Hanauma Bay State Park, Ho'okipa Beach, Honolulu Chinatown, Julie Lary, Kauai, Lawai Beach, Maui, Oahu, rajalary, Rich Lary, Road to Hana, scribbles writing, snorkeling
Poor Rich. He needs to accommodate my quirky delights, one of which is snorkeling and another authentic cooking, preferably from a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Happily, we found both in Hawaii, during our recent whirlwind, 10-day, 3-island adventure.
Watching Ocean TV
The first time I snorkeled was in May 2001. Rich and I had been dating less than four months and he invited me to Stacey’s wedding on Kauai. Stacey planned a full-schedule of activities, including a boat trip around the picturesque Na Pali Coast. Part of the tour was a stop at Nu‘alolo Kai, a calm bay with a pristine reef.
Rich’s mother, Donna, encouraged, me to use a mask to see below the surface. The rest is history. My exaltation for snorkeling and seeing a cornucopia of colorful fish and coral was ignited and continues to be unquenchable.
During my first trip to Kauai, Rich and I snorkeled at another reef. When we returned to Oregon, where we were living at the time, we purchased snorkel gear, which was used in February 2003 when we sailed in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). We returned to BVI several years later, and then stashed our snorkel gear in a plastic bin until a month ago when we went to Maui, Kauai and Oahu.
Our first snorkeling adventure was the Molokini Crater on Maui. Having not snorkeled in years, I wished it was scheduled for a few days later, but most of the tour boats were full when we investigated going to Molokini a few days before we left for Maui.
The day after we landed, we were up at 6 a.m. to drive to the Pacific Whale Foundation. After filling out paperwork and listening to announcements and orientation, we boarded a large, metal catamaran, along with over a hundred other tourists and a dozen or so tanned and exuberant crew members.
Molokini is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater about 2.5 miles west of Maui. It’s considered an islet, comprising 23 acres, and is one of the seven Pleistocene epoch volcanoes that formed the prehistoric Maui Nui Island. A protected area and Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary, it’s a great place to snorkel, dive and scuba, provided you have a boat or take a tour. We fell into the latter category.
Because the tour started early in the morning, once we were underway, the crew passed out prepared plates of pineapple, oranges, banana bread and croissants, along with tropical juice. Before the trip, Rich drank a large cup of coffee, and unbeknownst to me, got additional pieces of banana bread and fruit. And the night before he ate a Carl Jr. [gut bomb] hamburger.
Initially, we were supposed to snorkel at Turtle Arches, which is known for its large population of turtles, however, the wind had kicked up, churning the water, making it murky and too rough for safe snorkeling. From the boat, we could see the water breaking along the shore, creating large waves.
The captain then turned the boat towards Molokini.
The crew mentioned the water was unusually cold, and therefore, it would be a good idea to purchase wet suit tops for an additional $10. We decided to brave the water without wet suits. However, with over 100 people anxious to get in the water, and most using the snorkels, masks, fins, floaties, and other apparatuses supplied by the tour company, there was 15 minutes or so of craziness until we could make our way to the swim ladders. Convinced I was going to freeze to death or drown having forgotten how to swim, I gingerly got into the water.
And then I started snorkeling and didn’t stop for nearly two hours.
First, my fins are rock’n roll wonderful. A few flutter kicks and I’m propelled ahead. And second, I grew up in Southern California with a swimming pool in the backyard, so swimming is second nature. And third, the water wasn’t as cold as they described (or maybe I was burning enough calories to stay warm).
Rich, however, didn’t do so well. He got nauseous from the food he ate, rocking of the boat (it was very windy) and bobbing in the water when he snorkeled. After 20 minutes or so, he got out to rest and hope he didn’t “toss his cookies.” For the rest of the trip, he was a bit sick (along with several others on the boat). He even skipped the lunch prepared on the boat, of grilled chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, garden burgers, potato salad, three-bean salad, fruit, and still-warm chocolate chip cookies.
I, however, was famished after a fabulous morning of exploring along the edge of the crater and seeing a wealth of amazing fish and coral.
The only negative was the crew restricts where you can swim. I could only snorkel back-and-forth behind the boat. I would have loved to have swam the entire length of the crater. However, there were other tour companies in the area, also restricting where their passengers could swim.
It’s difficult to describe the breadth of fish you see because there’s a huge variety from shape to color and behavior. And it’s constantly changing as the fish swim in-and-out of the coral. I like to float and look down as if I’m watching “ocean TV,” pleasantly surprised by what swims into my view.
Here’s a link to some of the fish on Molokini and other islands. It’s a small sampling because so many of the fish are similar but vary in color and patterns based on their sex and maturity. One species of parrot fish might be a handful of colors while another is a rainbow of wonderment. The same is true for the Hawaiian national fish, the humuhumunukunukuapuaa. There are dozens of varieties of butterfly, tang, wrasses, and angelfish with stripes, dots, swirls, and color blocks.
The appeal of snorkeling is you never know what you’re going to see, including a turtle, monk seal, trumpetfish or if you’re very lucky, a manta ray, reef shark, moray eel or pufferfish (super cute).
The following day, after a little sightseeing, we headed to Honolua Bay, which was listed as a great place for snorkeling, but the turbulent water made visibility difficult, and Rich was reluctant to swim too far out with the swells. While we saw few fish, we watched a turtle for several minutes munching on algae then headed to the right-side of the bay, where most of the reef was located. While trying to spot fish, another turtle suddenly appeared. We followed it as it wove between the canyons of coral.
As we headed back to shore, an even larger turtle suddenly appeared in the hazy water. It was inches below Rich and continued swimming as if a large human wasn’t swimming above. The turtles are fun to watch because they generally move very slowly and deliberately so if you can float (without being pulled by the current), you can get within a few feet without disturbing their activities.
The second to last day on Maui, we had lunch with Peter, a man Rich had met several years ago, during his short-lived career as a realtor. After moving to Maui, Peter continued to sell real estate, and also supplement his income as a tour guide.
That afternoon, we’d planned to drive to Hana (a.k.a. The Road to Hana), but Peter recommended we only go part-way and stop at only a handful of places since it was already late in the day.
The Hana Highway is just 52 miles long, but has 617 hairpin curves, 59 one-lane bridges, and numerous blind spots. Plus, the speed limit is between 0 and 25 miles per hour, depending on whether you’re waiting for someone to cross a bridge or racing 100 feet until you reach the next curve. On average, it takes 2.5 hours to go 52 miles. Not a trip you want to start at 2 o’clock in the afternoon with the sun setting around 5:00 p.m.
One of the places Peter recommended we go was Ho’okipa Beach, at the start of the Hana Highway. He mentioned late in the afternoon the turtles climb onto the beach to rest for the night. Sounded implausible, but we were game.
After several hours of twisting and turning on the Hana Highway, and having little luck finding the landmarks in the dense foliage, we headed to Ho’okipa. When we passed it earlier in the day, we saw dozens of windsurfers and surfers. The beach is host to numerous professional windsurfing and surfing competitions because of the perfect conditions from long stretches of sandy beach to intense wind and spectacular waves.
We returned to Ho’okipa as the sun was setting, parking in the upper lot. The view was breathtaking of long stretches of perfect sand, dramatic rock formations, dozens of surfers waiting for the perfect wave, three or four times as many people wading in the waves or lounging on the beach…. and a group of people looking at a grouping of large boulders.
We wandered down to the lower parking lot, slipping off our shoes when we reached the sand. As we neared the boulders, we noticed they had heads and flippers. Each evening, the turtles float out of the water, and lumber onto the beach to sleep.
As we watched the water, several boulders seemed to move. With each wave, they drifted a little closer to the shore. Slowly, over the course of 10 or so minutes, a turtle would emerge from the waves. Once on the shore, they extended their flippers and sloooooowly pull themselves onto the beach. Extend flippers. Pull. Wait a minute. Extend flippers. Pull. Wait a minute. Repeat.
It was agonizing to watch. Check out this video Rich shot.
It got more exciting as three or four turtles simultaneously appeared, jostling to get onto the shore. Extend flipper. Pull to the left of the turtle in front. Wait a minute. Extend flippers. Pull forward an inch. Flash a dirty look at the turtle to the right. Wait a minute. Extend flipper. Notice turtle to the right has inched forward two inches. Grimace. Pull forward another inch. Rest.
We were so mesmerized, we stayed until it got dark. Okay. We did stay until it was dark, but not because watching boulder-sized turtles wash up onto the beach is riveting. Ho’okipa is truly a gorgeous beach and I didn’t want to leave. I loved the Point Break vibe of the surfers, supporting and congratulating each other, helping load their surf boards into their vehicles, riding the waves, and probably living on the edge outta’ their vans and on each other’s couches, their hair course from the sun and salt water, their skin a golden brown, and their feet calloused from walking barefoot or in flipflops.
Because we had a late morning flight the next morning to Kauai, we returned to Ho’okipa the next day to check out the surfers and watch the handful of turtles who were still asleep on the beach. Of all the beaches we visited while island hopping, Ho’okipa was my favorite.
Hunt for Great Snorkeling
When we arrived in Kauai, we were told Anini Beach has great snorkeling. When we visited Hawaii 17 years ago, I believe that’s where we snorkeled. Anini has the longest and widest fringing reef in the Hawaiian Islands. A fringing reef grows directly from the shoreline.
We parked at the far end of the beach, and moments later struck up a conversation with a young couple. She was a nurse at a local hospital, and he claimed to have been a professional athlete who had a horrific accident 15 or so years ago was was slowly rebuilding his life after numerous surgeries and rehabilitation.
Evidently, he was surfing, and his board was going to hit him in the “nether region.” He turned so it struck his chest, smashing his ribs, rupturing several vertebrae, and ripping the cartilage in his back. I thought it was a bit implausible until I found this diagram on the Internet, which represents the extent of his injury. He was in his late teens when it happened and spent years barely able to walk.
The couple were superficially “affectionate” towards us, giving us hugs and kisses, and explaining how they’d welcome taking us on a private tour of the island to a waterfall where the “hippies” gather spring water, Waimea Canyon or wherever we wanted to go.
“Well, we need to go to an event tonight, and are looking forward to snorkeling for most of today,” explained Rich.
They persisted. Eager to move forward with our day, Rich gave them his phone number, so they could exchange texts. Of course, we had no intention of taking them up on their offer, especially after they asked whether we wanted to smoke some pot to loosen up.
Rich and I imagined being in their car (or them in ours) and getting stopped by the police or being taken to the remote location and being “conned” into giving them a sizable tip for their tour expertise.
With phone numbers exchanged, we headed down the beach to snorkel. After a few minutes in the water, we quickly realized the reef wasn’t happy. Not only was it brown and covered with algae, but the water was shallow. We kept swimming out and looking for deeper water, but there was none.
I hate the claustrophobic feeling of having the reef just inches below my body and seeing no open water. Nevertheless, algae, like moths drawn to light, attracts sea turtles. During our snorkeling (hyperventilating from claustrophobia), we were within several feet of two turtles lazily munching on algae.
I was so happy when we staggered onto the shore to seek another place to snorkel.
We drove to various beaches, consulting our smartphones and the stack of tourist magazines we’d picked up at the airport. The windy weather had churned up the ocean so many potential snorkeling spots weren’t safe.
There were many cars parked at Larsen Beach, so we reasoned it was a good place to snorkel. With our gear in hand, we headed down the steep, rocky slope to the beach. Ten minutes later, we were on the beach, but not a sole was in sight. We walked out to the water, but it was very rough and shallow. And Rich reminded me of the sign in the parking lot, which said many people have drown on the beach. However, on the other side of a large rocky outcropping was a calm bay, which Rich felt would be better for snorkeling.
We climbed back up the slope, and took another “trail” down, but found ourselves in the same place. The only way to get to the bay was across a brushy area, which had signs, indicating it was private property or to clamber over large, pointy, tall volcanic boulders.
Hot and hungry, we headed back to the car. While Rich checked his phone, I noticed an elderly man in a Speedo getting into his car. The back of his bathing suit could only be termed butt-floss. I thought it was a bit odd, until a short while later, we walked over to a barefoot woman in a long-flowing skirt with a midriff top who’d just arrived in an older van.
Earlier, she’d walked up – barefoot — to the spring we’d been told about earlier and had returned with 60 gallons of spring water. She was now heading down to Larson Beach for some sunbathing. Apparently, the beach is ideal for nude sunbathing with many sheltered and private spots among the rocks.
It explained all the cars and no people in sight!
Frustrated over the amount of time we’d wasted looking for a place to snorkel, we decided to go sightseeing for the rest of the day. The next day, however, we discovered Lawai Beach, which was fabulous. We snorkeled there two days in a row. Located on the south shore of Kauai, it’s a small, well-maintained bay, fronting several snazzy resorts and condos. While the water was rough and getting out was a challenge with the crashing waves, the fish were plentiful, coral healthy, and variety of nooks and crannies to explore kept it interesting.
This video perfectly represents the experience of snorkeling on Lawai Beach… except Rich’s and my crash landings. Because my swim fins are super tight, I must stand on the beach to put them on and sit down in the water or waddle onto the beach to yank them off. I’m pretty good at walking backwards into the water with my fins on, then flopping over and starting to swim when I get into 3 or 4 feet of water.
I’m laughably bad at getting my fins off because they turn into giant suction cups after snorkeling. The first day we snorkeled off Lawai Beach, I was sitting in shallow water, and had gotten one fin off. I struggled to pull off the second one and could see a huge wave coming. I tried to stand and simultaneously yank off the fin but fell back into the water.
Seeing the wave, Rich rushed to my aid to no avail. The wave bashed me into the shore as if I was a giant monk seal. I skid across the rough, coral-strewn sand, offering some of my skin as a sacrifice before slamming into Rich.
The following day, Rich had a crash landing into the shore, also sacrificing some skin. Adding to the challenge was the tide was very high. There’s a wide strip of sharp volcanic rock about 3 feet from the edge of the road. Past these rocks is the beach, which is rough sand speckled with bits of coral and shells. The days we snorkeled, there was 3 to 6 feet of exposed beach. If you didn’t stand up quick enough, you could get smashed into the volcanic rocks.
Pay to Snorkel
Our first few days on Oahu proved equally challenging finding good snorkeling spots. Either the waves were too rough, water too shallow to comfortably snorkel or the coral was on life-support with few fish.
One spot, Shark’s Cove, was supposed to have amazing snorkeling. When we got there, we saw people standing among large clumps of sharp volcanic rocks, dunking their mask-covered faces in the water to watch the fish.
Standing up and looking at fish through a mask isn’t SNORKELING.
Sensing my exasperation with finding good snorkeling spots, Rich proposed we go to Hanauma Bay State Park. Formed within a volcanic cone, the bay has been an underwater park since 1967, complete with a marine education center, sizable parking lot (pay to park), paved trail down to the beach (or for $2, you can take a tram), bathrooms, outdoor showers, lifeguard stations, facility to rent snorkel gear and lockers, visitor center that requires you watch a video before entering the park, and ubiquitous gift shop and snack bar.
While it cost $15 to visit the park, it was a fabulous experience with an exceptional variety of fish, including a monk seal that silently swam within a foot of us, turtles, and other sea critters. We spent 2-3 hours snorkeling, getting out of the water a few times, but mostly floating, paddling and observing.
Many people spend the day at the beach, sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, and socializing. They bring coolers, umbrellas, pop-up tents, blankets and other beach accouterments. Despite the number of people on the beach, there were only a few occasions when we bumped into large groupings of people in the water. Most people were closer to the shore, but I wanted to swim out to the deeper water to see larger schools of fish and sea turtles.
Some good food. Mostly mediocre.
It’s kinda’ sad when you look back on your first few days in the Hawaiian Islands and the best food you ate was on the airplane. Rich and I are both dreadful when it comes to eating. I’m cheap and nay-say anything that’s more expensive than McDonald’s, and Rich is finicky, and not adventurous. It’s a bad combination.
Nevertheless, after we got in the “groove” of having to purchase food – as opposed to it magically appearing — we had several enjoyable meals. With that said, we were pleasantly surprised when food suddenly appeared during our flight to Maui on Hawaiian Airlines. They served a roast beef sandwich on a ciabatta bun with Maui Onion potatoes chips, and a delicious Honolulu Cookie pineapple macadamia cookie. The latter was amazing. It’s easy to see how they can justify charging a $1 (or more) per cookie.
We were also given bags of pau hana snack mix (almonds, cheddar corn sticks and rice triangles, and corn chips with flax) with choice of tropical juices, assortment of sodas or Kona coffee (yum). Towards the end of the flight, they offered a complementary rum drink. To get in the island spirit, Rich had the rum drink and I had pineapple juice.
Our late lunch, after landing, was at a coffee shop. We had vegetables, hummus, tuna salad, pita bread, and multiple glasses of water. It was perfect with it being sweltering outside, still wearing our traveling clothes (jeans and short-sleeve shirts), and a bit dopey from getting up at 4:30 a.m. to drive to the airport, and then spending 5.5-hours flying.
That evening, after visiting a few places, and checking out where we needed to catch the boat to Molokini the next morning, we stopped at a gas-station Carl’s Jr./Green Burrito. Rich never misses an opportunity to eat at Carl’s. Unfortunately, the mammoth hamburger at Carl’s may have contributed to his queasiness the next day.
I took a safer route, choosing a scrumptious grilled chicken quesadilla. Keep in mind, my favorite place to eat in the entire world is Taco Bell.
After snorkeling at Molokini (see the top half of this article), we headed to the touristy town of Lahaina, which was packed with people with blocks- and-blocks-and-blocks of small shops selling clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, trash-and-trinkets, and kitschy art (giant, garish paintings, photos printed on metal, and blobs of colorful blown glass). There was also restaurants and bars of every ilk from fine dining to holes-in-the-wall.
We happily found a parking spot across from the famous banyan tree, which was planted on April 24, 1873 and is now 60 feet in height with 16 major trunks, and a canopy that spreads over .66 acres. It’s the oldest tree in the United States and is lovingly cared for by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation who prop up it’s sprawling branches with boards and provide a constant supply of water.
Once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom in the early nineteenth century, Lahaina became a whaling village in the mid-1800’s with up to 1,500 sailors from 400 or so ships embarking on the town, including Herman Melville, who wrote the classic novel Moby Dick.
Maybe because I was tired from snorkeling, but I found Lahaina sweltering and oppressive with the swarms of people, streets packed with cars, and fury of activity from people pushing roller suitcases to boutique hotels to tour and whale-watching boats lined up along the shore, and booths hawking dinner, luau and theater tickets, helicopter, boat, hiking, and bus trips, and other tourist pasttimes.
The one thing I did like about Lahaina was Lappert’s ice cream. I had Pauwela Sunrise, which was like an orange dreamsicle with bits of pineapple mixed in. Rich had coconut pineapple. Their ice cream was so good. I would have enjoyed trying their other flavors, including caramel cashew turtle cluster, green tea, Kauai pie, Kona lava lava, and Nene tracks.
That evening, we sought out a place to have saimin, a noodle soup that was inspired by Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino pancit, and became popular during Hawaii’s plantation era. Typically, it consists of soft wheat egg noodles served in hot dashi garnished with green onions, sliced Spam, simulated crab meat (kamaboko), barbeque pork (char siu), and other goodies. This is how saimin should look.
The saimin we got at a hole-in-the-wall noodle shop in a strip mall was a hot mess. It was hot, contained noodles languishing in broth, and was garnished with a piece of romaine lettuce and chopped green onion.
Getting the hang of finding good food
The next evening, Rich did some research and found a more authentic-looking noodle shop in Kahului. It was marginally better with a few more vegetables, and some meat, but on a scale of 1 to 10 would barely get a 3. On a good note, because of the heat – and few places having air conditioning – eating a light dinner of noodle soup was wise. It was hydrating and easy-to-digest.
The last full day we were on Maui, we met Rich’s friend Peter for lunch at Café O Lei at The Dunes at Maui Lani, a snazzy golf course, which hosts the Maui Open Championship. We got to the restaurant early, and were seated outside, under a spacious covered patio with large fans to stir the tepid air. The view was spectacular of the surrounding mountains with the emerald greens just feet from where we were sitting.
I was famished after a morning of sightseeing fueled by granola bars and not much else. I ordered a turkey Rueben sandwich with Caesar salad, and Rich had a hamburger and fries. You can’t go wrong with a Rueben, but Rich wasn’t overly impressed with his hamburger.
Determined to have a good breakfast, Rich once again turned to his phone, researching the top-rated restaurants. He chose Vanta Cafe, which was in an industrial area, and from the outside looked like a run-down greasy spoon. The inside was a cacophony of artificial flowers, coffee cups, teapots and knick-knacks.
Appearance can be deceptive. The food was great.
Rich ordered eggs and Spam. He received three easy-over eggs in a perfect circle with three nicely cooked pieces of Spam, and two scoops of rice. Check out the pictures in my gallery!
I got a ham, egg, and cheese sandwich for $5.95, which I’m still fantasizing about. It was a gooey delight between two slices of thick, toasted sourdough. Sometimes simple food can be indescribably delicious.
We were one of the first people in the tiny café, and by the time we left, every table was occupied. Many of the diners didn’t refer to the menu because they already knew what they wanted or ordered foods that weren’t listed such as fried rice with Spam.
That afternoon, we flew to Kauai. After landing and getting settled in our Airbnb, a room at the Ashton Islander on the Beach, we started thinking about dinner. June, Rich’s ex-wife who lives on Kauai recommended we wander over to Coconut Plantation across from where we were staying. She’d mentioned they opened a new ABC Store, which is one of 70 stores throughout the Hawaiian Islands, Guam, Saipan, and Las Vegas.
Depending on the location, ABC Stores offer a mix of groceries like a 7-Eleven, but also have a large selection of Hawaiian foods (coffee, candy, nuts) and gifts (jewelry, clothing, flipflops, dishes, décor, CDs, and keepsakes) and bath and body products.
The ABC Store at Coconut Plantation had a small food court. On one side, you could order delectable pastries, bubble and milk teas, coffee concoctions, and ice creams, and on the other was prepared foods. I immediately spied the poke bowls on their menu. For $9.99, you could get either rice or mixed greens, two variety of poke (raw yellowfin tuna mixed with onions, soy sauce and other goodies), choice of two other toppings, such as avocado, green or red onions, or chopped tomatoes and a sprinkle, such as dried seaweed or toasted sesame seeds.
We got two bowls and lovingly carried them back to our room. OMG. Let’s just say, we got another round of poke bowls a few days later. Traditional Hawaiian food is amazing.
That evening, we went to Kitaro, a snazzy Japanese restaurant to celebrate June’s mother’s 89th birthday. The spacious table was surrounded by family members, including June’s sister, Gail, who we chatted with all evening.
When we arrived, appetizers were already set out, including plates of exceptional, melt-in-the-mouth poke with dried seaweed and a light splash of soy sauce. Since Gail doesn’t eat raw fish, there was plenty for Rich and me to indulge in. There were other appetizers, but one can’t be distracted when poke is in the vicinity.
For the main course, Rich had a bowl of miso, cold soba buckwheat noodles, and tempura. I had nabeyaki udon, which was a generous bowl of flavorful broth with soft udon noodles, seafood, char sui, fish cake, ornately sliced vegetables, mushrooms, and other goodies with a piece of shrimp tempura on top.
It was fabulous, however, I was full from the poke bowl I had at lunch and the poke appetizer. I asked to put my soup in a container, and the next night, Rich and I heated it for dinner, using the mini kitchenette in our Airbnb. There was plenty of soup for two.
Even though I was “too full” to eat my soup, I had no issue with sharing a piece of Kitaro’s famous green tea mud pie with layers of green tea and vanilla ice cream on a dense chocolate shell with whipped cream and caramel syrup on top. Yummy!
For the rest of our trip, we primarily ate Hawaiian food. Twice we went to L&L Barbeques, which are primarily in strip malls and claim to be “the comfort food of Hawaii.” They have a broad menu, but we always ordered kalua pork and cabbage over rice, consisting of several scoops of rice and sizable ladle of mouth-watering slow-roasted shredded pork and droopy cabbage.
Kalua pork is so good, when we return to Washington, I immediately bought a large chunk of fatty pork and cooked it overnight with artificial smoke and other goodies. I then steamed a head of cabbage in the “meat juices” and combined with the shredded pork. We feasted on kalua pork for a week.
One afternoon, while passing through a small town on Kauai, we stopped for lunch at a Hawaiian diner. I had loco moco, and Rich had a plate lunch. I’d researched loco moco before we vacationed and concluded it was disgusting. However, Stacey, Rich’s daughter who was raised on Kauai, lamented I “had to try it.” Because of my pre-conceived notion of its taste, I ordered a mini moco loco, consisting of a scoop of rice, fried hamburger patty, soft boiled egg, and brown gravy.
Maybe because the hamburger was fried to a crisp, and the gravy not as horrific as I imagined, I inhaled my mini moco loco. It was delicious! The egg, gravy, meat, and rice complemented each other.
Rich wasn’t as pleased with his plate lunch. A plate lunch usually comes with two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and one or two proteins. For some strange reason, he chose katsu chicken, which is a battered and fried chicken breast that’s sliced and served with a dipping sauce. Rich rarely has fried chicken unless it’s associated with either “Kentucky” or “Popeye,” so he was disappointed with his lunch.
When we got to Oahu, we decided to start buying our meals at grocery stores. Sounds crazy, but it was a brilliant solution for two cheapskates. Plus, our Airbnb had a nice kitchen and we were within walking distance of the Ala Moana shopping center, which has a very upscale Foodland with several sections of prepared and ready-to-eat foods.
We chose several packages of musubi (plain or seasoned rice wrapped in dried seaweed with grilled Spam or other protein) along with hard boiled eggs, juice, and fruit for breakfast. We also got packages of sashimi (sliced tuna) and poke, udon noodles, and frozen oriental vegetables for dinner.
A day later, while walking through a neighborhood grocery store, we spotted day-old plate lunches and purchased two. Mine was a scoop of rice with laulau (pork and taro leaves steamed in ti or banana leaves). Rich’s was rice with kalua pork and sweet-and-sour chicken. Laulau is satisfying like kalua pork. The taro leaves break-down into mush, and you mixed them with the shredded pork before taking a mouthful.
When we first arrived in Oahu, we had time to “burn” before our tour of Pearl Harbor. We went to the Honolulu Chinatown. I could have spent ALL day in the area snapping pictures of the amazing, historical buildings, but we only had an hour and a half. We headed to a large market with stalls of every type of vegetable, fruit, fish, shellfish, meat, critter (i.e. bullfrogs), and dried and fresh herbs conceivable. Towards the back of the market was a food court, bustling with people perusing the wide variety of Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Laotian, Filipino, Japanese, and Korean food.
Rich – not being overly adventurous – opted for one-entree box lunches. I was a bit disappointed by his choice but was pleased when I took a bite. Instead of plain rice, we got fried rice, with bits of pork, vegetables, scallions, and fried egg. I chose vegetables for my entrée, and was pleased with the bok choy, cabbage, carrots, broccoli, and other barely cooked vegetables in a light sauce. Rich had sweet and sour chicken.
We sat at a long table with four chatty women, several of whom brought food in Tupperware containers to share with the others. They kept looking around and commenting on other people in the food court. And likewise, I saw men and women at other tables scrutinizing those around them.
There was little English spoken, so I suspect the Chinese people were looking down on the Vietnamese, who were turning their noses up at the Japanese and Thai, who were pondering the Korean and Filipinos, who were wondering what they were doing in a place called Chinatown. In other words, you could sense the various groups of people, plunked in front of the food stalls that aligned with their heritage, scrutinizing those around them.
There were at least 30 different food stalls with an extraordinary array of food from barbequed ducks (dangling from their feet) roasted pig’s heads and offal to fresh, pickled and fried fish, myriad of soups and curries, noodle and rice dishes, fresh spring rolls and fried lumpia, stir-fried and roasted meats and vegetables, fruit drinks, teas and coffees, and much, much more.
Before we left the Hawaiian Islands, we indulged in shaved iced one afternoon. What differentiates shaved ice from a snow cone is the ice is shaved from an enormous block of ice, and simultaneously pressed into a cone shape before fruit syrups are poured over it. It’s messy, but tasty.
The syrups range from run-of-the-mill cherry, orange, raspberry and grape to coconut, pineapple, pina colada, cotton candy, dreamsicle, guava, kiwi, mango, coffee, and watermelon. Where we got our shaved iced, they had a selection of syrups they make themselves from squeezed fruits.
My next installment about our trip to Hawaii will be about the botanical gardens and hiking, including to the top of Diamond Head.
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