Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Week on the Big Island in Pictures. Of Food...

We just got back from our Hawai'ian vacation!  I took a lot of pictures of food this past week.  My husband got really tired of totally used to modeling food!

 We got breakfast at the resort every day and my very favorite thing was fresh papaya with lime!  

 Another little breakfast featuring sweet ginger cream cheese.  I think it's going to be my favorite new exclamation.  Sweet Ginger Cream Cheese!  Seriously, though.  This stuff was rockin'.

The first dinner we got outside the resort was a place called Cafe Pesto in Kawaihae.  The salad was made with local produce, which seems to be a theme on the island (outside fast-food joints, of course!)

My pasta was very good (I loved the fresh peas and pea shoots!) and the keiki (children) options were more than just french fries and chicken nuggets.  You can see my son's in the background: Turkey and rice.

We found the Fish Hopper in Kailua Kona when we were finished with our submarine ride.  (Yep.  We rode in a submarine!  Awesome.)  My portobello mushroom wrap with roasted veggies was a lovely way to fill my belly, but the dessert was fantastic.

Sweet Potato Haupia Pie.  Purple sweet potatoes with coconut and whipped cream on a graham cracker crust.  Man.  You can see how far we had dug into it before I roused myself to take a picture!

Our resort had the best house made ginger ale.  I am truly going to miss this stuff.  Candied ginger, and lime in sparkling water. 

On the other hand, this resort meal was probably the most disappointing meal I had the whole vacation.  Lots and lots of potential, but the execution was just not there.  So like the  Puka Dogs last year, I am definitely going to try this on my own at home.  Pizza crust, hummus, squash, zucchini, red peppers and a little cheese.  Like I said, lots of promise.  But the result was pretty bland and soggy.  The pitfalls of resort restaurants, I think.

We did manage to sneak in a little education sometimes.  (Food related, of course...) A young man demonstrates how to open a coconut.  Our little one scored us the entire half there a second after I took this picture by licking it... Way to score coconut for Mama, big boy! =)

Wednesday was our Big Day Out.  We drove around the entire island which took about 12 hours between all the stops for sight seeing and potty breaks.  We had just visited the Painted Church and Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Park (The Place of Refuge) when we realized it was getting to be near lunch time.  We breezed past a restaurant or two before we realized that there was nothing on the road.  Nothing.  We were driving through wildlife preserves which were vast beautiful open fields or sometimes we'd have the coast out one window and steep cliffs out the other window, but there was nothing to eat.  It was looking pretty dire and our little one even fell asleep.  The kiss of death to our "they'll have a long nap part of the way" idea.  And then we came up a giant spray painted sign that said LUNCH immediately beside a giant sign that said EAT and I pointed and went, "Ooh!Ooh!Ooh!" like a monkey as my husband swerved into the parking lot.  This tiny place is called the Lava Tube.  I wasn't sure what to expect.  From the outside it reminded me a lot of the side-of-the road eateries at home which mostly feature frozen fries, frozen chicken, bagged salad covered in deli-meat and virtually nothing vegetarian.  Inside, it was clean, and efficient.  Not overly decorated.  The waitress was very friendly.  The food took a while to arrive, but as it turns out, this was a very good thing.  Everything was hot and perfectly done.  They didn't have much vegetarian on the menu, but the salad was fresh, no chemical taste, lots of cheese, and a few beans on the bottom in a warm fresh tortilla bowl.  My husband's fish and chips featured house made fries and fish.  He said it's some of the best he's had.  I snagged a few fries from him and the boys, they were so good!  The prices were very reasonable and each plate came with fresh fruit.  Absolutely nothing like ripe tropical fruit.  My husband's was mango (one of the best I've ever eaten, just perfect) and the boys got oranges.  The owner/cook stopped out to see us and we had a great chat about her family.  A genuinely nice person who takes great pride in her work and in her restaurant.  If you ever find yourself hungry in the vicinity of Ocean View, HI, this was my favorite "surprise" restaurant of this trip.

One restaurant we planned to visit for sure was Ken's Pancake House.  As newlyweds on our belated honeymoon, my husband and I stayed for a few days on the Big Island and visited the volcano.  Every morning found us seated in front of a window with a giant plate of fabulous pancakes quickly disappearing.  It was dinnertime when we made it to Ken's this trip.  The boys had been great on our day-long trip so I told them they could get whatever they wanted.  My eldest said he wanted blueberry pancakes off the children's menu.  So I'm thinking, you know, pancakes.  With blueberries in them.  Noooooooo....  Ken's doesn't have this statue as decoration for nothing:

This is what my very, very happy boy got:

And I got the vegetarian chili with rice.  We had spent the last few hours traipsing around a volcano in trash bag ponchos and something warm and chunky really called to me.  

 I must say, I think this is the first "regular" restaurant that had something as ambitious as vegetarian chili on the menu.  It was good and filling for our drive back to the hotel.  I'm not sure we'd ever make a special trip to Ken's again, as we have either become too snobby or the quality has gone downhill some, but it was nice to see the ol' place again.  A 10 on the nostalgia meter!

Vegetarian chili with rice, cheese, and fresh onions with a salad on the side...

Can't go to Hawai'i without a luau, right?! 

Boy 1 loved the pork wrapped in banana leaves.

You can see the general consensus of the octopus poke...  But they were good sports and tried everything.  
My favorite dishes were the mushroom poke and purple sweet potatoes with coconut sauce.  And I have to say, poi is growing on me.  It's really healthy for you and if you mix it up with everything else, it's not bad at all, really.  By itself it still tastes like school paste.

Fire dancers, man!  Wooohooo!

The only food production tour we went on (I had wanted to try a chocolate factory tour and vanilla, too) was the macadamia nut factory tour at the Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company.  It was just the perfect size for our time and our kids.  We walked ourselves through the tour and read signs, but as we were leaving a woman started a guided tour.  Our guys weren't interested, though.  We saw cans being filled, sealed, and labeled and we watched them cool their macadamia nut popcorn on large marble slabs.  The boys ate their weight in samples and even got to crack their own raw macadamia nuts. 

They taste a little like chestnuts to me.  I wish I could find them raw on the mainland.  Delicious!

A display full of nuts still in the hulls.  I brought home macadamia nut oil, shards (little tiny leftover pieces for breading), some macadamia nut cookies, and hubby bought Spam flavored macadamia nuts because, well, why not?  You all know how Hawai'ians love their Spam, right?

And shave ice.  Hawai'i is the best place to get shave ice.  This little place is in Kamuela.  It's right next door to Hawai'ian Style Cafe which is apparently the best place to get local food on the island, but we were never there when it was open.  But this place has legit, hard-core shave ice.  Complete with Li Hing Mui powder. 

Have a gander at the syrup flavors.  Oooohhhh Yeah... You know me and my "no chemicals" policy?  Goes right out the window with shave ice.  Mo' syrup, mo' bettah.  We got guava and pineapple with ice cream on the bottom and li hing mui powder on top.  You would not believe how good this was!

One thing, though, if you do get by here, she doesn't accept cards, so make sure to bring cash!

Speaking of snacks, we learned on this trip that Hawai'ians are serious about deep fried potatoes.  Every restaurant we went in had house made french fries.  And these Atebara brand potato chips made in Hilo were the best we've ever had.  As you can see, the bag was emptied before I could even get to the camera!

I mentioned in my previous post that I wanted malasadas and mai tais and my husband was dying for another manapua.  Well, this my friends, is a manapua.  His favorite is curry, though I'm not sure which this one was.  It's essentially a steamed bun with meat inside it in different flavors.  Basic gas station eats.  Perfect for a quick bite on the beach.

This little unassuming place in Kamuela, called Village Burger is actually in the food court of an upscale strip mall.  Everything they serve here is grown in Hawai'i, most of it on the Big Island itself.  Absolutely top notch stuff.  My husband and boys had hamburgers with house made fries and I got the Hamakua Mushroom burger made with ali'i and shiitake mushrooms.

Hands down the best meal I ate on the island.  You will walk away wearing whatever you eat here and you will show your stains to people and say, "See this?  Village Burger.  Duuude."

Mr. Crackers and I had the opportunity to step out for an afternoon without the Crumbs and happened upon Monstera Noodles and Sushi.  He loved his sushi and I loved these noodles!  These are Yaki Udon made with tofu instead of meat.  The best tofu I've had in ages.  I don't even want to know what kind of magic fat they have to dip it into I just know I want to figure out how to make that particular abracadabra happen at home.

Very good sake too, fresh off the boat from Japan.

For our final night, some friends took us to a restaurant I had been very much wanting to try the whole time called Blue Dragon.  It's in Kawaihea.  The ambiance is just great and the cool thing is there's no roof!  Live music and very local food.

Here's a peek at the Keiki menu. 

Here's part of the grown up menu.

We chose tacos with manapua dough shells for appetizers along with 

Shrimp egg rolls and

Some really yummy freshly baked bread.  I could have eaten a ton of this stuff!

I finally got my mai tai.  This one was made with mango.  Man, it was good!

My dinner was a portobello mushroom burger with nut cheese and house made fries.  It was thoroughly edible, though I was left wishing I'd ordered something else.  On the other hand, our friend said his steak was very good (his wife said it was as soft as cake!)  My husband liked his shrimp dish, too.  The thing I loved about this place was, besides everything being fresh and local the keiki menu was so healthy.  No pizza, nothing deep fried.

But the very best part of the menu was the desserts! (Big surprise, I know...) From left to right, sweet potato cheesecake, chocolate cake, and the best carrot cake I've ever eaten.  Ev-er. 

It was so nice to have a break and let someone else do the cooking (and the cleaning) but I am itching to get back into the kitchen!  

 So much so that I made brunch after being off the plane for less than 24 hours.  It was awesome.  Eggton's brioche with mushrooms and goat cheese was the star, but the gluten free scones were right the heck up there!  If you haven't heard of eggton yet, get thyself over there right now.  She is hysterical!

Oh and one last thing, I posted on my facebook, but I just realized I haven't posted here yet:
I won a year scholarship to the America's Test Kitchen Cooking School!!!  I was one of 5 bloggers chosen and I can't even explain how exciting it has been.  I have learned so much already!  My biggest lesson so far has been you never know how much you don't know until you know it.  I can't wait to share more with you all soon!


  1. Wow - how fun to go on vacation with you here! I'm not sure what I'd like to eat first...probably the sweet potato and coconut pie. Looks like an amazing family time! Thank you for sharing your adventures (and beautiful photos).

    Congratulations on your America's Test Kitchen scholarship - I look forward to learning from you!

    1. I'm glad I didn't bore you to tears, Hannah. It's sort of the modern day equivalent of showing people your slides!

  2. WOW! That's a lot of foo Brooke! Looks lovely. I am sure you all had a last :)

  3. thanks for this post! i'm dying to visit hawaii some day. i had never heard of many of these hawaiian foods like the shaved ice. it all looks so good, especially that fresh papaya!

    1. Hawai'i is really interesting in that each island seems to have a little different food vibe. Different immigrants brought different foods with them and Hawai'ians know what's good! They keep it and change it a little to make it theirs. Shave ice is basically a snow cone covered in awesomesauce. I hope you make it to Hawai'i. The fresh fruit is just to die for. Beats the pants off the grocery stores!


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