Kathy and I got an early start to our last day in Honolulu (sniffle) at the KCC Farmers' Market, which takes place at Kapi'Olani Community College on Saturday mornings from just 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. It was pretty packed when we got there around 9, although it's probably packed the whole time its open. And for good reason: Besides fresh local produce, there's tons of great prepared food.
First, some drinks from Pacifikool, a drink company that specializes in ginger syrups—Hawaiian, Thai, and agave-sweetened. I tried the Gingercooler ($3) made with Hawaiian ginger syrup, lemon, sweet basil, and carbonated water. A simple and refreshing combination made better with whatever magic goes into Hawaiian ginger. Maybe it's just the vacation talking, but it seemed to taste better than regular ginger.
While I got the drinks, Kathy stood in line for North Shore Farms' neopolitan grilled pizza topped with pesto (made with macadamia nuts—hey, this is Hawaii), fresh slices of Big Wave tomatoes, creamy gobs of mozzarella, and basil slivers. It's my favorite pizza toppings combination, but I rarely eat it—methinks I could count the number of times on one hand—since it's not exactly a staple of pizzerias. (Why don't I just make it at home? Perhaps there's a pizza party in my future.) The crust was medium thick and had an appealing slight chewiness with a crispy bottom. If you don't try this when you visit the market, you fail. Kathy and I showed some restraint by just sharing one slice, but you know we could've eaten much more if we weren't trying to save stomach space.
Kathy brought me to the fresh strawberry mochi stand, only to find out that the a woman in front of us had just bought the last box. :( To express my grief, I flung my body to the ground while shaking my fists and wailing, "AAAAAAWWWW SHIIiiiiiITT" and this all took place in my mind.
Then I saw the BIG BAG OF KALE and all was forgotten. It lived up to the sign: It was a honkin' huge bag of kale.
And then it was time for a snack from the Two Hot Tomatoes stand.
Aside from their namesake fried green tomatoes they also offer fried zucchini and sweet island onion rings.
So I got "all of the above" ($7). The onion rings were my favorite, but they were all good because they were all coated in the same light, crunchy, craggly batter. The creamy wasabi lemon and basil lime dipping sauces made them even better.
I regret not trying the barbecued abalone. Two pieces for $6? Why did I skip this? I love abalone, but I've only eaten worthwhile amounts of it in Chile, where it's inexpensive and plentiful.
For dessert, I tried a small bowl of Pink Cadillac (lemongrass) shaved ice ($3.50) from Blue Lotus's ShaveDice. If it were served in New York City it'd be worth recommending, but in Honolulu I'd say it was just okay. The ice, while quite fine, wasn't as fine as the other shave ices I've had, and there were some patches of non-syruped ice. The lemongrass flavor was refreshing, though.
For second dessert, I tried taro mochi (5 pieces/$3), fried taro-flavored mochi balls combining chewy and crispy (one of my favorite texture combos) in every bite.
We left the farmers' market to get a typical Hawaiian plate lunch from the nearby Fort Ruger Market. No, I wasn't diving into another meal—I was saving it for later! PINKY SWEAR. I hadn't had a real Hawaiian plate lunch yet during the trip—not even on the Plate Lunch Tour—so this was my last chance.
The market may not look welcoming from the outside, but there's magic inside! Magic!
They don't make delis like this in New York City. Kalua pig! Pork laulau! Beef stew! Three kinds of poke! Ahi jerky! Haupia! A gabillion other things I want to eat!
I ordered Hawaiian Plate A, which came with kalua pig, pork laulau, pipikaula, lomi salmon, and haupia, and asked for poi instead of rice since I had never tried poi before. I also got a side of ahi poke, which was fan-fuggin-tastic...but more on that later. As Kathy and I had plans to eat second lunch with her family, I saved the plate lunch for later.
I didn't try any of these musubis by the cash register, although I sort of wanted one. A chunk of butter mochi, on the other hand, also conveniently located by the cash register for all my impulsive needs, did find its way into my purchase. The name is rather self-explanatory: It's mochi made with...butter. And other things. Check out this recipe at Ono Kine Grindz. It's like regular mochi, but eggier, milkier, and fattier. And to make things even better, outside of the dense, slightly chewy, smooth mochi is a light, crispy crust. IT'S. SOVERYGOOD. I ought to make a pan for my birthday.
After going back to Kathy's house we joined up with her parents and sister to roam around Chinatown. Kathy told me Chinatown isn't very safe at night, but during the day it's fine.
We popped into Vietnamese restaurant 99 Coffee Shop for noodly goodness. It looked like it hadn't changed much in decades. I'm down with that.
But before noodles, crispy spring rolls (chả giò) with noodles, herbs, and lettuce leaves. One of the tastiest members of the "fried things" family ever.
I ordered the "only available on weekends" bun mang vit, rice vermicelli in a light broth with bamboo shoot slices, and steamed duck and a raw shredded cabbage and onion salad on the side.
The noodle soup didn't leave much of an impression—the cabbage salad ended up being my favorite part, after being doused in the accompanying fish sauce-y...sauce. (My knowledge of Vietnamese food is pretty crappy, and I'm fully aware that my descriptions will never improve unless I actually start taking notes. HAHA NOTES whatever. My veins fail to pulsate with the blood of journalistic ambition.) I've never had shredded cabbage as part of a Vietnamese meal before, but now I want it at every meal.
I also liked the lil' pot of fermented shrimp paste. It's potent, pungent stuff; add a little dab to your food for a bit of funk.
And here's the other stuff that was on the table. Mountainous assortment of of raw veggies and herbs, tomato broth-based bun rieu, shrimp paste log-filled bun suong, and shrimp cracker-topped hu tieu mi hai vi. You can read much better descriptions of these dishes at Kathy's blog. I do love the veg-and-herb pile component, which allows me to ungracefully shove wads of mint and basil into my mouth. That's my preferred method of eating herbs, ye know: wad shoving.
And now, random scenes in Chinatown.
Devil Pig! Probably delicious.
Freshly made papaya salad! Probably also delicious.
Fruits and vegetables! Neither of which I ate enough of during the trip. Oops.
Through Maunakea Market Place we ended up...
Okay, this is what we came for: Thang Coffee and Bubble Tea. Kathy says they make the best fruit smoothies in the city and their avocado smoothie is her favorite drink on the island.
We split an avocado smoothie with tapioca pearls ($3.50)—it'd be hard to finish a full cup on your own. The smoothie was super thick, just a touch sweet, had a light avocado flavor, and lived up to the smoothie name with its baby-butt-smooth texture. A great refreshment on a hot day. Or, you know, any day. I found the tapioca excessive for being in an already thick-as-concrete beverage, although I say that as someone who doesn't particularly enjoy boba tea. (I did when I was younger, but at some point I got tired of chewing gobs of tapioca that would randomly block the flow of the liquid I so craved. Like, dammit, I'm thirsty, balls, get out of the way, ok.)
Back To That Plate Lunch
Shortly before Kathy and I had to go to the airport, I finally tucked into that Hawaiian plate lunch I had been saving all day. Clockwise from top left: lomi-lomi salmon, haupia, pork laulau, poi, and kalua pig. Methinks it was also supposed to come with pipikaula, but maybe the guy at the market left it out since I asked for poi instead of rice. OR MAYBE IT JUST WASN'T MEANT TO BE. Which is fine since I only had enough stomach space to take a few nibbles of everything.
Lomi-lomi salmon is like a diced tomato salsa with salmon bits mixed in. Can't say I've ever had that combination before. This version tasted mostly like tomato since it didn't have much salmon in it. It was a refreshing accompaniment to...
POOORK! LOTS OF PORK. (Okay, two kinds of pork.) Salty pork. The pork wasn't succulent, but I was happy enough with it.
I thought I'd like poi since it's a staple food made of mashed taro and water, and hey, I like taro-flavored things (mostly in the form of ice cream and chips)—but no. No. Now I know what unflavored mucoidal taro tastes like: sort of sour and bitter, like something past its prime, and nothing that instills a desire to eat more than a forkful of it. I seem to be hypersensitive to bitter foods though, so you might think differently.
All was forgotten when I ate the ahi poke. Oh sweet jebus. Chunks of raw poke mixed with chopped raw onion, green onion, seaweed, sesame oil, and salt. Rarely have I ever eaten raw fish with such abandon. I don't think I could ever enjoy delicate pieces of sashimi as much as chopped tuna infused with salt and sesame oil. The poke was mighty refreshing until my mouth was overcome with raw onion taint, which made everything in my mouth taste oniony for a few hours. But it was totally worth it.
I tried the other flavors of Happy Heart Mochi I didn't mention in my previous post: haupia, peanut butter red bean, and strawberry red bean. The chocolate haupia mochi I ate first was my favorite, but these were all great.
Kathy's fridge was custom made to seamlessly fit in with the rest of the kitchen. Ain't it sweet? I think there's more freezer space on the side.
Here's one last look inside the house, designed by Kathy's dad. It's damn lovely, even while still under construction (mostly the outside); I hope to visit again when everything's finished.
And one last look outside the house. Lush forest galore. Wiggly branches tree, come to meee.
And...IT'S OVER! THE TRIP IS OVER! BACK TO REALITY! NOOOO!!! :(
...I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip, even as I fumblingly grasped for descriptions of stuff I could barely remember. Many thanks to Kathy and her family for taking such good care of me and giving me the best introduction to Honolulu a food lover could ask for. And megathanks to Kathy for driving us everywhere (I'm pretty sure she doesn't enjoy driving) and putting up with me being totally lazy and lolling around in the passenger seat.
Next, I'll try to quickly recap the best things I ate over the past two and a half months of not writing about New York City.
Honolulu, Day 6: Happy Hearts Mochi, Champion Malasadas, Waikiki Beach, Curry House, and Bubbies Ice Cream
Honolulu Day 5, Part 2: Dinner at Town, Dessert at Nobu
Honolulu Day 5, Part 1: Sconee's, Zippy's, and W & M Bar-B-Q Burger
Honolulu, Day 4: Korean, Cakeworks, Diamond Head, and Grandma's Chicken Curry
Honolulu, Day 3: Five-Location Plate Lunch Tour, Plus Desserts
Honolulu, Day 2, Part 2: Shave Ice at Waiola, Icee at Uncle Clay's, Food Coma at Kats Sushi
Honolulu, Day 2, Part 1: Malasadas from Leonard's, Japanese Snacks from Shirokiya, and Hokkaido Bread from Panya
Honolulu, Night 1: Dinner at Grandma's House
KCC Farmers' Market
Parking Lot C, Kapiolani Community College
4303 Diamond Head Road, Honolulu, HI 96816 (map)
Fort Ruger Market
3585 Alohea Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96816 (map)
99 Coffee Shop
174 North King Street, Honolulu, HI 96817 (map)
Thang Coffee and Bubble Tea
1120 Maunakea Street, Honolulu, HI 96817 (map)