For starters, there were a lot of fat people on our flight to Kaua’i. I wrinkled my nose at them while my mother chuckled to herself every time a 胖子 (“fatso” in Chinese) got up to get himself another soda.
“Everyone’s fat for a reason, Betty,” mom said, and I nodded, glad that the two of us fit comfortably in our economy seats. We had brought fruit, beef jerky, and granola bars to munch on the plane and watched smugly in our relatively slender frames as the others stuffed their faces with day-old overpriced airline sandwiches.
Then we arrived in Kaua’i and forgot about the fatties on the plane. I drove my mother to a farmer’s market where she made a beeline for papayas, buying six. She would devour two that night.
“Papaya doesn’t make you fat,” she would say as I stared, “It’s good for digestion.”
Holding my mother’s six papayas, I bought a coconut and ask the nice but extremely wrinkled man to hack it in half and scoop out the flesh. I ate half a coconut standing in the parking lot in front of Kmart, refusing to acknowledge that it was akin to eating half a stick of butter.
“It’s good for my skin. And antibacterial,” I thought.
Then we raided the Kmart. The wrinkled man still fresh in my mind, I bought a man’s visor emblazoned with “Kaua’i” just in case I lost my mind and forgot where I was, and a tube of Ocean Potion sunblock
which smelled like an orange creamsicle.
My mother said, “Let’s get eggs, milk and cereal for breakfast. We can each eat two or three eggs a day. And if we have leftovers, we can boil them and take them on the flight home.”
I nodded in agreement, thinking that we’d be hiking and/or kayaking so much that a big carb and protein and…everything-else-packed breakfast made sense.
Breakfast of tourist champions.
But conclude what you will from the following conversation:
Mom: No… I’d rather not.
We ended up walking, very slowly, a lot. Which normally isn’t enough exercise for me to say, “I’m gonna eat whatever the hell I want,” but when you’re in Kaua’i with your mother who thinks that eating two whole (sometimes three) papayas a day is the very thing one should do when vacationing in tropical fruit heaven, you follow your mother’s lead. Except with ice cream. Despite my sweet tooth being sharper than hers and relishing the occasional heaping plate of red meat, I have a similar palate to my mother’s; we like vegetables and fish. Lots of fish. And we like a good deal.
Turns out, mom and I flew with the fatties to the right island. Below are the greatest culinary hits from our trip and the dishes behind our combined eight pound (four each) weight gain.
Kapaa, HI 96746
This place was just down the street from our hotel and the most expensive fish market we visited, but huge portions and excellent seared ahi poke. Below are the seared ahi poke salad and mahi mahi plate lunch (sans rice).
5-5075 Kuhio Hwy. Ste. A
Hanalei, HI 96714
We came here on a recommendation while visiting the north shore and the famed Hanalei Bay
. It’s a popular spot with tourists and locals alike and considered a “romantic treat” for people celebrating anniversaries, honeymoons, and engagements. There was a line outside the restaurant before it opened at 6PM, which gave the hostess a power trip. I let her take the trip because she was a stunning middle aged woman with arms like Linda Hamilton. I’m pretty sure she taught yoga during the day and never eats what’s pictured below. That said, the restaurant’s ambience and quality of food doesn’t equal their prices (our most expensive meal in Kaua’i) and afterward we decided to stick with fish markets. I do recommend their Hanalei Taro Fritters (don’t order the rest of the appetizers), Vegan Chocolate Silk Pie, and Deep Fried Macadamia Coconut Crusted Ice Cream (photo later).
5482 Koloa Rd.
Koloa, HI 96756
One of my favorite stops, in Old Koloa Town
. It was sweltering that day and fish markets don’t exactly have seating, but we found a shady tree nearby and chowed down on their Hawaiian Plate with Lau Lau (pork wrapped in Taro leaves, which was very reminiscent of a similar Chinese dish) and fish cooked two ways (ahi and mahi mahi). Both were great and my mother, not a big meat eater, enjoyed the Lau Lau, which was like baby back ribs except without the ribs and the barbecue sauce… yeah.
3343 Kuhio Hwy. Ste. 10
Lihue, HI, 96766
This place is number one. We bought fresh miso marinated butterfish to cook back at the hotel on our first night, and then came back for the grill, which is only open from 10-2PM each day.
“People get mad when they miss the grill,” said the young man behind the counter when we first went, and I immediately made a note to come back. The fish below was hands down the best grilled fish we had in Kaua’i – left is blackened ahi with a fragrant butter sauce and macadamia crusted cream dill sauce mahi mahi. Not pictured is the crab and ahi poke, which my mother ate like salsa, though without chips. She called it “polka dot” and insisted I buy the “polka dot” at all the subsequent fish markets.
“Mom. It’s POKE. Poke-ay.”
“Ah yes, polka dot is the dog.”
“….” (she was thinking of dalmatians).
We brought these to picnic near the beach and it was one of my most memorable meals. My mother complained a bit about the wind, then ate the fish and stopped complaining about anything.
CHICKEN IN A BARREL BBQ
4-1586 Kuhio Hwy
Kapaa, HI 96746
Our last dinner in Kaua’i, which we paired with a little bottle of wine I’d gotten from the plane. We shared a sampler which offered enough meat for three people, though if I ever go back I’d get the ribs, which were everything good ribs should be. Funny story: I called in my order and when I arrived, the girl said, “You’re the phone order?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Here you go,” she pushed the box towards me and I said, “Wait, this is John’s.”
Lastly, it wouldn’t be a proper food post without the literal cream of the crop:
ICE CREAM (clockwise from top left):
POSTCARDS CAFE – deep fried macadamia ice cream in coconut shell
ONO ONO SHAVE ICE – not shaved ice, (if rainbow sugar water is your thing, then definitely get it here) but their rather unnaturally hued taro and coconut ice creams.
PAPALANI GELATO – Pineapple (my mother) and chocolate.
LAPPERT’S ICE CREAM AND COFFEE – Kona coffee, my mother’s Achille’s heel and robber of sleep. She ate it at 7PM one evening and was doomed to toss and turn for the rest of the night.
And I had to give this guy his own headshot, because I miss him: Lappert’s Coconut Macadamia Nut Fudge. I went back twice and considered a third but my pants were feeling suspiciously tight and I didn’t want my mother to laugh at me on the plane too.