I have been a food and travel writer for the better part of a
decade now, but even before I got paid to eat, my appetite was
legendary. When I met my husband’s family in India the personality
trait that impressed them most was my ability to eat basically
whatever was put in front of me.
So I knew my “no morsel left behind” policy would serve me well on
Hawaii’s new Hole in the Wall food tour of Oahu. The tour, the
brainchild of former chef and local restaurant reviewer Matthew
Gray, showcases Hawaii’s diverse food scene and introduces visitors
to places they might never discover on their own.
The tour is made for eaters, people that really appreciate food. It
requires stamina, enthusiasm and the ability to eat fish sauce
before 10:30 in the morning. Matthew Gray runs three different
tours. Agents receive 10 percent commission on all sales up to five
people, and 15 percent on groups of six or more.
Our foray into culinary indulgence began at Pho Nam, a Vietnamese
restaurant where the flavors are intense and the decor is sweetly
earnest. Individual sampler plates, created especially for the
tour, presented each of us with generous helpings of minty summer
rolls, crunchy green papaya salad and perfectly prepared fried
Moving on, we climbed back in the van and wended our way past the
body shops and karaoke bars of Kakaako, drove alongside Honolulu’s
port and through the airport’s industrial neighborhood to a tiny
strip mall where we filed into Sugoi. This deli features “plate
lunch,” Hawaii’s traditional noontime meal, a sturdy throwback to
plantation days when you needed lots of fuel.
Matthew went to the counter and after a few minutes presented each
of us with two or three giant morsels of garlic chicken crispy
batter outside, tender meat inside snuggled against a hefty pile of
teriyaki beef, all of it resting on a bed of rice. It was
delicious, salty and slightly sweet, which is the local style, and
I easily devoured all of it.
Plate lunch dispensed with, we headed to Chinatown for Indian food
(see, Hawaii really is diverse). Zaffron is a unique eatery, right
down to its owners, Indians from Fiji, where the food long ago
mellowed into a softer cuisine than is found in India or even
I sipped a soothing cup of spiced, milky chai, then helped myself
to the buffet, concentrating on the vegetarian dishes. Zaffron’s
vegetarian dishes are vegan, meaning they are prepared entirely
without animal products, making them much lighter. I spooned some
chole (chick peas), matar (peas), and couple of chunks of chicken
curry into my take-out box (they assume you’re taking stuff home at
this point) and left it at that until the crispy naan an Indian
flatbread came out of the piping hot tandoor oven.
The only thing we needed now was sugar. We trundled through Kalihi
to our last stop, to Liliha Bakery, whose long lunch counter is
always packed with people eating eggs or hamburgers or pancakes.
But Coco Puffs chocolate cream puffs are their specialty. Matthew
got a dozen and we ate them standing in front of the window of the
kitchen, where women grated yellow cake into crumbs that are used
for decorating the bakery’s famous confections.
I licked genteelly at the dollop of butter-yellow Chantilly creme,
my last taste of a delicious tour.