If your only experience with Hawaiian food is pizza with Canadian bacon and pineapple, you may be wondering what the fuss is all about. Convinced that Kauai has more to offer foodies, we asked the locals to share their inside tips.
Myth #1: You have to go to a restaurant for good poke.
On the mainland, the grocery store is the last place most of us would look for authentic and high-quality sushi. But ask any local where to find the best poke, and they will invariably tell you to check out Foodland, the popular Hawaiian grocery store chain.
Foodland features a rotating selection of more than a dozen types of poke, including wasabi and ginger flavor. Sampling is encouraged. Eat your poke on a bowl of steaming white rice or by the pool with a bag of corn chips. The fish will keep for several days in the refrigerator.
Local Tip: Try this Foodland-inspired recipe to make your own seared spicy ahi poke in the comfort of your timeshare rental kitchen.
Seared Spicy Ahi Poke (Serves 2)
8 Ounce Block of Ahi, Flash Seared and Diced
3 Tablespoons Green Onions, Finely Chopped
3 Tablespoons Maui Onion, Finely Sliced
1 Tablespoon Masago
1 Teaspoon Shoyu
2 Tablespoons Mayonnaise
1 Dash Sriracha
1 Teaspoon Picked Ginger, Finely Chopped
Sesame Oil to Taste
Hawaiian Salt to Taste
Combine the measured ingredients. Then add sesame oil and salt to taste. Consider garnishing with microgreens and/or serving with the sriracha and mayonnaise on the side.
End your meal with that classic Hawaiian treat—shave ice.
Myth #2: Poi, the Polynesian staple made from taro, isn’t worth eating.
Poi, the pale purple goop served at every luau, has earned a negative reputation for being bland and even downright disgusting. The taro-based dish is a Polynesian staple, but after a couple bites you might question Hawaiian taste buds.
Once again, food writer Marta Lane debunks the myth, explaining that it’s all in the preparation. “The poi you get at a luau is watered down and thickened with cornstarch and rice flour,” she says. “It’s more of a party trick for tourists. They’re not going to present their best poi.”
The other problem—poi is not meant to be eaten as a side dish. “Traditionally, poi is eaten with salty foods. Hawaiians dip their fingers in the poi and eat it together with lomi lomi (a salmon dish) or kalua pork, which helps balance the saltiness.” Poi is often classified as “two-finger poi” or “three-finger poi” depending on its thickness.
Local Tip: Marta Lane recommends visiting the Hanalei Taro & Juice Company for a variety of delicious taro products. She adds that that the Waipa Foundation sponsors a community lunch once a week, which includes dishes from local vendors and, of course, traditional poi.
Myth #3: All the “local” produce you see at the farmers markets came from the islands.
Kauai-based food writer Marta Lane knows her stuff. She has toured more than 80 farms on the island and wrote a guidebook to Kauai’s best restaurants. Marta is very supportive of the local food movement, but she confesses that some farmers market vendors are exploiting it, passing produce from the mainland as locally-grown.
“I was at a farmers market in Kilauea when I ran into a friend visiting from my home state, Colorado. It was April and she was stoked because she had just bought some fresh tomatoes. She looked crestfallen when I told her that tomatoes don’t grow well here at all and that it’s not the season for them anyway. They were probably grown in Mexico and purchased from a local Costco.”
Marta adds that this kind of thing is common even outside of Hawaii, and that she’s made it her mission to help people reconnect with their food by eating seasonally and preparing their own meals. “I do what I do because I feel like people are out of touch with their food,” she says. “We’re so busy, but eating is more than survival. It’s the way we connect, celebrate, and remember. It’s a central part of our lives.”
Local Tip: Marta Lane’s company, Tasting Kauai, offers several Kauai food tours, including a one-hour farmers market tour on Wednesday afternoons. In addition to meeting local farmers, you’ll get insightful cooking tips to take back to your condo.