Our original honeymoon plan had been Scandinavia: Sweden, most likely, with a stop in Iceland. But when we figured out that we’d be going in February, that was less appealing (for one of us, at any rate — long nights, hot saunas, and the chance to see the Northern Lights all sounded pretty good to me, but I’ll go another winter) and we started looking into tropical and Southern Hemisphere destinations. We picked Hawaii for a number of reasons: neither of us had ever been there, it’s far enough away that it’s unlikely we’d go another time, and, as my friend Karen pointed out, no one ever comes back feeling lukewarm about Hawaii. One of Rob’s old friends, an indie musician whose tastes run pretty counter to the sort of cheesy resort experiences I wanted to avoid, had told us that he loves it so much he’d live there if he didn’t have family obligations keeping him in their hometown. Additionally, Rob had just finished rereading The Dirt when we were tossing around destination ideas, and he pointed out that the Mötley Crüe guys were always running off to Hawaii to chill out when rock-star life got to be too much. So we figured that any place beloved by people as different from each other as this indie guy, Mötley Crüe, and my Aunt Yolanda had to be a slam dunk.
And it was.
We spent a week on the Big Island with a few days in Waikiki on either side. I approached the planning with an eye to having a few different kinds of experiences: the remote-natural-splendor kind, classic-Hawaii-tourist kind, the read-a-book-a-day-while-sipping-umbrella-drinks-by-the-pool kind, and the eating-things-I-don’t-have-regular-access-to kind. We got started on the classic-Hawaii-tourist kind immediately, having beachside mai tais our first night…
Then jumped into the eating-things-I-don’t-have-regular-access-to kind the next day, taking a Hole-in-the-Wall food tour of Honolulu. It was a solid half day of being driven around town and eating things (maybe 15-20 different items, all told) from places I feel pretty confident we never would have gone to otherwise, and it was great.
It started with mana pua, which are sort of like a meat doughnut with char siu or roast pork or whatever else inside a sweetish dough. They’re baked, so they’re not greasy at all, and I think it’s insane that we don’t have them in New York. Call the place Meat Doughnut, don’t sell anything else, and you’re golden. Bonus for me: if you’re savvy about marketing, I bet you could siphon away all the cronut business from Dominique Ansel and then I could finally start getting breakfast there a couple times a week again. I miss the croissants, but not enough to wait in those lines. Man, this idea just keeps getting brillianter.
We had bakery items, like these chocolate-filled “cocoa puffs,” from Liliha Bakery:
And visited a rice noodle factory in Chinatown where everything is still done by hand and almost entirely without electricity; the lights and those fans are the only powered items, the noodles themselves are steamed.
Here, one of the guides, Bill, is handing out samples of some of the rice noodles above (plain, with bits of shrimp, and with bits of char siu), along with some pan-fried noodles and Korean bbq chicken:
Spam musubi and poke (in the container). I know Spam takes a lot of flak, but I grew up eating it occasionally and don’t have an issue with it. These rice, Spam, and seaweed creations were surprisingly tasty. Later in the trip, we took Spam musubi on hiking trips a couple of times for a quick, filling, protein-rich snack. I don’t think I’ll seek it out here, but it was the right food at the right time. Poke is seasoned, cubed raw fish. It was available inexpensively almost everywhere, it ranged from great to transcendent, and I really wish it was more widespread here.
That night, on the advice of one of the guides, we went to a Hawaiian restaurant, since the food tour had been local foods rather than specifically Hawaiian foods and I thought we should have at least one traditional-ish meal.
I had chicken long rice, which is basically chicken soup with rice noodles, and Rob had some kalua pig. Both of the meals came with lomi salmon, which is a salmon and tomato salad; a sort of beef jerky; coconut custard; and rice or poi. I’ve had poi before (I had a native Hawaiian roommate at one point) and have never been moved to have it again; it’s not terrible, but it’s basically just a bland mush. There are plenty of other bland mushes I like better.