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.
INDULGE IN THE SWEET SIDE OF WAIKIKI. TRY ONE OF THESE GOURMET DELIGHTS AT SOME OF OUR FAVORITE EATERIES. YOU CAN FOREGO THE DILEMMA OF SAVING ROOM FOR DESSERT BY SKIPPING FORWARD AND HAVING THE BEST PART OF YOUR MEAL COME FIRST.
HOBO’s from Uncle Bo’s
The trip up Kapahulu Avenue is well worth the effort when the payoff is sweet taro beignets sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with vanilla ice cream. The beignets are served warm and literally melt in your mouth. Using taro as a base provides the purple color, and adds a local flavor you won’t find back home.
HOBO’s from Uncle Bo’s
Where better to get a New York-style cheesecake than a restaurant that has New York in its name? CJ’s provides a classic cheesecake and the slices are huge. It has a traditional graham-cracker crust and is garnished with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.
“Piña Colada” from Heavenly
Of course, no dessert menu in Hawaii would be complete without at least one dish featuring Hawaii’s signature fruit: the pineapple. Though not native to the Aloha State, pineapples are now synonymous with the sun and surf of Hawaii. This non-alcoholic piña colada features Hawaiian Crown Pineapple on coconut ice cream. It’s a fresh treat that won’t leave any lingering guilt.
Hawaii is undoubtedly a melting pot of different cultures, and this is most obvious when exploring local cuisine. Chinatown and Waikiki have many options for foods that might seem bizarre to Mainland visitors, but are staples in other cultures. Here are a few tamer options for foods you might not find back home, but aren’t too far afield, either.
Combination Seafood Platter Bali Steak and Seafood
Many visitors come to Oahu with one unique Island food in mind: poke. This traditional Hawaiian cuisine is cubed raw fish in a variety of sauces. It can be intimidating to try something new and totally raw. So try poke in the combination seafood platter at Bali, where guests can try poke alongside more familiar seafood, such as king crab legs, lobster, shrimp, Japanese-style sashimi and fresh oysters from the Pacific Northwest.
Bibimbap Goofy Café and Dine
This Korean dish literally translates to “mixed rice.” At Goofy, a bed of brown rice is topped with fresh local vegetables, pork and a fried egg. The chili sauce is served on the side so that patrons can determine how spicy they want the dish. It also comes with a warm seaweed soup to perfectly accent the potentially spicy meal.
Washu Beef Tataki Roll Kaiwa
Tepid sushi eaters usually object to consuming raw fish. They may go for a cooked tempura roll in lieu of sashimi. Kaiwa has another option for meat lovers. The Washu Beef tataki roll uses ultra-rare seared beef on and in the roll. The marbled beef is flavorfully paired with sushi rice, cucumber, garlic and green onion.
Bangkok Red Curry Noi Thai Cuisine
Eating at Noi is as much about the experience as it is about the food. The chefs are all from Thailand, and use unique techniques in cooking and presentation. Elaborately carved vegetables made to look like flowers or birds often garnish plates. Their red curry is a chef favorite, served with a choice of meat that comes in a separate dish, still steaming on smoked kiawe wood.
Kahuku Shrimp Kai Market
Most restaurants on the Mainland serve shrimp shelled with the tail off. Some restaurants are now trending toward leaving the tail on for presentation, but that’s usually about as adventurous as it gets with serving shrimp. In Hawaii, Kahuku shrimp is often served fully intact, with the head, legs and tail. Generally these shrimp are cooked in butter and the outer shell and tail are crispy, providing contrast to the soft meat inside. You can also remove the head and tail if eating the shell has no appeal.
As a Sonoma County, California, native, I am no stranger to fermentation. My dad used to make his own wine and beer in the garage of our home. Weekends often included jaunts to favorite wineries where my sister Sarah and I could play in the gardens. Only once did we mortify our parents by throwing rocks in a fishpond (I still contend Sarah started it).
Wine and the fermentation process were everywhere, driving our local economy. I assumed all 8-year-olds could cite the difference between a Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. It seemed totally normal.
While I was a child in Northern California, a place synonymous with wine production, George Killmer was half a world away in Japan and Korea, the latter locale having its own ubiquitous fermented fare: kimchi.
Kimchi is largely considered the national food of Korea. It takes many forms, but most commonly it’s a spicy fermented cabbage, traditionally served with white rice.
Killmer grew up with kimchi. He’s gone through phases when he didn’t eat it much, but now he devours it regularly. “If you don’t have kimchi,” Killmer says, “you’re having a bad day.”
Killmer is “hapa haole,” a colloquial term for someone who is part Caucasian and part another ethnicity. His mother is Korean, and his dad is a Caucasian former U.S. government contractor. Growing up, kimchi was everywhere. As a kid he even ate the spicy cabbage his mother made in oatmeal for breakfast. Her recipe for kimchi is the foundation for Jincha Kimchi, the small business he runs with his partner, Jamie-Lynn Gomes. Gomes did not have regular access to kimchi in her youth. She is part Hawaiian and graduated from Kamehameha Schools. She recalls how her mother’s Korean friend would gift a jar of kimchi once or twice a year. It was a treat, not a given. This aromatic side dish had yet to develop a place in larger restaurants or markets in the Islands.
Ready access, however, can have some drawbacks, which Killmer knew well. “When I was growing up, it was embarrassing,” he says. “It was always like, Don’t let people see the kimchi.” It was a source of shame to have something so different in his home. By this point, his family had moved stateside after time spent in Japan and Korea. Living in the Pacific Northwest as a teen, Killmer wanted to fit in. Kimchi was “stinky cabbage” that looked, tasted and smelled weird to his friends.
Then something interesting happened. Killmer became a chef who worked in the Mid-Atlantic region. He started seeing kimchi outside of Korean markets and restaurants. Suddenly it was gaining mainstream popularity with eateries for a simple reason: People liked it.
With this surge in popularity, Killmer returned to his childhood staple. It no longer held a stigma as a smelly cabbage. Killmer moved to Hawaii 10 years ago, where he met Gomes. They started Jincha Kimchi in June 2015.
Their process begins with only local, fresh produce, including Napa cabbage, ginger and garlic. “It’s the quality of our ingredients that makes our kimchi so good,” says Gomes.
It’s more than the ingredients, though. There is tremendous care in how they make each batch. It can take up to nine hours to make. Killmer says it’s something “deep in my soul,” that drives him to keep making and selling kimchi. The pair makes roughly 100 pounds of the fermented and pungent cabbage every two weeks from their 500-square-foot kitchen.
With ingredients in hand, Killmer and Gomes start making kimchi by carefully washing then cutting the cabbage. It then soaks in a saltwater brine for two to five hours, by far the most time intensive step of the process.
Killmer starts by cutting the cabbage to soak while Gomes preps a fish sauce. The sauce is made with kelp, green onions and dried anchovies that Killmer’s mother brings with her from Korea. It’s a fragrant mix.
With fresh fish sauce in hand, Gomes and Killmer begin prepping the kimchi paste with which they will slather the cabbage. Each ingredient is carefully cleaned and measured. The paste is made of garlic, ginger, herbs, fermented baby shrimp, fish sauce and, of course, dried spicy red chili peppers.
Today, most kimchi is spicy and colored bright red from chili peppers. This wasn’t always the case. Chili peppers aren’t native to Korea. It wasn’t until trade was established with the Americas in the 1500s that chili peppers became available to the world, eventually changing the nature of kimchi to its current spicy state. Traditionally, it was made seasonally based on whichever vegetables were available. It was not what modern eaters think of as kimchi.
Killmer and Gomes definitely make a modern kimchi, though they label the flavor as “local kine,” meaning it’s suited to the tastes of Hawaii residents. Kimchi in Korea tends to have a much stronger flavor, with more spice in the paste. The paste they make is spicy and savory, but not overwhelming.
Once they have the perfect paste, Killmer will check the cabbage to see if it has soaked long enough. The cabbage gets rinsed several times to remove excess salt, and then it’s massaged into the paste until evenly mixed.
At this point it’s edible, but it hasn’t had a chance to ferment yet. Fermentation takes at least two weeks, which is the minimum time they age each batch before sale. It’s left bottled in reusable mason jars in their fridge until ready.
It never tastes the same twice. Like wine, different vintages of kimchi are nuanced. They’ve taken as many controls as possible in refining the recipe, but fermentation can fluctuate, producing variations in each batch. It’s interesting to taste the changes, or even note the development in kimchi as it continues to ferment after purchase.
Kimchi in general is fermented via lactic acid bacteria, which kills off any other bacteria that would normally lead vegetables to rot. This process leaves kimchi with probiotic properties, meaning that kimchi is actually incredibly good for you. It’s also high in vitamins and may prevent certain cancers. Gomes mentions one frequent buyer who says the kimchi helps ease her rheumatoid arthritis.
This is just one process for one kind of kimchi. Jincha makes several varietals, but this is its staple, and what most people think of as kimchi. It’s a big world where kimchi is concerned, and anyone can make it.
As Killmer says, “there’s really no wrong or right way. It just comes down to if you like it or not.”
Jincha Kimchi is available at the Windward Mall farmers’ market. Visit its website for more information at www.jinchakimchi.com.