Hawaii has always been recognized for its beaches, mild climate, waterfalls, adventure, marine life, and so much more. My last trip to the island state brought an appreciation for the food. From food trucks to farmers markets, the melting pot of flavors that the islands offer is a food lover’s dream, and Hawaii is putting itself on the map of the culinary scene.
With so many different cultures on the Hawaiian Islands, the various techniques and trends have blended into their own special flavor. Here are some of my most interesting and delicious finds when it comes to the islands’ delectable gastronomy.
Let’s start with the markets. With people immigrating to the islands from countries throughout Asia, the fruits and vegetables came with them. The humidity, soil and rainy weather on the Big Island brought agriculture to an entirely new level. It’s not just the pineapples that thrive on the islands; it’s the vanilla, mushrooms, and fruit trees as well. The best place to see, taste, and buy these products is at Hilo Farmers Market. The market takes place every day in the town of Hilo (you can’t miss it), but the largest day is Saturday. Come hungry and thirsty!
Good food doesn’t have to be served up on a fancy table or restaurant. In fact, a table wasn’t even an option at Maui Fresh Streatery, which was some of the best food I had on the island. Kyle Kawakami is a local who wanted to take the food scene to a new level on the island and he does this, but he serves it out of his food truck. You know it’s good when locals line up well before the truck opens and the menu changes according to the season. Everything is not only fresh, but each dish has a different flare combining the cultures of the island. I tried a little of everything — a poke bowl, chicken katsu, steak, accompanied with their seasonal fry, which is usually a unique blend of unimaginable flavors.
Understanding the culture is a special experience when visiting the islands, especially at a luau. “Luau” in Hawaiian means a party or a feast, and this is something that locals take pride in. While on the island of Oahu, I went to Paradise Cove to experience more than just a luau. Once you arrive you will be greeted with a mai tai and then enter the property full of cultural activities. Learn to make a crown out of leaves, spear throw, go for a canoe ride, and learn to hula all before the evening performance. The menus will typically consist of fried chicken, lau lau, poi, potato salad, and taro rolls. Throughout the islands the options could vary, but it’s worth trying a bit of everything to see if you discover a new favorite.
When it comes to restaurants, there are so many good ones to try, but I had a very memorable experience at Opal Thai in Haleiwa, Oahu. I love Thai food and the spices and mix of veggies and noodles, soups and fresh herbs. When you walk into Opal Thai, you will be asked to name five Thai dishes that you like. If you cannot answer this question, you will be asked if you like certain herbs, meats, and veggies. If you answer yes to all, you will be stunned with the chef’s menu, which varies depending on what he feels like cooking. Everything I had was delicious and I can’t wait to see what he cooks up next time I’m in town. Note: it’s a bring-your-own-beer restaurant (or whatever drink you prefer).
Related: Outdoor Adventures on Hawaii Island
Maybe you have thought of sunbathing and snorkeling in the islands on your next visit, but keep an eye out for new, trendy, and local flavors. Stop by a food truck or talk to the locals because food is a good enough reason to visit the islands in the first place. I’m hungry just thinking about it!
Ashley Colburn is a two-time Emmy-winning TV producer and host who has traveled to more than 25 countries on six continents in two years. Follow Ashley’s adventures in Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada, and Hawaii on GOGO Vacations’ webseries, Paradise Found!
About the Photographer
Sarah John Afana is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute but chooses to spend her time exploring Mexico, the Caribbean, and other parts of the world for GOGO Vacations as a marketing specialist. She makes fantastic office treats and handles the company’s social media. She is also an accomplished artist, creator, and photographer.