While most mornings in Hawaii we either ate breakfast in our condo, or picked up something on the fly, we did decide one morning to go out and get a full, righteous breakfast. Both of us were craving pancakes, and after reviewing the various options of the North Shore, ended up driving down to Kailua to check out one of the local favorites, Moke’s Bread and Breakfast.
For the last stop on our food tour, they took us to Leonard’s Bakery, a modestly-sized bakery located in the Kaimuki neighborhood, not to far from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, with their gleaming sign advertising malasadas and pão doce. The destination wasn’t particularly a surprise, since I’m pretty sure that Leonard’s Bakery was far and away the most-recommended place on Oahu, with literally dozens of people telling me that I had to go to Leonard’s and order a malasada.
But I’m sure quite a few of you are now asking “what’s a malasada?” Well, as I mentioned, Hawaii is quite the culinary melting pot, and that influence includes Portuguese cuisine (a large number of Portuguese workers came to Hawaii from the Azores in the late 19th century to work on the sugar cane plantations). This immigration added several major items to Hawaiian cuisine, including Portuguese sausage (available at most breakfast places in Hawaii, and also widely available as a choice in a standard plate lunch), pão doce (Portuguese sweet rolls, kind of like a sweet dinner roll), and the malasada. The malasada is basically a Portuguese donut: a nominally egg-sized lump of dough is fried up and, in its most basic form, served up rolled in granulated sugar. It’s one of the classics of Hawaiian cuisine (indeed, the wedding we attended had fresh malasadas at the reception), and it’s a dessert widely available across the state. And, as I mentioned above, most anyone’s list for “Best Malasada” has Leonard’s near the top of the list.
During our food tour of Chinatown, we had about half an hour to explore Chinatown, including the Maunakea Market and the surrounding area. We decided to check out a place we had passed earlier: Char Hung Sut. Char Hung Sut is another one of those old school places in Chinatown, and they’ve been producing manapua and other dim sum for a rather long time. Indeed, I’m not even sure how long, since aside from finding mention of it in a 1960 Hawaii tourism guide, I can’t find any reference to how long they’ve been around. But in any case, they make most short lists I’ve found online for where to go to get good manapua.
After Liliha Bakery, our hosts with Hawaii Food Tours took us to central Chinatown for a nice sampling of the various food establishments there. Probably the high point of the visit was them taking us to a fairly subtle store front on the Kekaulike Market: the Ying Leong Look Funn Factory, for a look at making fresh rice noodles. Walking inside, it’s less like walking into a store than, well, a factory, and you pretty much walk right into the noodle production line. They are making fresh funn, the wide sheets of glutinous rice flour noodles that are one of my favorite noodles from Chinese cooking. When fresh, these are always wonderfully toothsome, stretchy, and tender all at the same time, and they do a great job soaking up sauces. Here at the Ying Leong Look Funn Factory, you can see them being made.
The next stop on the food tour was Liliha Bakery. Located in Kalihi, which is one of the older and distinctly less touristy parts of town, Liliha is one of those places known for three things in particular: coco puffs (no, not the cereal, we’ll get back to that), great pancakes, and being open 24 hours a day (except for Mondays, when they take a day off). Indeed, when I was getting recommendations for places to check out for “local eats” in Honolulu, several people all gave me the suggestion “Get some coco puffs from Liliha Bakery”. So when our Hawaii Food Tours van pulled up and stopped at Liliha, I had an inkling as to why we were there.
After attending my friend’s wedding, we had several more days on Oahu wandering about and exploring. However, the splendid, sunny weather that had greeted us upon arrival turned primarily into… rain. Now, several tourism guides on the internet will tell you that it doesn’t really “rain” per se in Honolulu, just “drizzle and trickle”… but if that’s the case, we got almost 8″ of “drizzle and trickle” our last few days there. So that left us with a lot of non-beach activities to do, and one of those was taking a food tour. In our case, we went with Hawaii Food Tours, who offer several highly-rated tours on Oahu. In our case, we opted for their “Hole-in-the-wall” tour focusing on “local” food for the Honolulu scene.
So our first stop with them was in Chinatown Cultural Center at the edge of Chinatown, in a place called Royal Kitchen. While Royal Kitchen does serve up a lot of standard Hawaiian fare like plate lunches and saimin, what they are really known for is manapua, the Hawaiian version of char siu bao, those Chinese soft buns filled with meat. As I mentioned in my previous review of 7-Eleven, those little buns are available almost everywhere on the island, in a variety of flavors. But Royal Kitchen stands out, since most places steam their manapua, while Royal Kitchen bakes theirs.
Okay, I’m sure most you are are going “Did I just read that right? Is Rich reviewing 7-Eleven, the convenience store?” Indeed, I am. I’ve mentioned before that Hawaiian culture and Asian culinary traditions have influenced each other making a fairly distinct Hawaiian culinary tradition, but one of the more interesting things to me is that this culinary tradition is strong enough to influence chains imported from the mainland. Sure, that 7-Eleven you wander into in New Jersey is probably nearly identical to a 7-Eleven in, say, Southern California, that’s not quite the case in Hawaii. In Hawaii, 7-Eleven fully embraces Hawaiian cuisine, in that every single one on the island has, in addition to the standard 7-Eleven items (like Slurpee and chips), a substantial amount of counter space at the front dedicated to serving up a selection of Hawaiian items, with the notable items being Spam musubi (in several varieties) and Manapua (also in several flavors), pork hash, and several other island treats. Seriously, you can even check out their menu.
While the island of Oahu is one of the bigger, and the most populated, of the Hawaiian islands, at times it is a very small place. Indeed, once you get up to the North Shore, there’s not a whole lot of different dining options, and of the existing ones, there are just a few places that consistently get recommended, such as various Kahuku shrimp trucks. One place that gets an awful lot of North Shore recommendations is Ted’s Bakery, and it’s one of the more obvious stops on the Kamehameha Highway, so we decided to stop and give them a try.
As I’ve mentioned before, Hawaii has an influence from many Asian cuisines, and one of the more prominent ones is Korean. Indeed, Kalbi (marinated and grilled beef short rib) and Meat Jun (egg-battered and fried meat slices) are two of the more popular options in the classic Hawaiian “Plate Lunch” (which I’ll probably mention in a post dedicated to the topic). But in addition to the many “Drive Ins”, takeout joints, and the like, proper Korean restaurants are also rather common on Oahu, and one night we decided to do a Korean dinner. One of the better options, especially on the Windward side of the island, is Kim Chee, a local chain with about four locations around Oahu. We decided to check out their Kailua location, in the Enchanted Lake strip mall.
The next day in Hawaii, we decided that it was time to go on a hike, and ended up settling on the Kuli`ou`ou Ridge Trail in the Eastern part of the island. It’s a pleasant hike, climbing from a residential neighborhod through some tropical forest, then pines, and then above tree line up to a pleasant ridge overlooking Waimanalo. It was a thoroughly enjoyable hike, and it left us craving a cold, refreshing snack. That’s exactly what shave ice was invented for.
Looking up shave ice places on the internet, there’s one clearly popular place (Waiola Shave Ice), but there was another places nearby with particularly good reviews on several sites, the rather cool-named Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (HOPA).