Month: June, 2008

Do the Loco Moco

Thursday, June 19th, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Travel

Hawaiian cuisine is a reflection of the various ethnic groups that have immigrated to the islands over the past couple of centuries: strongly Asian-influenced — Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean — and with an emphasis on local ingredients. (See: poi… though I only ever actually saw the well-known Hawaiian dish on the menu at the two lua’aus we attended.)

Given the easy access to fresh seafood and fruits, I was somewhat surprised by how starchy and heavy most of the local dishes were. Though this does explain why a staggering 39 percent of the native Hawaiian population is obese.

Case in point: Cafe 100, which we visited on our one day in Hilo.

After dropping off the kayaks just after dawn, we raced two and a half hours to the other side of the Big Island for my much anticipated helicopter tour over the active volcanoes. Alas, however, the heavy cloud cover that morning resulted in my ride being canceled at the last minute. Instead, we settled for an early lunch at this Hilo institution.

The Miyashiro family opened Café 100 six decades ago. According to our guidebook, the restaurant, now in its third incarnation, survived destruction by tsunamis in 1946 and 1960. It was named for the original owner’s World War II comrades in the famed 100th Battalion — a Honolulu-based unit comprised predominantly of Japanese Americans.

Café 100 is really more of a fast food stop than a café: open air tables and a simple counter where the staff still take down the orders with pen and paper and end every transaction with a cheery “Mahalo.”

Besides its tasty, cheap eats, the place is most notable for its role in popularizing the Islands specialty “Loco Moco”: a local dish comprised of a mountain of white rice topped with a hamburger patty, brown gravy and an egg or two. Loco Moco was invented in Hilo, though whether by Richard Miyashiro of Café 100 (as I’d read) or by Richard and Nancy Inouye of Lincoln Grill is a matter of some debate.

Other dishes on the menu include the ubiquitous “potato mac salad” — yes, exactly what it sounds like — daily “mixed plate” lunch specials and more standard mainland fare such as cheeseburgers and fried chicken.  Not refined fare, by any means, but all fast, fresh and good.  And did I mention cheap?

Café 100’s Loco Moco is offered in many variations (14, at my count), substituting the beef patty for Spam (of course), “smokie” [sic] Portuguese sausage, hot dog, kalua pig, or fish — here, the mahi mahi. Or was that the ahi?

And below, a photo of our Loco Moco from Kailua-Kona’s Big Island Grill the day before. We hadn’t packed a defibrillator for this trip, so after these two hearty samples, we called a moratorium on the Loco Moco for the remainder of the vacation.

Tags: , , ,

There's 1 comment so far

By the bay

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008 | All Things, Travel

Papaya and gecko:

We rented a pair of kayaks from Kona Boys, stacking and strapping them onto the roof of the car for the 6-mile drive to Napo‘opo‘o Beach for our afternoon excursion into Kealakekua Bay. The Marine Life Conservation District is home to one of Hawaii’s most spectacular coral reefs and marks the site of English explorer Captain James Cook‘s first landing in Hawaii in late 1778.

With a little assistance, we set off from a concrete pier into the water surrounded by sheer cliffs. The mile-wide expanse is one of the most protected bays in the Hawaiian islands, with little current and few swells which made for relatively smooth kayaking.

Our guide at the rental shop had told us in advance to expect spinner dolphins in the bay. (Had he not, the first sighting of that swarm of fins circling our kayaks would have been a much more disconcerting experience.) Even so, we did not expect to see quite so many of the friendly creatures — several pods, nearly two dozen dolphins in all — leaping and spinning in the air as if for our entertainment. Amazing and delightful!

No photos of our near one-hour crossing, unfortunately: my camera was packed away deep in the dry bag, which in the end was a good thing as the rough surf at the ancient canoe landing at Ka‘awaloa made debarking the kayak a much trickier affair than embarking. Let’s just say that I became much better acquainted with these rocks than I would have liked.

At the north end of the bay, the well-developed reef slopes steeply from the shore to a depth of over 100 feet of pristine water, clear as glass, from which we spied jewel-like coral, myriad colorful fish, sea urchin the size of our heads, and even a squid or two. The best snorkeling of the trip.

When Captain Cook first arrived on the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii), he was revered as a god — some natives may have believed him to be a returning form of Lono, the Hawaiian God of peace, agriculture and prosperity — but his subsequent visit in 1779 met with much less favor: a 27-foot white obelisk marks the spot where Cook was killed by Hawaiians on February 14, 1779.

So caught up were we with the marine life that we happily missed the deadline to return the kayaks that evening, opting instead to carry them along to our dinner at the gorgeous Four Seasons Resort Hualalai later that night.

Tags: , , , , ,

There are no comments just yet

…and we’re back!

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008 | All Things, Travel

Back in the city after nearly two weeks in Hawaii, and back to the business of blogging. I spent the better part of this day fighting jet lag from the six hour time difference and uploading vacation photos on flickr.

So where was I?

At the Kailua Village Farmer’s Market, we found a gorgeous assortment of tropical flowers…

…and piles of luscious fruit. Hawaii is notoriously expensive, but the one thing that we found to be absurdly cheap were the papayas. Fruits that would cost upwards of $3 apiece at the Upper West Side Fairway were offered 3 for $1 for the “premium” Hawaiian variety or a staggering 5 for $1 for the “solo” type.

I like papayas, but well… one can only eat so much.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, bananas were 65-70 cents apiece at most places around town.

After a breakfast of Spam and eggs (When in Kona…) and local specialty Loco Moco at Big Island Grill, we hit the beaches.

At Kahalu’u Beach Park, we came across a hula lesson in progress, dozens of colorful fish and one curious honu (Hawaiian green sea turtle).

Tags: , , , , ,

There are no comments just yet