live music at Tiki’s. Rooftop dining at Tiki’s is always fun, with ocean views and colorful décor. The restaurant puts a Hawaiian twist on American favorites. The lilikoi glazed duck duet takes the breast and leg of a duck, and drizzles them with lilikoi sauce. It’s rounded out with Kula onion marmalade and purple taro puree. It’s the perfect fusion, and one that would only be in Waikiki.
HAU TREE LANAI
Twinkling lights wind their way around the massive hau tree on the patio, illuminating evening diners with an enchanted glow each night at Hau Tree Lanai. Just off the patio is Kaimana Beach, giving guests panoramic ocean views. Featured is the seared tuna bruschetta that is on the Sunset Lanai pupu menu just upstairs in the lounge. This Hawaiian take on a staple Italian appetizer uses fresh tomato, avocado and basil and is drizzled with a garlic-wasabi aioli. Try it with a crisp white wine while taking in the sunset.
For some, nothing says date night like a traditional Italian restaurant. Taormina certainly fits that bill with its Sicilian cuisine. Located on Lewers Avenue, Taormina has two stories of tables, and outdoor seating available as well. Pasta dishes at Taormina are always a hit, like the “frutti di mare” dish that uses fresh squid-ink linguine and adds shrimp, clams, scallops, crab, tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, and a garlic and olive oil sauce. Or go for a steak with the filetto di manzo alla griglia. It’s grilled prime beef tenderloin with balsamic reduction served with grilled veggies.
When ancient Polynesians set out in canoes on voyages across the Pacific, space on board was precious. Everything they carried had its own particular use, both for survival at sea and for survival upon settling a new land. A handful of plants and animals rode with the Polynesian explorers to ensure they thrived in new homelands.
One of the plants they carried, known as canoe plants, was ko¯, which is Hawaiian for sugar cane. Before European contact, sugar cane was vital as a windbreak to hedge a lo‘i, or taro field. It could be used to sweeten haupia, a native coconut dessert, and was likely used in herbal remedies.
By the time sugar cane was introduced to the Caribbean, the Hawaiian Islands had been growing it for centuries. As Caribbean Islanders learned to distill rum from molasses, the byproduct of refining sugar, Hawaiians had their own practical uses for sugar, which didn’t involve refining.
Sugar refining didn’t start in Hawaii till the 1800s, and even then, rum wasn’t the focus. Foreign investors introduced a new varietal of sugar, and for decades sugar was one of the main exports from the Islands. By the end of 2016, the last major sugar plantation on Maui will close. To some, it seemed like Hawaii’s long history with sugar would die out, its history forgotten.
For at least two local companies, that is not an option. Ko¯loa Rum and Ko¯Hana Rum both grow sugar in Hawaii, and use it to distill world-class rums. As their names suggest, ko¯, sugar grown in Hawaiian soil, is central to each operation. Rum from both distilleries can be found behind the bars at many of the top restaurants in Waikiki.
Both distilleries provide tastings, and Ko¯Hana offers tours of its garden of specialty native Hawaiian sugar cane. There, guides regale visitors some of the uses ancient Hawaiians had for the sweet grass.
One important ritual was hana aloha, a form of love magic.
Hawaiians would use a dark-hued cane called papa‘a to make
a secure, long-lasting relationship. Another type of hana aloha
used manulele cane, for love across longer distances. The
garden at Ko¯Hana features both types, as well as 34 other
kinds of native cane. The distillery itself is Manulele Distillery,
named for the sugarcane that calls on love.
Ko¯Hana, located in central Oahu, produces agricole rum,
which is made from sugar cane juice, not from molasses. It
specializes in rum made with Hawaiian sugar cane, instead
of plants that were later imported for refining. Each batch
is unique, from one specific type of cane, all grown in one
patch. It makes for distinctive flavors, similar to different vintages
Ko¯loa Rum is in Lihue on the Garden Isle of Kauai. It also uses
sugar grown in Hawaii, but it purchases from the last remaining
sugar plantation on Maui. It’s stockpiled sugar to last the
next two years of production, as that plantation will shut
down at the end of 2016. In the meantime, Ko¯loa has started
small-scale sugar cane farming on Kauai and has made rum
with that cane on a small, experimental basis. The cane it
uses was developed by Hawaii Sugar Planters Association in
1965. That cane became popular to grow for its high sucrose
content and adaptability to the Hawaiian climate.
Sugar cane field where Ko¯loa purchases sugar.
Ko¯loa Rum offers free tastings seven days a week on the half
hour from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Ko¯Hana charges a fee for tasting
and tours, and is open Wednesday through Saturday from
10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Look for rum from both companies when
ordering a mai tai while watching the waves at Waikiki Beach.
As with all alcohol, be sure to drink responsibly and do not drink and drive.
THERE’S A WORD IN SANSKRIT THAT MEANS PURE BLISS: ananda. It seems like no coincidence that this word is one scant letter different from anana, the plant family that pineapples belong to. This blissful yellow fruit is synonymous with Hawaii, and the Island’s residents and chefs have spent decades experimenting and perfecting ways to use it.
Today, when you think about Hawaii, pineapples immediately come to mind. Even before the sands of Waikiki or the surf Native Hawaiians first rode, Hawaii evokes the sweet and tangy flavor of bliss. But like so many of the staple plants that are entwined with Hawaiian lore, pineapples are not native to the Islands.
Pineapples originated in what are now Brazil and Paraguay. They spread through South America and were even cultivated by the Mayas and Aztecs. By 1492, they had made their way to the Caribbean, where Christopher Columbus found them. He brought the spiny fruit back to Europe, where it was an immediate hit. Pineapples began to represent hospitality in Western culture, and their visage can be found in architecture in England and New England to show welcome to guests.
Nobody knows quite when or how pineapples first came to Hawaii. Popular legend is that the locally famous Don Francisco de Paula Marín first planted them in the early 1800s, around the same time he was attempting to cultivate grapes in Honolulu for wine. But it’s possible that Capt. James Cook introduced them on his fateful visit in 1778. He was known to have planted pineapples in other Pacific Islands in 1777, according to Sturtevant’s Notes on Edible Plants, although there’s no distinct evidence that he brought them to Hawaii. No matter who brought them, it is clear that pineapples have been here at least 200 years and have thrived.
Modern pineapples and their cultivation techniques more or less grew up in Hawaii in the 20th century. The industry here started with a few small growers that turned into produce giants Dole and Del Monte. Del Monte no longer grows pineapples in Hawaii, but Dole maintains a pineapple plantation in Wahiawa, on the way to Oahu’s North Shore.
James Dole first came to Hawaii in 1899, after earning a degree in agriculture from the Bussey Institute at Harvard University. Pineapples were already established as a crop on Oahu by then, but Dole knew preserving techniques previously unknown to local growers.
“Jim Dole’s advantage was the latest technology in canning fruit and vegetables,” says Michael Conway, the manager of diversified agriculture at Dole.
In the early 1900s, Dole began canning pineapples and selling them on the Mainland. Before this, it was hard to get edible pineapple nationally, because it only grows in tropical environments and there wasn’t a way to ship them quickly. Canning the fruit meant that it could be preserved and shipped, introducing the fruit to a new market of consumers.
At the same time, Dole was working with the Pineapple Research Institute (PRI) to perfect new and better varietals.
“They were doing breeding work here from the ’20s,” says Dr. Robert Paull, a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
For nearly 70 years, PRI worked with James Dole, and then his company and farmlands. They created hybrids with different levels of acidity, which altered the flavor. The pineapples in James Dole’s days weren’t like the fresh fruit we can buy in the store today. It was more acidic and less sweet. Their flavor varied based on the season. Now, thanks to hybrids generated by PRI, Hawaiian pineapples are sweet year round.
Today, Hawaiian pineapples have to be sweet, because they are no longer canned here. Before, cannery workers could add sugar to a tart batch of pineapples until the flavor was right. Now Dole and other Hawaii growers only sell the fresh pineapples that these Islands are so famous for.
“Pineapple is synonymous with Hawaii,” says Conway. And it’s true. On any restaurant menu the term “Hawaiian-style” means adding pineapple.
It’s possible, though, that pineapple, like sugar before it, may not be economically viable in time. Sugar cane once blanketed the Hawaiian landscape. This year, Hawaii’s last sugar plantation will close down on Maui.
“People just assume it’s always going to be here,’ Conway says. “That just isn’t the case.” If at some point the cost of growing pineapples on Oahu eclipses what consumers will pay, they very well could phase out of Hawaii, like sugar before them.
Currently Dole is the largest pineapple grower in Hawaii. Maui is also home to Maui Gold, a smaller, separate plantation. At its height of production, the entire island of Lanai was used to grow pineapples. Now only Dole and Maui Gold do significant commercial growing. Thankfully, neither company has imminent plans to cease production.
Many believe now, and have believed for decades, that Hawaiian pineapples genuinely taste better than those grown elsewhere. The rich soil and streamlined cultivation have led to perfectly tender fruit that embody bliss.
If you are visiting Hawaii, you can purchase Dole or Maui Gold pineapples at the airport for your return trip. Featured pineapple photos are all from the Dole Plantation in Wahiawa.