On our way up to our rental condo on the North Shore, every time we were leaving Kaneohe and heading north on the Kamehameha highway, we ran into two places that triggered my “Offbeat Eats” sense. One is an older place on the West side of the road called the Hygienic Store, which is basically a convenience store (the name comes from it’s former life as the “Hygienic Dairy”). We never made it in there, so we’ll have to save it for another trip. But across the street is some sort of abandoned business, but out in the parking lot are two food trucks that make up Mike’s Huli Huli Chicken. There was something cool about the hand-scrawled sign for chicken that make me interested, and when my friend Mark in Kaneohe mentioned that they were actually really, really good, we decided to follow up on it.
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).
The North Shore of Oahu is known for several things. The primary one is surfing; during the winter months, the beaches of the North Shore such as Ehukai Beach (better known as “Banzai Pipeline”) and Sunset Beach feature large smooth swells. The area is also known for natural beauty (like Waimea Bay and Waimea Valley). But a single drive through the region will also show you that the area, particularly around Kahuku, is well known for another thing: Shrimp stands. Between Punaluʻu and Sunset Beach are a quite a few stands and trucks selling you shrimp. Some of these have quite the following, such as Shrimp Shack (Punaluʻu), Giovanni’s, Fumi’s, and Romy’s (the last three of these all in Kahuku, and the style is often called “Kahuku shrimp”). Thus, stopping for shrimp is a popular pastime in both the surfer and tourist communities. For our visit, we decided to give Fumi’s a try.