Sunday, January 31, 2010

Perfection in a French Fry

What’s better than lying on a beach in Hawaii? Nothing. But what comes in at a close second? Sitting in the shade after enjoying hours of surf, sand, and sun and enjoying hot, crispy French fries. Travel back with me two-and-a-half weeks ago to Wednesday, January 13, where I find myself sitting at a little snack bar on Waikiki Beach. My boyfriend will be arriving on the island within the next couple of hours, so I don’t want to get much to eat since he’ll probably be hungry getting off the plane. A snack of French fries seems perfect.

And they are perfect for this moment. They are deliciously crunchy outside and soft and warm inside—bare except for oil and salt that mixes with the taste of sea salt on my lips from swimming in the glorious Pacific Ocean. I’ve just finished reading Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour on the beach, and the words of this book fit right in with my experience. Bourdain travels around the world seeking out the “perfect meal,” but in the final chapter he comes to see that the perfect meal does not exist—that “the whole concept of the ‘perfect meal’ is ludicrous. ‘Perfect,’ like ‘happy,’ tends to sneak up on you. Once you find it…it’s gone. It’s a fleeting thing, ‘perfect,’ and…it’s often better in retrospect.”

The perfect meal can depend so much on context and memory, but right now, these fries seem perfect. It's not so much that the taste of the fries is extraordinary, but that every crisp bite and burst of salt is a reminder that I’m in Hawaii, that I’m more relaxed than perhaps ever before in my life. There’s just the beach, happy people all around, and French fries—perfect. And I’ve got a feeling that the rest of the day is about to be perfect, and the day after that, and the day after that…

Quote of the Week: Perfect Food

“Hunger makes you restless. You dream about food—not just any food, but perfect food, the best food, magical meals, famous and awe-inspiring, the one piece of meat, the exact taste of buttery corn, tomatoes so ripe they split and sweeten the air, beans so crisp they snap between the teeth, gravy like mother’s milk singing to your bloodstream.”

—Dorothy Allison

Sunday, January 24, 2010


After a leisurely afternoon at the Ala Moana Beach Park I headed to Me BBQ for an early dinner. Me BBQ is a Korean joint located at 151 Uluniu Avenue in Waikiki that is known for both its quality and quantity of plate lunches. My Lonely Planet guidebook to Hawaii mentioned that they have excellent short ribs. I love short ribs, and I’ll eat them basically anytime I get the chance—they are one of my favorites. However, when I glanced over the menu conveniently composed of photographs of each option, I didn’t see anything labeled “short ribs.” I spotted one called Ka Li BBQ that looked like it could be ribs, so I took my chances and ordered it, hoping for the best.

It turned out that it was short ribs, just in a form I hadn’t been exposed to before, and it was amazing! The succulent and hefty portion of meat came with the choice of four sides. I chose kim chi, pickled cucumbers, bean sprouts, and macaroni salad, which is staple of any Hawaiian plate lunch. The flavorful sauce coating the meat was slightly sweet and yet also savory, and it penetrated each little bite. Some sections were a little bit tougher than others and the very nature of eating ribs requires some gnawing, something I’m not afraid of doing in public. The meal also came with two heaping mounds of steamed white rice on which the meat sat. The rice became deliciously coated in the sauce from the short ribs, which was very light, not thick and coating like many American BBQ sauces.

The sides were decent—nothing extraordinary, in my opinion, but definitely good accompaniments to the meat, which was clearly the star of the show. The most interesting was probably the cucumbers. They were pickled, but they hadn’t quite reached the point in the pickling process to be on the same par as a deli pickle. The skin was still smooth, and they were flexible yet with a bit of crunch. The cucumbers were lightly coated in a spicy sauce that may have been the same sauce used in the kim chi. I’m no kim chi aficionado, so I don’t know exactly how Me BBQ’s kim chi compares to others. It tasted basically like all the other kim chi I’ve had—like spicy, pickled cabbage. Sorry to all you out there who love it, but kim chi doesn’t thrill me. The bean sprouts seemed to have been steamed or marinated in a light sauce, like rice vinegar and salt. The flavor was very light, but they did add a nice crunch to the meal.

The macaroni salad was good and almost worked as a palate cleanser for all the strong Korean flavors. If the heat of the kim chi got to be too much or the Ka Li short ribs were too intense, then all it took as a bit of cold mac salad to get me ready for another bite of deliciousness. It was definitely my favorite of all the sides.

Me BBQ is a very small joint where you can order take out. There are a few picnic tables outside where you can sit down with what is sure to be a huge meal and enjoy watching people as they walk down Kuhio Avenue. Overall it was a filling and tasty meal. I’d like to go back and try some other Korean dishes they serve like Bi Bim Bab or stir-fried squid. My experience at Me BBQ definitely proves that even on vacation in Hawaii you can eat very well on a budget.

Me's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Quote of the Week: Non-Cooks

"Non-cooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet."

—Julia Child

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Rainbow Drive-In

My first morning in Hawaii I had a mission: get breakfast, walk to Ala Moana Beach, swim, and sunbathe. But where to get breakfast? I wanted something interesting that was not the typical eggs, toast, and bacon. Luckily, I discovered the Rainbow Drive-In.

I walked up Kapahulu Avenue for about fifteen minutes away from Waikiki beach and towards the mountains. The Rainbow Drive-In is located in the small community of Kapahulu at the entrance of Waikiki at Kapahulu Avenue and Kanaina Avenue. When I arrived the outdoor tables were packed and lines were still forming at the windows. As I approached I saw exactly what I wanted—fried rice with two eggs. I love fried rice for breakfast. When I was a kid I must have heated up some Chinese leftovers for breakfast one morning, and it was love at first bite. However, I’ve never been anywhere that shared this passion enough to actually put it on the menu. Then I saw a few words scrawled beneath the item on the menu—“upon availability.” I began to silently pray, please be available, please be available. As I stepped up to the counter, thankfully they still had some left. I ordered the rice with two eggs over easy and also grabbed a cup of water.
The place was so packed, and I’d soon find out why, that I got the food to go and headed across the street to sit in the shade of a tree and look onto the Ala Wai Golf Course. I could smell the fresh greenery and feel nice island breezes as I enjoyed my tasty breakfast.
The portions were huge. For $5.25 I got an entire paper plate full of friend rice—a serious mound of rice, plus it was topped with two glorious fried over-easy eggs. The yolks split open and worked their magical, golden goodness into the crevices of the rice. Remember being a kid and turning your mashed potatoes into a volcano and using gravy for lava? Well, that’s what this was like, only better. The rice was amazing. It had just the right amount of salt and pepper, was fried to where it stuck together in easy-to-pick-up clumps yet was also just crispy enough. It contained celery, onions, green onion, and meat. At first I assumed it was pork, but then I remembered Hawaii’s love of Spam, so I tried a piece on its own, but it didn’t seem Spammy to me. It tasted more like sausage, and I’d find out later that it was Portuguese sausage. I wouldn’t have cared much if it was some random meat product. When I took a cooking class in China we made fried rice with a Spam-like substance that comes in a tube, so if they’ve got that going on here in Hawaii, that’s cool with me. As long as you give me fried rice for breakfast, you can put in all the mystery meat you want.
I was completely satisfied after this filling breakfast and was honestly not hungry again until about five o’clock that night. It’s the perfect place to eat if you need fuel for a long day, whether you’re working, hiking, or just taking a long walk to a beach as I did. They also serve many other breakfast options as well as plate lunches—all at an affordable price. Throughout the rest of the week whenever I would chat with locals they would ask me where I had eaten. Whenever I mentioned the Rainbow Drive-In they would nod in approval. When one such local found out I’d ordered the fried rice, he asked me if I got my eggs scrambled or over easy. “Over easy,” I replied. “Good,” was all he said. When the local crowd approves of your dining choices you know you’ve made a good decision!
You can check out their menu and Web site here, which also includes a brief and interesting history of the Rainbow Drive-In:

Rainbow Drive-in on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar

My first meal in Hawaii was the perfect way to begin my week. I’d arrived a few hours earlier and made it to the hotel with just enough time to tear open my suitcase, throw on my bathing suit, and head to the beach. After a refreshing swim in the glorious Pacific Ocean I sat on the sandy beach and watched the sun set in the west over the serene water. My mind became clear as the smooth waves and calming rays of the sun swept away any worries or stress—it was immediate relaxation, peace, and joy.

As day turned to dusk and the lights of the city of Honolulu, Oahu, filled the night sky, I returned to the hotel to get ready for my first meal. I decided on Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar in Waikiki Beach. I was dining alone this evening, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to sit at the sushi bar, which I’ve never done before at a sushi restaurant. The sushi bar was a great choice—it was laid back, had a great view of the fresh, beautiful seafood like octopus, shrimp, and salmon, and I was surrounded by good company. Everyone I talked to at the bar loved the restaurant, and they were all happy with everything they ordered. One man told me that he’d eaten there two nights in a row and that he might keep eating there all week! Another informed me that he was in Hawaii a few times a year on business and that Sansei was the best sushi spot he’d been to in Honolulu—that’s pretty high praise, but the food spoke for itself as well.
According to the restaurant's Web site "the word sansei refers to 'third generation' and founder D. K. Kodama felt that this was a fitting name for a restaurant inspired by Japanese tradition, but serving contemporary interpretations of sushi and Asian cuisine." Sounds good to me.

To begin I was given a complimentary dish of edamame by my sushi chef. Edamame are immature soybeans that are usually boiled in their pods with salt and served whole. You don’t eat the pods, but instead pop out the lovely little beans inside, catching just a taste of the coating of salt on the outer coating of the pods. They were served cold and tasted great at Sansei—nice and tender and not overly salted. Edamame is a great way to start off any sushi dinner, and it doesn’t hurt that they were free! In addition to the edamame I ordered a small carafe of hot sake, which again complements any sushi dinner. I recently discovered that it’s custom to drink hot sake with cold dishes and cold sake with hot dishes, and since I was only ordering cold dishes that night I knew it was the right choice. The sake was lightly flavored and each sip seemed to warm my insides and refresh my taste buds, getting me ready for the next bite of delicious food.

I was dying to try a Hawaiian dish called poke, which is supposed to embody the Hawaiian cuisine. It isn’t exactly a Japanese dish, but they offered a Sansei-Style Ahi Poke at the restaurant, so I had to try it. Poke is usually raw cubes of fish, often Ahi (yellowfin tuna), that is marinated in condiments like sea salt and soy sauce. The dish at Sansei was made with Ahi and served with sweet Maui onions, wakame (seaweed), and kaiware sprouts (sprouted daikon radish seeds), and marinated in a spicy poke sauce. It was simply amazing. The dish was filled with little rubies of tender, red pieces of Ahi flesh that seemed to melt in my mouth like butter—it was fresh and clean and just delicious. The onions and other flavors merely complemented the Ahi and did not overpower the dish, and the marinade had just a hint of spiciness and sweetness. Heavenly.
In addition to the Ahi Poke (usually served as an appetizer) I enjoyed a Spicy Hamachi roll with Japanese yellowtail mixed with a spicy chili-garlic sauce. The roll was wonderful. Often sushi restaurants mash the fish in spicy tuna or salmon rolls until it becomes a mushy mess—it’s still often tasty, but the fish seems to lose a little of its integrity, like it’s been pounded with a meat mallet. Although the Ahi in the spicy roll at Sansei was combined with the spicy chili-garlic sauce, the fish still retained some its original texture and distinctive taste. It was so delicious that I didn’t even dip the roll into soy sauce or smear it with wasabi—the flavors were nice, spicy, and clean all on their own.
After this exceptional dinner I was relaxed and finally ready to sleep after a long day of travel. Unlike one of my dinner companions I knew that I would not be eating every meal at Sansei—not because it wasn’t amazing, but because I had too many dishes and too many restaurants to try in just a few days. My adventures in Hawaiian food were only just beginning.
Check out the Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar here:

Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar (Waikiki) on Urbanspoon


Aloha readers!

I’m back from Hawaii and just brimming with stories of my food adventures in this island paradise. The cuisine in Hawaii is amazing—my favorite aspects of Hawaiian food are the fresh fish, the various Asian influences, and the abundance of refreshing tropical fruit.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of my discoveries and dining experiences with all of you. Some topics will include enjoying Ahi Poke at the Sansei Seafood Restaurant, trying a Puka Dog with Hawaiian mustard and pineapple relish, enjoying a plate lunch at Me BBQ, indulging in fried rice with two over-easy eggs for breakfast at the Rainbow Drive In, watching kalua pork being unearthed from an underground oven and sampling poi at a luau, and sipping endless Mai Tais and Blue Hawaiians. The peak of my culinary enjoyment in Hawaii was sitting at the chef’s counter at Alan Wong’s, my new favorite restaurant. It was the most amazing meal I’ve ever eaten—a truly exceptional experience that I can’t wait to share with you.

I hope you all enjoy the stories to come as I bring you along through my week-long trip to Hawaii. Mahalo!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Qoute of the Week: Coconuts

"There is sweet water inside a tender coconut. Who poured the water inside the coconut? Was it the work of any man? No. Only the divine can do such a thing."

—Sri Saytha Sai Baba

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Song of the Week: Poi Song

“Poi is the staple of Hawaiian diet—it comes from root called taro or kalo. It grows in a taro patch, and it’s how Hawaiians sustained themselves for many centuries. And when you make the poi you take the kalo and you cut the leaves off and you steam it or you boil it, and after a while you pound them—you pound them and you mix them, and you put your whole arm inside of it, so this song talks about how you mix the poi. We mix it like this, and we eat it like this.”


Quote of the Week: Truly Great Meals

“Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.”

—Anthony Bourdain

Monday, January 4, 2010

Deep Thoughts: Jack Handy on Food, Eating, and Drinking

“If God dwells inside us like some people say, I sure hope He likes enchiladas, because that's what He's getting”

“As I bit into the nectarine, it had a crisp juiciness about it that was very pleasurable - until I realized it wasn't a nectarine at all, but A HUMAN HEAD!”

“The next time I have meat and mashed potatoes, I think I'll put a very large blob of potatoes on my plate with just a little piece of meat. And if someone asks me why I didn't get more meat, I'll just say, ‘Oh, you mean this?’ and pull out a big piece of meat from inside the blob of potatoes, where I've hidden it. Good magic trick, huh?”

“What is it about a beautiful sunny afternoon, with the birds singing and the wind rustling through the leaves, that makes you want to get drunk?”

“If you're in a war, instead of throwing a hand grenade at the enemy, throw one of those small pumpkins. Maybe it'll make everyone think how stupid war is, and while they are thinking, you can throw a real grenade at them.”

“Laurie got offended that I used the word puke. But to me, that's what her dinner tasted like.”

“When you die, if you get a choice between going to regular heaven or pie heaven, choose pie heaven. It might be a trick, but if it's not, mmm boy.”

“If you're at a Thanksgiving dinner, but you don't like the stuffing or the cranberry sauce or anything else, just pretend like you're eating it, but instead, put it all in your lap and form it into a big mushy ball. Then, later, when you're out back having cigars with the boys, let out a big fake cough and throw the ball to the ground. Then say, ‘Boy, these are good cigars!’”

”If you ever reach total enlightenment while drinking beer, I bet you could shoot beer out of you nose.”

“I think a good gift for the President would be a chocolate revolver. And since he is so busy, you'd probably have to run up to him real quick and give it to him.”

“The memories of my family outings are still a source of strength to me. I remember we'd all pile into the car—I forget what kind it was—and drive and drive. I'm not sure where we'd go, but I think there were some trees there. The smell of something was strong in the air as we played whatever sport we played. I remember a bigger, older guy we called ‘Dad.’ We'd eat some stuff, or not, and then I think we went home. I guess some things never leave you.”

“I think someone should have had the decency to tell me the luncheon was free. To make someone run out with potato salad in his hand, pretending he's throwing up, is not what I call hospitality.”

“Is there anything more beautiful than a beautiful, beautiful flamingo flying across in front of a beautiful sunset? And he has a beautiful rose in his beak. And also he is carrying a very beautiful painting in his feet. And also, you're drunk.”

“If I lived back in the wild west days, instead of carrying a six-gun in my holster, I'd carry a soldering iron. That way, if some smart-aleck cowboy said something like ‘Hey, look. He's carrying a soldering iron!’ and started laughing, and everybody else started laughing, I could just say, ‘That's right, it's a soldering iron. The soldering iron of justice.’ Then everybody would get real quiet and ashamed, because they had made fun of the soldering iron of justice, and I could probably hit them up for a free drink.”

”Even though I was their captive, the Indians allowed me quite a bit of freedom. I could walk freely, make my own meals, and even hurl large rocks at their heads. It was only later that I discovered that they were not Indians at all but only dirty-clothes hampers.”

“My favorite uncle was Uncle Caveman, we called him that because he lived in a cave and every once in a while he’d eat one of us. Later on we found out he was a bear.”

“I'll never forget the time I got caught stealing watermelons from old Mr. Barnslow's watermelon patch. I was with my friend Bobby. We were giggling so hard I thought I'd wet my pants! At first we tried to steal two watermelons each, but they were too heavy and we dropped them, and that made us laugh even harder. Finally, we each picked out a good one, and we were just about to sneak back through the fence when we heard a low, deep voice behind us. ‘Just where do you think you're going with those watermelons?’ I gulped and turned around. It was old Mr. Barnslow, pointing his shotgun at us. Bobby dropped his watermelon, then pulled out the .38 revolver he kept in his waist, turned, and fired. But the turning must have thrown off his aim, because the shot only hit Mr. Barnslow in the thigh. Mr. Barnslow immediately fired both barrels at Bobby. One blast of buckshot missed entirely, but the other tore into Bobby's shoulder. He tried to fire back, but his shoulder was so torn up he couldn't raise his arm. Just as he was trying to switch to his left hand, Mr. Barnslow ran up and cracked him across the face with the butt of his shotgun. Bobby fell to the ground in a heap. Mr. Barnslow raised the butt of his gun to finish him off, but just then Bobby pulled out his hunting knife and plunged it into the farmer's big white belly. After that, I don't think I stole watermelons for at least a year.”

“Sometimes when I reflect back on all the beer I drink I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn't drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. Then I say to myself, ‘It is better that I drink this beer and let their dreams come true than to be selfish and worry about my liver.’”

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Quote of the Week: Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?

"Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think they will song to me."

—T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

The Past Isn't Dead

For those of you interested in history, you may want to check out my new history blog, The Past Isn't Dead, at


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Anthony Bourdain in Hawaii

If you’re ever preparing for travels around the world, you might want to ask yourself “what would Anthony Bourdain do?” He’s traveled to so many places around this great planet, and while thinking about my imminent trip to Hawaii I remembered that yes, Bourdain has already been there. A quick search on YouTube provided the five parts of his show in Hawaii, and I’ve posted them here for your viewing pleasure. While I won’t make it to most of the destinations featured on the show, it’s always great to get Bourdain’s perspective on a place, with his dry sense of humor and honest thoughts on a location’s culture, food, and people.

In part one of five, Bourdain arrives, purchases a Hawaiian shirt, and shares his thoughts on Jimmy Buffet, remarking “Anywhere I go, anywhere there’s a palm tree or a ski slope, Jimmy Buffet’s been there first…I hear that damn Lost in Margaritaville song in every good bar in the world. He’s personally ruined my life.” Then he tries a puka dog, which I will definitely be checking out as there is a puka dog shop about ten minutes walking distance from my hotel. Bourdain then sits down to a meal at Ono’s Hawaiian Food with a friend.

Part two features the end of the meal at Ono’s, where his friend discusses how Hawaiian food came to be. Then Bourdain meets with some of the greatest chefs in Hawaii who all congregate at the Side Street Inn for a delicious meal. One guest is Alan Wong, a revered chef whose restaurant I am dying to try during my trip. Next it’s on to the North Shore of Oahu, where he meets with surfer Derek Donner. As Donner explains surfing to Bourdain, he remarks “You can gain a lot of knowledge, or you can run for your life.” They also share a meal at the house of Peter Cole, a surfing legend who started surfing at the North Shore in the 1950s and still continues to this day.

In part three they finish up lunch and then Bourdain is off to try some Spam at the Uptown Fountain. In Hawaii Spam is still very popular, and the islands consume up to four million cans of Spam a year. Among the many Spam delicacies are items like Spam sushi, which features Spam and fried rice wrapped in seaweed. According to Bourdain, it’s delicious. Tiki drinks with Don the Beach Comber at La Mariana come next as Bourdain indulges in Mai Tais and Zombies. Then Bourdain is invited to a backyard luau in a working-class neighborhood in Honolulu where he gets to try local, home-made food.

Part four brings Bourdain to the eastern edge of the Big Island of Hawaii, where the most active volcano in the world, Kilauea, has completely destroyed a once thriving neighborhood. Only one man remains—Jack Thompson, who shares a plate lunch with Bourdain at his home. As they look around the desolate landscape, Bourdain dryly asks “No Starbucks here? I was hoping for a mochaccino.”

The final part of the show features Bourdain embracing Hawaiian tourism at its best—the pre-packaged luau. I was glad to see that Bourdain seemed to truly enjoy the whole spectacle as I’m planning to visit one such luau on my final night in Oahu. Enjoy the show!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year, New Food

As I wrote my hopes and dreams for 2010 at about two o’clock this morning I realized that none of my goals involve food. Perhaps this is because I know that no matter what I resolve there will always be good eating experiences in the future.

So what does the next year hold in regards to food? Last year I was determined to try raw oysters—any reader of this blog should know that I had many adventures with oysters in 2009! This year I don’t have any particular food that I want to try, though I’m open to suggestions. Instead, I’d just like to keep my mind and stomach open and see what deliciousness is out there in the world.

In the next few months I have a few trips planned that should offer some excellent culinary experiences. First up is Hawaii. There is so much I want to try in Hawaii—tropical drinks, plate lunches, and even a luau. The Asian influence on Hawaiian food is supposed to create some really delicious dishes, and I can’t wait to try all that Hawaii has to offer. After that I have a short trip to Boston, so indulging in seafood dishes is a must. New England clam chowder, oysters, and lobsters—all of it should be amazing. I’ve never had a meal in Boston that I didn’t enjoy. Next is Los Angeles. I haven’t spent time yet researching cuisine in L.A., but I imagine that a trip to Napa Valley for a wine tasting is in order. I’m sure there will other travels, but at least I know I’ve got these three destinations to look forward to in the next year.

As for cooking I’d like to continue to try new recipes in the kitchen. I want to broaden my culinary skills, perhaps by trying to make items I’ve never attempted before. Duck is definitely on the list—I’ve never cooked it and yet it’s one of my favorite foods. I also don’t bake very much, so it could be fun to try my hand at some interesting desserts this year.

I hope you’ll all continue to join me in whatever food adventures this new year will bring. Happy New Year!