Roy Yamaguchi’s new Eating House 1849 serves island plantation-era cuisine. // © 2015 Craig Bixel
Feature image (above): A local taro farm is among the stops on Tasting Kauai’s new Royal Coconut Coast tour. // © 2015 Daniel Lane Media
Today’s travelers aren’t just looking for good food or hip restaurants. They’re approaching each meal as a way to learn about a destination’s culture and people. To feed that need, Hawaii’s chefs are crafting distinctive cuisine that digs into the history and harvest of the islands.
Karen Hughes, vice president of Meet Hawaii and travel industry partnerships for Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, urges travel agents to plan vacation itineraries that incorporate explorations into local food and drink.
“Visitors can taste the diversity of the Hawaiian Islands through the rich, ethnic flavors of local dishes,” Hughes said. “Clients often find that a passion for authentic farm-to-table cuisine goes hand in hand with a deep appreciation for Hawaii’s cultural heritage.”
From food and beverage trends to food tours, the Aloha State continues to prove itself as a satisfying foodie destination. Here’s a look at some of the latest innovations on Hawaii’s culinary front.
Restaurants With a Sense of Place
Chef Mark Noguchi takes diners back in time with his new Mission Social Hall & Cafe, located at Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives in Honolulu. This casual lunch spot uses products from local farmers to make specialties such as taro salad, ahi poke over black rice and luau stew with pork shoulder. Even the iced tea has local roots: It’s made from mamaki, an endemic Hawaiian plant related to the nettle.
Another new Honolulu venture awaits at Hula Grill Waikiki, which welcomes each weekend with its Aloha Friday Lunch Luau. Showcasing regionally sourced produce, meat and seafood, the menu honors longtime luau dishes such as lau lau, poi, kalua pig and poke. Adding to the Hawaiian hospitality are hands-on cultural activities, live music and hula.
Eating House 1849, chef Roy Yamaguchi’s new Kauai restaurant, drifts between plantation-era recipes and contemporary island cuisine. Its multicultural dishes use local ingredients and include pork and tofu lumpia (eggrolls); Portuguese bean and Kauai kale soup; a spicy ramen bowl with roast pork, shrimp dumplings, bok choy and sprouts; and yakisoba noodles with fresh garden vegetables.
Sippers unite at Kakaako Wine Loft & Sake Collection, a new gathering place in Honolulu’s burgeoning Kakaako neighborhood. Home of reasonably priced American, French and Italian wines, it also lures visitors with effervescent sparkling sake, standard sake and shochu, a Japanese distilled spirit. Clients can stop by for tastings each Friday. It also delivers its products within a 3-mile radius of the shop.
Looking for a one-of-kind cocktail that truly tastes like Hawaii? Head to Moana Terrace, an alfresco watering hole located poolside at Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. It now features specially crafted drinks found nowhere else. Among its signature alcoholic beverages are the Lei Maker Mai Tai, Waikiki Coconut Crusher and Skinni Passion Pina. Tiki torches, a lava-rock fire pit and live music enhance the ambience, as does the view of Waikiki Beach.
Island Mana Wines, a new tasting room in Waikiki, features island plantation decor. It specializes in food-friendly, dry wines made with natural, organic tropical fruit such as guava, mango, passion fruit and pineapple. Clients can also sample glasses of pinot gris, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir along with craft beers and ciders from Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest.
During the Local Eats tour, clients can find out where island residents go when they’re craving some ube (purple yam) pancake, shoyu chicken, Hawaiian-style baby back ribs, shave ice or a taro latte. This novel walking tour from Aloha Food Tours presents a local’s perspective on the best places to eat beloved Hawaii dishes, focusing on the area near Honolulu’s Ala Moana Center and Chinatown.
The latest offering from Tasting Kauai explores the cuisine of Kauai’s eastern shores. Dubbed the Royal Coconut Coast tour, the four-hour journey begins with traditional Hawaiian food at a family-owned farm and continues with samplings of island street food and farm-to-table fare. Designed to inspire visitors to eat local products, it’s a progressive feast through the history and culture of the island.