As Hawaii week comes to a close (although it will never really be over, will it), we must talk about the food. Oh, the food. It’s secretly/not so secretly the main reason I travel. I don’t feel I’m alone in this. My friends and family might give me the crazy eyes when I tell them I’m flying half way across the world to spend six days in Hawaii on a whim, but whatever, I’ll be the one drinking mai tais and eating fish caught fresh that day while watching a technicolor Hawaiian sunset, so who’s winning at life now?
The food we had in Hawaii was a fantastic mix of Asian cultures and local island favorites; we ate our way through China and Japan and Korea for days (all in one strip mall, in fact — yes, the BEST food in Hawaii is always found in a strip mall), and that’s not even covering the more traditional Hawaiian dishes like poi and kalua pork and lomi lomi salmon. I somehow escaped the islands without trying spam (which I really wanted to do!), but I made up for it by eating as many manapua I could get my hands on.
But. If we’re talking about the true hero of the trip, my absolutely favorite thing I consumed in my time in Hawaii, something I ate at nearly every meal, it’s poke. I could write an entire album of songs (probably even a multi-disc collection) about my love of poke. No, not the annoying, seemingly useless Facebook feature. I’m talkin’ Hawaiian poke (pronounced po-kay), and if you haven’t experienced this little Hawaiian gem, you’re not living life to the fullest, my friend.
A few things about poke for you to know. You must enjoy raw fish to enjoy poke. What is essentially the Hawaiian version of ceviche, poke’s main ingredients are typically raw fish (most popular is ahi tuna), soy sauce, some form of onion (spring, sweet, Maui or otherwise), and finely chopped macadamia or kukui nuts. Poke is usually served as an appetizer, or pu pu in Hawaiian, and it is deliciously addictive. Our first night in Hawaii I was invited to the house of my friend’s family for dinner. Pu pus came to the table and I casually swiped a piece of poke with my chopsticks and was so enticed by the salty, buttery, slightly sweet flavor I almost fell out of my chair. Picture me trying to be polite and gracious and charming while also trying to covertly shove as much poke in my mouth as possible. I’m sure I was the picture of manners; just call me charm school over here.
When I left Hawaii, I knew the first thing I wanted to attempt to make at home was poke, and tonight I have done just that. While searching out the ingredients will take a bit of effort (and unfortunately, there are a few things you just can’t get outside of Hawaii), actually putting it together is a breeze. The soy sauce does all the work for you, so all that’s required is a little chopping and you’re done. I’ve made some slight alterations based on my preferences (believe me, I tried about 500 different kinds of poke on your behalf, so consider me an expert in this field), but this is a pretty straightforward, ‘basic’ recipe. The flavors, however, are faaaaaar from basic.
OK, you ready? Let’s do this.
Hawaiian Ahi Poke (adapted from Hawai’i Magazine)
1 lb fresh ahi steaks, cut into cubed, bite-size pieces
¼ cup soy sauce (shoyu)
¼ cup chopped green onions (tops included)
¼ cup chopped sweet yellow onion (if you can get Maui onion, otherwise a nice Vidalia will do)
2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 jalapeño pepper, cored, seeded and diced (optional but highly recommended)
sea salt, to taste (if you use full sodium soy sauce, you won’t need this)
2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
There’s really not much to say in terms of prep other than chop everything up according to the above, place in a large container (I used a large tupperware, but you can just as easily use a big mixing bowl) and refrigerate for at least two hours. I’d recommend serving this as an appetizer, or you could eat as a main course alongside an asian-inspired salad and some rice. No matter how you enjoy it, it will, for if only a fleeting moment, give you a feeling of island breezes and a slower way of life. I will long for it dearly, I will dream of it often and I will one day return.
A few other foods I enjoyed greatly while bopping around Oahu are the following:
Malasadas (Portuguese donuts) from Leonard’s Bakery: pillowy soft, some rolled in cinnamon sugar, some filled with coconut cream or chocolate, some just a plain old delicious donut…no holes necessary. YUM.
Korean food from Kim Chee II Restaurant (heck yeah, strip mall feast): sometimes after a long day in the sun, you just want an explosion of flavor in your mouth, and Korean delivers strongly in that category. From short ribs to mandu to bi bimbap, it’s all delicious, all the time over here.
Kona coffee, literally anywhere: not much to say here other than it’s so good it’s made for ROYALTY.
Hawaiian Plate Lunch and Slush Float at Rainbow Drive-in: think of it as a Hawaiian ‘meat and three’ (for those of you who have never been to the South, I don’t really know how to describe this to you other than it’s some good down home cookin’). You choose your meat — usually fried chicken, BBQ steak, fried fish, what have you — and it comes with a side of ‘mac salad’ and rice. You can reserve your gravy for your meat (as I did), or you can go crazy and put it on everything. Accompanying this is a magical concoction called a slush float, which is basically a 7-11 strawberry slushie that’s had a love child with an ice cream float. It’s sugary and sweet and oh so good, and it’s a perfect balance to the saltiness of the plate lunch. Listen, I never said eating in Hawaii was healthy. I did, however, say it was delicious.