I tend to get tactical with my meals on my rare trips home. Don't judge! There are a finite number of meals that a lady can consume, and they must be devoted to things that I've contemplated selling my soul to get mid-winter in the Empire State.
Witness! (Simply a numbered list, not ranked by importance, thank you!):
1) Zippy's Mini Chili and Chicken Plate: Check!
<-- Eaten at Koko Marina, my favorite branch. Perfectly juicy chicken thigh with a bayside view? YES please!
(Zippy's has a thigh-only policy with their fried chicken. GENIUS!)
Hana hou! Anything worth doing is worth doing twice. This one met its end on a blanket at Kaka'ako Beach Park:
2) Breakfast at Likelike Drive Inn: Check!
Left to right: Portuguese sausage, rice and eggs; rolled guava jelly pancakes.
3) Late night nosh at Liliha Bakery: Check!
L to R: Hotcakes; loco moco (that's rice with a hamburger patty, gravy and a fried egg).
4) Okazu (starchy food favored by field workers in the Hawaiian plantation days, nowadays sold in deli-like okazu-yas, evolved to reflect a meld of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and Portuguese influences) lovingly selected from Fukuya:
Check! Rinse! Repeat! This time selected from Nu'uanu Okazuya (a first for me!):
Clockwise, from top left corner: Chow fun, potato hash, furikake musubi, pumpkin stewed with dried shrimp, furikake chicken, wakame roll.
...devoured with BFF Alli and her husband, on our favorite beach:
(Sometimes, life is all gravy.)
Melona, lychee and watermelon syrup, with ice cream at the bottom.
6) Absurdly outsized meal at Side Street Inn: Checkity-check-check.
Top: Fried pork chops; Bottom, L to R: Kim chee fried rice, kalbi special (made with ribeye?).
Above: Korean fried chicken; Below: Chinese-style steamed moi special.
Plus/minus a gaggle of lychee martinis.
Number of people eating: 3.5, if you count welcome relief from a latecomer.
7) Poke, every time the opportunity presented it self: Check!
Above: Limu Ahi Poke from Foodland.
Below: Spicy Ahi Poke from Yama's Fish Market.
8) Late night Kae Jang (Korean spicy raw crab) from Sorabol, preferably in the company of someone who would share raw crab innards with me: Check!
(THANK YOU, SSFL!)
9) Okinawan food from Sunrise Restaurant in general:
Clockwise, from top left corner: Dynamite (mixed seafood gratin with miso, mayo and mirin); ika geso (deep-fried squid legs), hamachi kama (grilled yellowtail collars), and kakuni (shoyu-braised pork belly).
10) Rainbow Drive Inn, 1 slush float (strawberry slush with vanilla ice cream): Check!
1 Corned beef hash plate (2 scoops rice, 1 scoop mac salad, 2 patties mashed-potato-heavy hash doused in gravy. Awwww. Yeah.): CHECK!
Watching Mya get spoon fed slush float: Bonus check!
11) Burger from Kua'aina's, preferably the Haleiwa branch: Check!
Full disclosure: The above was not my burger, but Chocolate Bear's more photogenic grilled 1/2 lb. pineapple burger.
Bitten: Chocolate ice cream, strawberry mochi; Unbitten: Lychee, passion fruit.
Total visits to Bubbie's: 3.
Haaaang on, we're almost done. The list goes on and on, but let's trust that you understand that I'm a formidable, task-oriented glut, and close out with my 2 sentimental favorites:
13) 1 mango, fresh and minimally travelled, cut the way Momma Foodie does.
These beauties were organic, from Ho'omalu Farms on the Big Island, scooped up at the notorious KCC Farmer's Market. It shamed me to have to BUY mangoes, but mango season wasn't far enough along yet, and I'm glad I did--these were among the best I've had. They bathed our entire condo in with a floral, honeyed fragrance that I'd bottle if I could.
The seed-to-fruit ratio was fantastic, with the skinniest, least obtrusive seed ever (with almost no stupid seed fibers). And the fruit? Like eating sunshowers, or the perfumed sister of a ripe summer peach; sweet, a little tart, rich and juicy. I'll never be able to eat an imported travesty on the East Coast again without bursting into tears.
14) Ono's Hawaiian Food, 1 eye-opening feast, with Hawaiian Sun Passion Orange juice. Check.
An embarrassing admission: I'd never been here before, for all that it's the time-tested island favorite for true-blue (increasingly scarce) Hawaiian food. My 3 fellow diners were agog and agape ("HOW long did you live here??? 22 years? What's WRONG with you?") before falling to our food.
Everything tasted homemade, balanced, and incredibly simple. Everything was brought to us by time-tested aunties who were born to size you up and feed you what you need. There was a bottle of housemade chili water for punching things up at your discretion.
I'm sure for most of the dishes, you couldn't throw out words like organic, sustainable, or locally-sourced and make them stick. The tripe, beef and pork could well have come from the mainland, and these tasty sardines with onions are probably from a can:
But the tripe was probably picked over, carefully cleaned and stewed by the same hands that brought the steaming bowl to our booth:
The auntie that takes your order will tell you how many days old their poi is (pictured just behind the tripe), so that you won't be surprised at how sour (or unsour) it is. The taro leaves--draped over the salt meat luau:
...and hand-wound around the laulau:
...are sourced from taro farms on Kauai.
Pressure cookers dotted around the continental US will try their best to duplicate the salty, smoky satisfaction of their kalua pig, and fail.
It's a meal I waited far too long to have, and it'll be too long before I'll have it again.
Thanks to EVERYONE who donated their time, stomachs and enthusiasm to help to make all this happen--Alli, Brandon and Mya; SSFL and Chocolate Bear; Fishing John, Shogo John and Dave; and the Effing BroBros, who were sorely missed, but made it all possible. Much love!