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Review: Hawaii Food Notes

The spectacular sign at Leonard's Bakery in Honolulu. If you're looking for malasadas, this is the place to get 'em.

In case you haven’t read the FAQ, I live in the city of Edmonton, a nice metro area of about a million people in the province of Alberta, Canada. In the sunny months of summer, it’s a lovely place to live — but winters here are no fun at all.

From November to late April, it’s a snowy, slushy, dirty, freezing city where people bundle up in thick layers of clothing and curse quietly into their scarves while waiting for the inevitably late city bus. On the worst days, one can’t help but wonder what foolhardy settlers thought this a reasonable place to pitch their tents.

And so, thanks to a glut of vacation time owing at work and a hankering for some time away from the growing windrows, I spent over half of February in Hawaii, which is just about my favourite place on Earth.

Aside from the amazing scenery, the friendly people and the sandy beaches, Hawaii is also a foodie paradise. It straddles a variety of cultures, from American (cheeseburgers!) to Asian (mochi!) to European (malasadas!) to tropical Hawaiian (lilikoi!). Practical example: A breakfast of macadamia nut pancakes with coconut syrup, Portuguese sausage and a Denver omelette. The food, much like the place itself, is effortlessly multicultural.

This is the first entry in a few weeks worth of blog posts I wrote while in Hawaii, eating my way around the Big Island and Oahu. This first post consists of Hawaiian food highlights that I didn’t have room to write up into longer entries. If you have your own tips, leave them in the comments below. Enjoy!

Why, that's a pineapple growing at the Dole Plantation on Oahu, north of Honolulu. If you haven't eaten a whole pineapple, piece by piece, by the time you leave Hawaii, you clearly never left your hotel room.

Malasadas: Originally from Portugal, the malasada has become the donut of choice in Hawaii. They’re usually served rolled in sugar, and are sometimes filled with cream or fruit fillings. Other flavours, like taro, are made with the flavouring added directly to the dough. Not easy to find in the hectic Waikiki strip, but ask around for tips. In Honolulu, Leonard’s Bakery serves ‘em up fresh, still hot from the fryer. They’re unbelievably good.

Punalu’u Bake Shop: And speaking of malasadas, the Punalu’u Bake Shop on the southern tip of the Big Island makes some of the best malasadas I’ve ever tasted. Aside from the standard flavours, they make an insane passion fruit malasada. I also tried the mango and guava malasadas (very good, though one was super oily), and some of their sweet bread. They’re in the town of Na’alehu, and they claim to be the southernmost bake shop in the U.S. If you’re on the Big Island, make the stop.

Chocolate haupia pie at Ted’s Bakery: It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spot on the North Shore of Oahu, but Ted’s Bakery is worth the visit for a slice of chocolate haupia (coconut) pie. Good luck finding a seat outside.

Island Snow shave ice: U.S. President Barack Obama has been known to stop in at Island Snow, a popular shave-ice shop in the beach community of Kailua, to the north and east of Honolulu. They shave their ice into snow instead of ice chunks, so more of the flavouring syrup stays at the top instead of draining through to the bottom, as happens with a typical snow cone. As an added twist, they add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the bottom of each cup of shave ice. Large selection of flavours. Refreshing.

Lilikoi: You know it as passion fruit, and the cooks and bakers of Hawaii use it liberally. Look for lilikoi in shave-ice flavouring, syrup for pancakes, jam, icing, juice, macarons … the list goes on.

Pineapple: It’s everywhere, so you’d might as well enjoy it. The Dole Plantation north of Honolulu has an insane selection of pineapple products for the hardcore pineapple junkie.

Teriyaki: On burgers, on grilled chicken, and on menus everywhere. Sometimes referred to as “teri,” the sauce is ubiquitous on the islands. Quality varies, but damn, I absolutely adore it on anything flame-grilled.

Japanese goodies: At convenience stores, at supermarkets, and anywhere else junk food is sold, the influence of Japan on local food culture is present in the form of Hi-Chew and other candies and drinks. The Shirokiya department store at Ala Moana mall has lots of treats in their upper-floor food section.

Kona coffee: Is it overrated and overpriced? Sure. But visiting a working Kona coffee farm and roasting facility was a pretty neat experience. If you’re on the Big Island, it’s worth doing a tour at one of the many plantations.

Breakfast at the Shore Bird: At Outrigger Reef hotel, the Shore Bird is a relatively inexpensive Waikiki breakfast buffet that’s worth a look. The food is OK, but the view is outstanding. From your table overlooking the ocean, you can see rookie and experienced surfers out on the water, Diamond Head in the distance, and people strolling on the beach only yards away. Oh, and a couple of years ago, I saw a sailboat stuck on the reef. (Neat!) Vintage belt-driven ceiling fans and open-air old-school atmosphere are in abundance, as are little birds that come and go as they please. Look for coupons in the tourist magazines in stands all over Waikiki.

(Stay tuned! More food reviews from Hawaii will be posted over the next three weeks! -ii)

You didn't think I could make it to the end of the post without including a picture of the malasadas from Leonard's Bakery, did you?

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