With all my traveling around the island of Oahu, I see a lot of new things. Let’s face it, everything here is still new to me. The funny part, though, is that Hawaii is really not that different from Missouri once you get to know it. There’s a culture of hard work, a beautiful landscape, great food, and way more history. It may be new but it actually feels like home to me. Because of that fact, I’m constantly reminded of things from my childhood. One thing I’ve thought a lot about lately were these trips I used to take with my dad. My dad is a man with simple tastes. He eats his steak well done, and not very often. He always loved a pork steak, fried chicken, hot dogs, and sausage gravy. Other than that it was any vegetable he could grow, and we grew a lot of them. He also loved tiny, hole in the wall restaurants. We would go on trips to different parts of the state every so often for some reason or another and inevitably there would be some small diner or lunch counter. They were always serving hamburgers, or biscuits and gravy, or a bbq pork steak plate that we just needed to try. Besides that, he always knew the owner, or at least knew the story of how the restaurant came to be in its present state. There was always some story to be told one way or another. These were probably the best times I had with my dad as a kid. He was a tough character in those days and these trips were some of the only comfortable times we had together.
Full disclosure: I’m totally obsessed with Filipino food right now. I think about it everyday. I can’t help it, it’s in my nature. Obsessing over a new cuisine is nothing new for me. Since the early days of my relationship with Jacqui I’ve worked to understand the food and customs unique to Hawaii and Jacqui’s background. I’ve gone through phases of intense study of Chinese, Japanese, Native Hawaiian, and Hawaii Regional cuisines. I’d have a dish that would blow my mind and I’d focus in and learn everything I could about it. This would carry on until something else blew my mind and shifted my focus. Since we’ve moved to Hawaii it’s been a very similar process but much, much faster because there are all kinds of flavors I’ve never experienced around every corner and in every area of the island.
It’s hard to say what my favorite local dish is since I’ve moved to Hawaii. There are really too many things that I love to really nail it down. But the one I think of most often, and the one I make at home most often, is saimin: a thin Chinese style noodle served in a light broth with (usually) spam, egg, and green onion. Despite the ingredients having roots from all over the world, you will only find saimin in Hawaii.
For most of my life I’ve been addicted to cooking shows. Even as a small child I watched Martin Yan and Jacques Pépin as often as I could on PBS. In my teen years when Iron Chef hit America, my mom quickly picked up on it and immediately turned me onto it and that is where my love of cooking competition shows began. I have seen every episode of Iron Chef, Top Chef, Masterchef, and just about anything else you can think of. I have, however, never had the pleasure of attending any sort of cooking competition.
One day while scrolling through Instagram I spotted an event taking place at the International Marketplace in Waikiki: The Ultimate Chef Battle between Executive Chef Jamie Zager of Stripsteak Waikiki vs Executive Chef Bao Tran of The Street Food Hall (both Michael Mina restaurants). In a twist, Chef Zager would be emulating flavors typical of street food, while Chef Tran would be utilizing steak house flavors. Additionally, cocktails would be a part of the competition. Now, we don’t venture into Waikiki too often and we’ve never eaten at Stripsteak but we’ve heard nothing but good things—elegant, modern, with a mix of new and classic flavors— and we recently checked out Burger Hale at The Street and had a great experience. So, this seemed like a good opportunity for another great food experience. After a little bit of debate, Jacqui convinced me that we needed to go because I was going to have a blast and—once again, folks—my wife was right. So, once again Grammy and Jiichan were called in to the rescue—because the Nugget was not ready for this type of action and we were in need of a date night.
Probably the most misunderstood word in American food culture is “Hawaiian.” All over the country when you see “Hawaiian” on the menu it’s usually a euphemism for “I took an otherwise fine dish and dropped some pineapple in it.” There’s nothing wrong with liking pineapple on your pizza—but don’t call it Hawaiian. I’ve yet to meet a local or a Native Hawaiian with an insatiable urge to add pineapple to everything. While pineapple and coconut and any other tropical fruits may very well be included in a Hawaiian diet, that is hardly indicative of the vibrant food culture of Native Hawaiian people.
I should start by saying that burgers have a very special place in my heart; I’ve always loved cheeseburgers. When I was growing up we didn’t eat out much and even when we did the best bet was usually KFC because it was the only food my grandmother would buy from anybody. Other options included any place involving a buffet because that was my dad’s idea of a good time. But for me, there was nothing better growing up than stopping somewhere—anywhere—and getting a cheeseburger. I remember the first time I came to Hawaii I was hell bent on impressing my then-girlfriend and so I dove head first into all the local delicacies—which basically meant I ate a lot of fish. Fish, particularly ocean fish, is not that easy to come by in Missouri. Outside of the occasional—and I do mean occasional—stop at the sushi restaurant, I didn’t get it that often. So, after 3 or 4 days of nothing but fish, my body started to revolt. I experienced a craving deeper than any craving than anything in my life… for beef. I needed a taste of home. And I needed it on a bun with some cheese.
Nothing will put a wrench in Friday night dinner plans quite like a toddler will. So, when my wife’s parents said they were itching to get some alone time with my little hellion—oh, excuse me—I mean, their little angel, we jumped on the opportunity for a much-needed date night. We packed up the minion, dropped her off with Grammy and Jiichan, and headed into McCully to try the favorite restaurant of Jacqui’s friend Kori: Fujiyama Texas Kushikatsu Izakaya. But this isn’t just your everyday Japanese restaurant. No, no. Fujiyama Texas’ specialty is kushikatsu, a very popular style of food in Japan that has been around for nearly 100 years. Kushi refers to the skewer, and katsu means it’s panko breaded and deep fried. That’s right, my friends, 90% of the menu is golden fried and stuck on a stick—a concept that nearly every red-blooded American can get behind.
Hawaii is a melting pot of many different ethnicities and it’s reflected in the state’s food culture. If you’re anything like my wife and I, you’ll find yourself craving local food as soon as you step on that plane home. Here is our list of 10 essential items you’ll need in your kitchen to enjoy the flavors of Hawaii no matter where you are.
Most of you have seen that Hawaii has been under a Hurricane Warning for the past few days. Not only was this the first hurricane warning I’ve ever experienced, but it was also the weekend of my birthday. But with the weather being so unpredictable, we didn’t do much eating out, so this post is a very special post of what it was like for this previously landlocked Missouri boy to experience a hurricane in Hawaii. So, thus, begins the tale of the Great Freak Out of my 35th birthday…
Hurricane season in Hawaii will typically run from the mid May/early June to the end of November. So, that means if you’re planning on travelling to Hawaii during the summer and fall, you should be prepared for a possible hurricane. Preparing for a hurricane feels a lot like preparing for a snow storm, but with the possibility of tornado-like damage. So, since I know there are probably a lot of you out there that may not have any idea how to prepare for a hurricane, I put together this post so you know what to do in case you find yourself here in the middle of a hurricane watch.