Sarah Wilson’s Healthy Hawaiian Food Guide
Food isn’t usually the first thing people think of when considering a trip to Hawaii. That’s all about to change. More recently, the place has undergone a transformation. Indeed, Hawaii is possibly one of the healthiest places to holiday right now, especially if you couple your eating journey with hiking and other outdoor adventures.
Having just come back from the islands on something of a foodie (and hiking) exploration, I put it down to two factors. One, the up and up of the foodie instagrammer. Seriously, some of the biggest wellness ‘grammers in the world are based in small outposts such as Oahu’s North Shore and the east coast of Kauai, sharing their green smoothies and breakfast bowls to pundits around the planet. The other factor is the rise of the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine movement, which has seen top chefs revive local ingredients and traditional cooking practices in truly inventive ways.
The combination of forces have produced a bunch of fun food experiences that certainly got me on a plane straight to Honolulu. Here’s five healthy food trends I tested out:
Hawaii has totally embraced this fermented tea trend. The tropical climate provides perfect conditions for making the highly nutritious, gut-healing beverage (kombucha ferments best at about 24C) and you can find it sold in cafes, whole food stores and at countless food trucks around the islands. Definitely try it on Kauai at Kauai Juice Co or on the North Shore of Oahu at The Beet Box Café in Haleiwa.
Huffington Post declared it the big new food trend recently, no doubt because they’d seen it inundate social media feeds around the traps. Poke (pronounced poh-kay) is raw fish marinated (cured) with seaweed, Maui onions, avocado, tobiko, spicy mayo, sesame oil, fish roe, spices or wasabi. You can find it in most local-style restaurants and sushi places around the islands. Make sure you go for the local fish, such as Ahi (yellow-fin tuna).
3. Taro leaf
The top chefs promoting local cuisine on the islands are big fans of this bitter-sweet leaf that’s often discarded in the farming of the popular taro root. I ate the leaf in a number of ways during my stay. It’s generally cooked down into a puree and tastes like a nutty spinach puree or it’s used like a vine leaf as a “wrap”.
I ate taro leaf at Lee Anne Wong’s Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu on her Eggs Haloa (a local version of the egg’s benedict). Also in a laulau (local slow-cooked Kalua pork wrapped in the taro leaf and steamed like a super large wonton) at the Taro & Juice Co food truck in Hanalei.
Roughly 85% of Hawaiian food is imported, which doesn’t help with quality. Thankfully the foodie scene is very much embracing the local foods of yore – local fish, roots and fruits – and reinventing them in fun ways. The Hawaiian Food and Wine Festival in October showcases the best of “Hawaiian Regional Cuisine.” Year round check out: Ed Kenney’s Town Restaurant, Lee Anne Wong’s Koko Head Cafe and Mark Noguchi’s Mission Hall and Social cafe. All three are in Honolulu.
5. Farmer’s Markets Fun
As with many foodie destinations, local farmer’s markets have become tourist destinations unto themselves. The ones in Hawaii are fun social hangouts with samples and food trucks.
Check out the Kauai Community Farmers Markets near the airport, the Hanalei markets up north on Kauai and the Kapiolani Community College market on Saturday in Honolulu. The North Shore Farmers Market (on Oahu) is Saturday morning from 8-2, and there’s a great evening market in Haleiwa town on Thursdays from 3-7 p.m.
Plus five local foods to try just once:
OK, the foods I’m about to share are not entirely healthy. But #wheninRome…
- Acai bowls. These things are brimful of sugar (huge vessels of sugary granola topped with sugary berry smoothie, topped with banana slices and a big drizzle of honey).
- Garlic shrimp. Prawns sautéed in lots of butter and garlic and sold mostly via food trucks. Giovanni’s food trucks are the best places to try this surfer staple.
- Spam sushi, or Musubi. Yep, just as it sounds. Even more intriguingly, many say the best stuff is to be found in convenience stores like 7-Eleven.
- Loco Moco. A kind of deconstructed hamburger, the Loco Moco (“crazy” in Spanish) is a great brunch dish. It involves a burger patty plonked on rice with a mushroom gravy topped with a fried egg. I ate a healthy version at Heavenly Waikiki.
- Shave Ice. Yep, ice, shaved and then topped with syrup. I avoided but popular even with President Obama when he’s in town.
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