Monday, December 13, 2010
"Ono"-rable Mentions - More Good Things to Eat In Hawaii.
So, last week I went through some of my favorite local foods & places to eat on Oahu - but I kept it to my real favorite top 5 Island foods - the ones without which a trip home just isn't a trip home.
In the interest of getting to bed before 2 am, I decided to leave a few others for another post.
Here it is now!
Kicking it off with: Giovanni's White Shrimp Wagon
This actually is said to be the Original Kahuku White Shrimp Wagon - although sometimes it seems to me that White Shrimp Wagons are the Oahu equivalent of Manhattan's own pizza of mystery. Which is really the original? Ray's? Famous Ray's? Original Famous Ray's? Ray's Original Famous? Original Ray's Famous? Famous Ray's Original? AUGH!
A plethora of shrimp wagons have appeared on the North Shore, taking advantage of the constant supply of fat fresh shrimp available at the shrimp farms out that way. These are not on my Proustian list for the simple reason that they didn't really turn up until the early 90's, when I was already gone, but people LOVE them, rave about them, swear by their favorites, and when I drove past this one this year I seemed to remember it as being the one that my sister had turned into a pilgrimage one year based on something she'd read in a guidebook. My dad & I were far less interested in famous shrimp than in getting out to see the big surf that had been forecast that day, so we took a separate car & that was the time we stumbled on the Quicksilver Eddie Aikau Big-Wave Surfing Contest - just one of the most famous surfing contests in the world that's all - by pure dumb luck. This time, it was July, two foot swell if that on the North Shore so I was a little more ready to be distracted by food I'd heard was good. It wasn't too crowded so I turned in and tried the shrimp (first photo in the post) and they were indeed delicious. And as far as the question of which wagon was first? Well, according to this article, this actually was it.
A Couple More Local Joints in Aiea, Both Way Older Than The Oldest of the Shrimp Wagons:
Aiea Chop Suey -
This is where I learned to use chopsticks. My family came here all the time and my sister and I would practice on the ice cubes in our water. :D Great food, inexpensive too - same sort of prices as the takeout joints in my neighborhood but there is no comparison on the food. A quarter of the grease, ten times the flavor. The one thing is that it's best to eat here with a crowd, preferably big enough to sit at a big round table passing around a dozen different dishes. I came for dinner after my Aiea Loop Trail Hike & it was wonderful being there but it was also kind of sad eating there alone.
This is right next door to Aiea Manapua & Snacks & seeing both of them still alive & well there next door to the library, looking the same, sounding the same (squeaky screen doors!) and serving the same good food they did when I was a kid makes me happy every time I go there. When my folks were still in Aiea, M&M would usually be the first stop for a plate lunch - combination plate, two scoop rice & macaroni salad - no silly stuff like vegetables!
This time, it worked out that with Aiea being a little harder to get to, I had to focus my hometown dining a bit more than usual, and although I do love M&M, I'd already had my plate lunch out in Kailua. I was only here for the manapua. M&Maybe next time.
Kua Aina Burger, Haleiwa
I have a friend at work who's married to a guy from Oahu. When she heard I was going out this year, one of the first things she said to me was "Have a Kua Aina burger for me!"
And I said, "Kua who-a?"
Another one of these weird things where something's become wildly popular since I was taken away & I never heard of it! But it being a favorite of R. and her husband, and so highly recommended, and since I was totally planning on at least a stop in Haleiwa anyways, I agreed.
Well, it is one heck of a burger, VERY good, very big, very juicy - just try to get there before the tour bus pulls in, like I was lucky enough to do!
and the best part is that if R. hadn't told me to have a Kua Aina burger for her, or if I'd gotten there 5 minutes later when the line was out the door and down the sidewalk, I would've missed the amazing honu safari I had afterwards - because I was really only there for the....
And if I'd just had the shave ice, like I would've done left to my own devices, I would've just gotten back on the bus & ridden on to Waimea Bay without ever realizing I was passing dozens and dozens of beautiful sea turtles.
As it was, I was too stuffed for shave ice after that great big burger, decided to go for a walk along the shore to work up an appetite, and that's when I started to see all the turtles & ended up hoofing it to Waimea instead. Totally awesome & worth sacrificing my Aoki's fix.
Yes, I did get shave ice, as shown above - but that was a plebeian Waikiki variety where your only choices for the syrup were pineapple and strawberry. At Aoki's (actually at any really good shave ice place) they make their own syrups & the flavors go from the standard-issue lime, lemon and cherry to tropicals like lilikoi & lychee to weird stuff like bubble gum & cotton candy. If this was a picture of an Aoki's shave ice, it would be 3 colors at the very least!
Aoki's is a relative newbie compared with their far more famous neighbor, Matsumoto's, which has been around for over 60 years.
Don't know if they were selling shave ice all that time, but that's what they've become most famous for...look at the line!
I don't know, maybe if I did a blind taste test I would find out that I actually prefer Matsumoto's to Aoki's - but somehow I find that given two really high-quality shave-ice shops, I will always always pick the shave ice from the one with the five-minute wait instead of the 20-minute wait!
And then there's these poor dudes, just a couple of blocks away. Need to hire a publicist or something...
Anyways...Aoki's, next trip. Yup.
Getting pretty late, but almost done - I'll just wrap this up with:
The Scrumptious but Elusive Huli Huli Chicken
Furst you take der chicky-chicky. Coom ere, chicky-chicky...
Naaah, just kidding. This is a happy feral chicken who lives near the Aiea library - probably a direct descendant of the birds I remember crowing in the yards in the little row of houses behind the library. The houses are gone, replaced by a few more mini-mall type things behind the one that houses M&M and Aiea Manapua & Snacks. But I laughed to see that the chickens live on.
Huli huli chicken is real, and it really is slightly elusive - hence the lack of actual pictures. Huli huli chicken is generally sold as a fundraiser for schools. It's a little bit like Girl Scout Cookies - you get your book of tickets or whatever & you go from door to door selling them to all your neighbors. On a preappointed day, the guys from Pacific Poulty (the company that started it all) show up at your school, grills & birds in tow. The kiawe-wood charcoal is lit; the great double-sided handled grills are loaded up with chickens deliciously seasoned in a special teriyaki-like marinade, and when the coals are ready, a frenzy of grilling ensues! Parents & kids who've volunteered for the day organize the drive-through where the patrons come to pick up their birds; the cooking is handled by the professionals - big strong folks - they have to be to keep those big grills flipping all day. The flipping-over of the grills is actually where the name came from - the turning is done by a couple of cooks working together. To make sure the turn is coordinated & the twenty chickens in the grill don't go spilling into the coals, they yell "Huli!", which is the Hawaiian word for "Turn over" (also applies to outrigger canoes, hee hee!). Hence huli huli chicken.
One of the nice things about huli huli chicken is that even though you can't get it just every day, it does freeze well. The last couple of trips I made, I got some because my folks had some in the freezer for me. This time, though, I was on my own. I thought surely in this day & age, there would be some kind of hulihuli.com site that told the locations - but no, Pacific Poultry has resisted the siren song of the net.
Resisted? Heck, with a product as popular as huli huli chicken, they don't need it.
However, on my next trip, I will go armed with the number of the Huli-Huli Hotline - 1 (808) 841-2828, which I found in this very informative article about huli huli chicken. He does say mesquite wood - maybe that's a change from when I was a kid - but other than that, it's a good history of this onolicious local fundraising tradition.
And I got a good laugh out of that because I had totally forgotten about the 1981 Iolani world-record chicken grilling - that was my high school & I think I volunteered that day!