Michelle Obama once said, “You can’t really understand Barack until you understand Hawaii.” What does that have to do with anything? Hawaii’s magic lies past the sun and sand, although that’s nice too. It has a welcoming culture that becomes ingrained in its people and visitors who stay a while. The smiling faces and welcoming state of mind rub off on you. Everyone is considered family to Hawaiians. And they believe that every human, plant, and animal has a ‘Mana,’ a spirit. It seems easy enough to be so loving when it barely drops below 70 degrees year-round. Put a native Hawaiian in Boston during the winter and he might not think two feet of snow has much of a spirit.
Hawaiian cuisine offers amazing fish, sushi, and… cheeseburgers, we found out. It’s a very casual place, so although any fish you order will be delicious, it doesn’t show off with many fancy restaurants. So here’s a look into some of their casual favorites:
A staple of the Hawaiian diet is Shave Ice. It’s actually not much more complicated than water and sugar. Oh, and ice cream. You can’t go anywhere without seeing signs for this tasty snow-cone-like creation you can actually eat. Did anyone actually like snow cones anyway? A block of ice is shaved down in a machine, giving you a soft, cold, cloud-like substance. The shave ice maker then pours up to four sugary syrup flavors of your choice on top. Some places have what seems like up to 100 flavors. Hawaiian style is adding vanilla ice cream to the middle so you have another sweet surprise when you’re done with your sugar water. And don’t forget to add an Ice Cap – condensed milk, and if you’re lucky, sometimes coconut milk, drizzled on top. You just have to watch your consumption speed or you’ll have a brain freeze for the rest of your visit.
Our favorite stop was Ono Ono Shave Ice on Kuhio Highway in Lihue. We voted our favorite flavors as follows, Piña Colada (when in Rome), Lilikoi (passion fruit, SO good), Wedding Cake (a better vanilla), and Tiger’s Blood (cherry, watermelon, coconut).
Ok, on to our next favorite discovery. Be warned! This is NOT just a hot dog. This is a celebration of all things sweet and spicy, with some protein in there for good measure. In fact, it’s a hot dog that’s been featured in many travel magazines and appeared on the travel channel in the ‘Food Crazy Hot Dog Havens’ episode: it’s no joke.
The surf board menu at Puka Dog Hawaiian Hot Dogs gives you clear instructions. First you pick your base: Polish Sausage or Veggie Dog. I tried both and preferred the Veggie. It tasted most like an average top notch hot dog. And knowing it wasn’t a hot dog was an added bonus. Apparently you’re only supposed to eat 7 hot dogs a year because they’re so bad for you. That’s gross.
Moving on, next you pick a Garlic Lemon ‘Secret’ Sauce: mild, spicy, or hot sauce. The hot is only a 3 on the hot scale, the nice cashier told us after we ordered. I tried mild and spicy, and spicy was spicy enough for me. Now for the most exciting part, you pick your relish: Coconut, Pineapple, Banana, Starfruit, Papaya, or Mango. If you ever have the option to choose Hawaiian pineapple for anything, do it. But also… coconut relish, on a hot dog!? Isn’t this cool? I tried Pineapple and Mango, and they tasted similar but our nice cashier friend said Pineapple was his favorite and I agreed.
Your order is still not finished. If that isn’t enough excitement instead of your average ketchup and relish experience, you’re asked: ‘Do you want to add Hawaiian mustard?’ YES you do. Just say yes. It’s a passion fruit mustard and it’s tangy and slightly spicy and amazing. The bun is Hawaiian sweet bread warmed on a skewer so the inside is nice and toasty. And as you can see in the photo, it creates a perfect little bed for your dog covered in blankets of delicious sauces. Don’t forget the Maui Onion Chips!