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If you want to prime your taste buds Hawaiian style, take an Aloha Plate Hawaii Food Tour with Secret Hawaii Tours while in Honolulu. You’ll sample local food at places the locals eat at while learning about Hawaiian culture and customs from a born and bred Hawaiian. Just make sure you go hungry!
Your Guide’s a True Foodie
Your guide, Lanai Tabura, grew up on the pineapple island of Lanai in a family of foodies. His parents and grandparents loved sharing food with friends and even complete strangers. “They were giving food tours before food tours were a thing,” explains Lanai. “It seemed natural that I would do the same, as food is my passion.”
Lanai went on to build a thriving business revolving around food. And if you think his name sounds familiar, it’s because he was a winner of the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race and is the host of Lifestyle Network’s Cooking Hawaiian Style, which is featured in 200 cities around the world.
You might also recognize him from his appearances on CNN’s Global, Richard Quest’s World of Wonder and The Travel Channel’s No Reservations, where he co-hosted with and cooked for none other than Anthony Bourdain.
Lanai not only does food tours in Hawaii but also in Japan, China, Thailand and Portugal. He says, “I get to travel and eat – it’s the best job ever!”
Hawaiian Cuisine is a Meld of Ethnic Influences
Lanai’s food tour in Honolulu is an authentic culinary adventure to Hawaii’s restaurants, drive-ins and food trucks. It’s a flavorful introduction to a variety of homegrown foods, which showcase the state’s unique culinary diversity.
With its mix of cultures and ethnicities that have settled on the islands, the dishes of Hawaii are a meld of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Portuguese and other influences.
First Stop: Foodland Farms
Our tour started at Foodland Farms, where Lanai’s first stop was in the produce section to show us apple bananas, sugarcane and pineapples. Apple bananas have a slight apple-like scent, are sweet, short and fat in shape and stay firm much longer than other bananas, which, as we know, get mushy quickly. As for sugarcane, we learned it is one of the highest water-demand crops and there are 25 different kinds.
The Pineapple May Surprise You
The pineapple has long been a symbol of Hawaii, but ironically, it is not native to the islands. The fruit is connected to Hawaii because of its pineapple industry, which was built in the early 1900s. At one point in time, the state supplied over 89% of the world’s output of canned pineapple.
Growing this crop, however, eventually became cheaper in other countries, and the last big Hawaiian cannery folded in the early 1980s. The fruit is no longer exported, but rather grown solely for Hawaiians. To ensure a ripe and sweet pineapple, Lanai advised to pick the fruit when it’s small and gold in color.
Poke Reigns Supreme
Foodland Farms has one of the largest selections of housemade poke. There are counters full of different types and the store sells a whopping one million pounds of the stuff each month! Poke, by the way, means cut, cube or slice in Hawaiian.
The most popular at the store is Ahi Yellowtail. We sampled a variety, including spicy tuna with mayo and siracha, one with wasabi and a dried fish style, too. They were delicious.
Spam Susubi is Widely Popular in Hawaii
Then we tasted Spam musubi, which is comprised of a slice of grilled Spam sandwiched either in between or on top of a rice block, then wrapped together with nori (dried edible seaweed). Musubi was brought to Hawaii by Japanese immigrants and was often the lunch of plantation workers because it was easy to make and convenient to pack.
Spam is a big deal in Hawaii as we learned. It dates back to WWII when this meat was served to GIs. It soon became adopted into local culture and you’ll find it everywhere on the islands. There are more than fifteen different flavors of Spam. I can say with complete assurance that I’m definitely not a fan!
Honolulu’s Chinatown is the First Chinatown Outside of China
We headed back to the car and as we drove around, Lanai pointed out various neighborhoods in the city. We passed by Chinatown, which he noted was the first Chinatown outside of China.
This historic district is a melting pot of numerous Asian cultures and is full of restaurants, eateries and markets serving an array of international fare. You can also find Chinese herbalists, acupuncturists and other health-related practitioners.
Sample Manapua at Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory in Honolulu
Our next stop was Honolulu’s Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory, where handmade noodles and buns reign supreme. Here we tried Manapua, a baked or steamed bun that’s both sweet and savory.
The ones full of pork are the most iconic, however, they also make them with chicken, sausage, pizza ingredients and Azuki beans. The buns were like mini soft pillows and tasted heavenly. It’s not surprising that the company sells 14,000 of them each day.
Give Me Taro Chips Any Day
The Hawaiian Chip Company followed, where we sampled some taro chips. If you’re unfamiliar with taro, it’s a starchy, root vegetable with a mild, nutty flavor. The taro plant is an essential plant in Hawaiian culture and every part of the plant is used for eating. It’s very popular not only in Hawaii, but throughout the world.
The Hawaiian Chip Company prides itself on not using any preservatives in its products. They hand-peel the taro and thinly slice it, then cook it until crisp. I’m picky when it comes to my chips, but these were perfect and I could have easily scarfed down a few bags!
Hawaiian Plate Lunches are a Must-Try
Lunch was at Young’s Fish Market, a popular establishment that’s been in Honolulu for over eighty years. This restaurant and fish specialty shop is known for its Hawaiian plate meals. We had several items on our plate to try, including Poi, Lomi Lomi salmon, Hawaiian sweet potatoes, Kalua pig and Laulau.
Did You Know Poi is a Superfood?
Poi, which is the starch staple of the native Hawaiian diet, is made from cooked and mashed taro. You’ll know it by its purple hue and viscous texture. It’s a fat-free, high-fiber, low-sodium and gluten-free source of vitamin B, calcium and phosphorus – a superfood. But it’s an acquired taste. I happen to like it.
Lomi Lomi salmon is a mix of salted raw salmon with tomatoes and onions. Hawaiian sweet potatoes is another staple. They’re purple in color and have a mild sweet taste, which I enjoy.
Read More: Best Places to Snorkel in Hawaii
These Dishes are Essential at Any Hawaiian Gathering or Luau
Kalua pig, a mainstay dish at parties and luaus, is basically shredded, roast pork cooked in an underground oven. An interesting aside: Women in Hawaii were forbidden under the kapu system (an ancient code of conduct and laws) to eat pork, as well as other food like bananas and coconuts.
And they weren’t allowed to eat with men either. These laws remained in effect until King Kamehameha II abolished the system in 1819, finally allowing women to enjoy such foods in the company of men.
Laulau is a pork and fish combo with taro leaves and stems, wrapped in a ti leaf and steamed. This dish is another essential item that you’ll find at a luau.
During lunch, Lanai continued to share his knowledge of food and immersed us in Hawaiian history. Ever personable and entertaining, he also regaled us with fun stories from his life experiences. And he gave us honest opinions about some of the places we were thinking of visiting, as well as provided us with a list of some of his favorite eating spots in town.
Ube is All the Rage but UBAE Takes it to New Heights
Our last stop of the day was UBAE, which stands for “Ube Before Anything Else.” This fabulous baking shop specializes in desserts with ube, a type of yam, which is a major root crop in the Philippines. Vibrant purple in color, it has a rich, creamy texture.
Over the past several years, there’s been an ube craze, particularly when it comes to ice cream. UBAE, however, takes it a step further with creations like ube cheesecake and cheesecake tarts, ube crinkle cookies, ube chiffon cake and more. Eating one of the bite-sized, ube cheesecake tarts was a delectable finale to our tour.
Author Bio: Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries spanning all seven continents.
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