The Best of Oahu (A Food Lover’s Perspective)

Hawaii is like a second home to me. I have family there, and spent most of my childhood summers on Oahu. The island holds a special place in my heart with its vibrant culture, amazing food, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. After I graduated from college and vacation time became scarce, I stopped joining my family on our annual trips.

This past summer was the first time in five years that I’ve been able to make it back to Oahu. It’s funny how returning to the places you knew as a child can evoke such strong feelings and memories. For me, the familiar flavors of malasadas and shaved ice bring back vivid memories of time spent with my family and good friends.

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite places with you–both old and new. These are not the type of establishments you’ll find gracing the glossy pages of a travel magazine. (In fact, don’t be alarmed if you look around and realize that you’re the only non local within 25 feet.) These are hole-in-the-wall, off-the-beaten-path, no-frills kind of establishments where good food is the only guiding principle. No hype, and completely casual. Just as it should be in Hawaii.

1. Leonard’s Bakery

Leonard’s is an Oahu institution, with its freshly-baked malasadas (Portuguese donuts) and pao doce (Portuguese sweet bread). The malasadas are filled with everything from custard and chocolate to jams and haupia (coconut pudding). The haupia malasada will always hold a special place in this girl’s heart!

2. Nu’uanu Okazya

This tiny hole-in-the-wall establishment features a dizzying array of Japanese and Hawaiian food. Grilled saba, chicken long rice, veggie tempura, nishime, onigiri, furikake musubi…the list goes on and changes on a daily basis. I can only describe it as a “choose your own adventure” bento establishment. You walk up to the counter, point at the food you want, and basically create your own personalized bento. My recommendation is to get your bento and head to the beach to get your eat on.

3. Ice Garden

Shaved ice is really big in Hawaii. I mean, seriously big. While Matsumoto on the North Shore is definitely the most popular shaved ice establishment, I think Ice Garden wins for the most unique flavor combinations. My favorite is the mochi, flan, and evaporated milk shaved ice. Don’t knock it ’til you try it! Service here is extremely slow, but rest assured that the finished product will be delicious.

4. Fresh Coconut at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet

I know coconut products are all the rage these days, but I’ve been geting my coconut on at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet since the nineties, folks. It’s all about the fresh coconut. I highly recommend the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet in general if you’re looking for cheap souvenirs to bring home. While you’re there, look for the tiny older man selling fresh coconuts out of the back of his pickup truck. You’ll identify him by his giant machette and notable lack of English. You’re just going to have to trust me on this. Once you drink all the coconut water, bring back the shell and he’ll cut it in half so you can dig into the meat.

5. Kim Chee

This is the quintessential Korean BBQ food that is so popular in Hawaii. Kim Chee is fast, delicious, and easy on the budget. There are a few locations throughout the island, but this location happens to be my favorite.

6. Weekend Buffet at Hakkei

If you’re looking for a very traditional Japanese buffet, this is it. This is nothing like an American-style buffet with endless choices and mass-produced quality. The food choices are slim, but the quality is outstanding. The brunch is offered on weekends and costs $15. I highly recommend making reservations in advance.

7. Aiea Bowl

When my uncle told me that he wanted to take us to a bowling alley for dinner, I thought he was crazy. Little did I know that this bowling alley serves up some of the best local food around. Their fried chicken is outstanding, as is their furikake crusted ahi. Aiea Bowl is also known for their baked goods, including the famous lemon crunch cake. Make no mistake though, this is still a bowling alley and there is nothing glamourous about that. But if you’re looking to check out the local scene and try some good food, head to Aiea Bowl.

8. Macky’s Sweet Shrimp Truck

The North Shore is known for its delicious shrimp trucks, and Macky’s happens to be my favorite. The best dish is the garlic butter shrimp–hands down.


Matcha (Green Tea) Ice Cream

I have a confession to make. This might come as a surprise coming from someone who claims to love food. I don’t really like ice cream. There, I said it. It’s often just too rich, too creamy, and too cloyingly sweet for my tastes. Blasphemous, I know! I’ve always been more of a frozen yogurt kind of girl for this reason. Most ice cream recipes use eggs to create a creamy, custard base. I usually avoid using eggs entirely. This not only takes the fuss out of ice cream making, it also yields a much lighter texture.

I was in frozen dessert heaven when I was in Japan. The ice cream and frozen yogurt was complex in flavor and not too creamy. With flavors like black sesame & honey, matcha, cherry blossom, and sweet tofu, my sister and I made it our mission to try every single flavor we couldn’t get in the U.S.

Oh, don’t mind me while I devour this black sesame & honey fro-yo and every other flavor in this store…I’m an Amerikajin!

While I loved all the novelty flavors that I tried on my trip, my favorite will always be matcha ice cream. Matcha is just finely milled green tea leaves that’s often used in Japanese tea ceremonies. It’s available at Asian grocery stores and even some specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods. Matcha varies greatly in quality and price. If it’s available, look for “culinary grade” or “culinary quality” matcha, which tends to be a little cheaper.

I found this recipe on a wonderful blog called Just One Cookbook. Nami posts delicious recipes for authentic Japanese dishes like Tonkatsu and the ever popular Japanese Beef Curry. She does an amazing job demystifying Japanese cooking techniques, and her photography is gorgeous. I can literally get lost on her site for hours!

I love this matcha ice cream recipe because it comes closest to the stuff we ate in Japan. The matcha lends a slightly bitter note that complements the sweetness of the ice cream. And as always, there are no eggs in this recipe, so the texture is a little less creamy, but no less delicious.

Hope you enjoy!

Matcha (Green Tea) Ice Cream
Yield: About One Pint
Recipe from Sweets by Sillianah via Just One Cookbook

  • 2 cups half and half (I used 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of heavy cream)
  • 3 tablespoons 100 percent green tea powder (matcha powder)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  1. In a large sauce pan whisk together the half and half, green tea powder, sugar and salt. Heat the mixture until it comes to a full boil. Keep whisking until mixture starts to foam, then remove from heat.
  2. Refrigerate the mixture until completely chilled.
  3. Churn for 15-20 minutes in ice cream maker, according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Transfer ice cream into an airtight container and freeze until hard. (At least three hours)

A Trip to Japan

Hello, again! I’m finally back from my trip to Japan. Jet lagged and completely loopy, but back nonetheless. (Is this real life???) I’ve had a lot of great travel experiences in my day, but this was definitely a trip to remember.

It all started when my grandma turned 80 a couple months ago and wanted to visit some old friends in the Japanese countryside. As a gift, my family bought her a ticket to Japan. Unfortunately my grandma is not currently in the best health–despite her feelings on the topic. So my sister and I traveled to Japan with her and spent some time in a town called Fujioka in the Gunma prefecture, about three hours outside of Tokyo. My sister and I then traveled to Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka before rejoining with our grandma in the countryside. It was a pretty last minute trip, but one that I’ll never forget. We had the most hospitable friends in both Fujioka and Tokyo, which made the trip extra special.

Here are a few snapshots from our trip, most of which are of food. Would you expect anything else from me?

Our first home cooked breakfast in the countryside. Saba shio, miso, tamago, hijiki, gohan, nori….and some clam thing that I can’t pronounce, but tasted mighty delicious!

Our friends took us to this tiny sashimi shop on the side of the road in Fujioka. They chose the fish they wanted and the shop owner cut and beautifully organized the sashimi on a platter to take home.

Our friends also took us to an amazing all you can eat shabu shabu restaurant in Fujioka. Side note: the beer was all you can drink as well.

We stayed in Shinjuku while in Tokyo–which I highly recommend!

We took sushi lessons near the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. I made the plate above full of rolls and nigiri. If you go to Tokyo and love to cook, I highly recommend walking around the Tsukiji outer market and taking a cooking class.

Obento on the Shinkansen on the way to Kyoto.

If you love to cook, you have to swing by Aritsugu in Kyoto. The store itself is tiny, but Arisugu is very well-respected for their handmade knives, pots, scissors, and other utensils. The best part is that you can get anything engraved on the spot. Not by a machine, but by an actual artisan–it’s seriously amazing. We bought a knife for my dad and had our last name engraved in Japanese on it.

Tasting green teas at Ippodo, one of the oldest tea shops in Kyoto.

Love the Shinkansen!

Quail egg and yam sushi at a conveyer belt sushi place in Kyoto Station. I don’t know the name of this place, but it’s across the way from McDonalds in Kyoto Station, if that helps. Every plate (yes, every single one) is 137 yen, about $1.80 US. We nommed here on multiple occasions, I can’t lie.

Shinto shrine in Kyoto.

Takoyaki in Osaka! “Tako” means octopus in Japanese and takoyaki are basically octopus dumplings topped with everything from mayo and teriyaki sauce to poached eggs and green onions.

Weekend Snapshots

Jeff and I are vehemently against expensive fixed-menu Valentine’s Day meals. Nothing personal really–we’ve just had some bad experiences with restaurants jacking up prices and rushing service to fit in more seatings. Instead of going out for a fancy dinner on Valentine’s Day, we decided to take a trip through wine country last weekend to do some wine, beer, and food tasting.

Here are a couple of shots from our trip!

First stop, In-n-Out Burger to class things up.

We had brunch in Sonoma at a lovely little restaurant called The Girl and the Fig. We had a delicious cheese platter, fresh grilled sardines, a sirloin burger, and their signature arugula, fig, and prosciutto salad. The prosciutto was house-cured and oh so delicious. If you are in Sonoma, don’t miss Hawkes Vineyard  & Winery for Cabernet Sauvignon and Rosseler Cellars for Pinot Noir. These are two of the least pretentious tasting rooms you will find in the area.

Instead of staying in Sonoma or Napa, we decided to stay in a little town called Petaluma. I wasn’t expecting to find anything spectacular here. But to my surprise, we found Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a giant heirloom seed bank housed in a vintage bank. I went full blown nerd in this place. Special thanks to Jeff for letting my have my moment.

This location is one of three Baker Creek storefronts in the country. You can also order seeds online or subscribe to their annual catalog. I ended up buying daikon, french finger carrot, and summer squash seeds. In this genetically-modified world, I have such great respect for the people who help preserve these rare varieties of fruits and vegetables. It’s truly a special place.

Last but not least, we headed to Santa Rosa for the release of a beer called Pliny the Younger at Russian River Brewery. Pliny the Younger is a strong, hoppy IPA that is only offered once a year for about two weeks. It has a high alcohol content of 10.5% and went straight to my head. Despite the long lines, we had a great time tasting beer and enjoying the sun while it lasted.

Happy boyfriend; tipsy girlfriend.

Alas, it was time to go back to reality. Nothing like a drive across the majestic Golden Gate Bridge on a moody Sunday to wrap up an unforgettable weekend trip.

24 Hours in Vancouver

Every now and then, Jeff and I will take a quick, spontaneous road trip somewhere. We don’t go with any real agenda. Generally, we’re just in pursuit of some relaxation and good food. This time we decided to head up north for an overnight trip to Vancouver, dog in tow. We visited the city’s beautiful parks and window shopped a bit. But mostly, we ate. Armed with word of mouth recommendations, a couple Yelp leads, and intuition, we found some truly amazing food. What’s your favorite place to eat in Vancouver?

1. Cafe Medina

I will preface by saying that I am not wild about American brunch food. Most of the time it’s simply too heavy and bland. You will never find me (willingly) waiting in line in the cold for pancakes and waffles. That being said, Cafe Medina is the complete opposite of any typical American breakfast establishment that I am used to. Cafe Medina is known for their Belgian waffles with a variety of creative toppings such as fig orange marmalade and white chocolate pistachio rosewater. The waffles are very small, but packed with flavor. But the highlight of the meal was my lavender latte, which was made with house made syrup. Well worth the wait!

2. Alibi Room

There are not many small breweries located in Vancouver proper, but that doesn’t really matter when you have the Alibi Room. This is a place for beer lovers (aka my boyfriend). The drink list is overwhelmingly long, with an emphasis on local breweries. While the focus is on beer, the establishment is far from dive-y. The space is very modern and inviting, and the kitchen offers a full range of locally-sourced food.

3. Tojo’s

No trip to Vancouver would be complete without a visit to Tojo’s. As always, the food was delicious, including this tuna “sushi”, deep fried and topped with pickled plum sauce and shiso leaves. Jeff and I both noticed that the restaurant was starting to look a little dated, but the food was still delicious nonetheless.

4. La Belle Patate

If I were a hungover Canadian, my first stop would be La Belle Patate. La Belle Patate is known for their smoked meat, so naturally I gravitated toward the smoked meat poutine. The cheese curds were huge and the gravy was delicious. I don’t recommend this for a well balanced meal, but it makes a great snack to share with a bottle of beer.

5. Dirty Apron

Upon entering Dirty Apron, I immediately had an urge to move to Vancouver and become a Canadian. This place encapsulates everything that I love. It’s a cooking school, specialty food store, deli, and bakery all rolled into one. Dirty Apron is small, but absolutely charming with its exposed brick and old converted warehouse feel. The owners of Cafe Medina also own Dirty Apron, which may explain why I love it so much. Don’t miss the cheesecake pistachio brownie if it’s available.

Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee

We spent the past glorious week in Missoula, Montana–hiking, sleeping in, cooking, eating bison burgers, and just unwinding in general. Jeff’s mom has a beautiful house that sits on top of a mountain overlooking miles of tree-studded rolling hills. It’s a completely picturesque environment and always feels like a retreat from reality when we come to visit. And who doesn’t need to escape reality every once in a while.

It was in the mid to high 80s and sunny last week, which many in Seattle consider to be uncomfortably hot. But secretly I love those hot summer days. Every once in a while I crave that kind of heat–the kind that practically demands an ice cold beverage and legitimizes booty shorts as acceptable attire. Must be the Californian in me.

Cold  brewing has been making the rounds for a few years, and I just haven’t gotten a chance to try it until now. Now that I have, I don’t think I can ever go back. I’ve tried various methods for making iced coffee (french press, electric, stovetop percolator, you name it), and all have resulted in a diluted, disappointing mess. Cold brewing defies conventional logic by steeping the coffee at room temperature for an extended period of time rather than using heat to expedite the process. While this method takes more time (12 hours or overnight), it results in tastier, less acidic iced coffee. I recommend doubling or tripling the recipe and keeping the concentrated coffee on hand.

Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee
Adapted from New York Times

Yield: 2 servings

  • 1/3 cup ground coffee (medium-coarse grind is best)
  • Milk and sugar to taste

1. In a lidded container or jar, stir together coffee and 1 1/2 cups water. (Alternately, you can do this in a french press to allow for easy straining). Cover and let rest at room temperature overnight or 12 hours.

2. Strain twice through a coffee filter, a fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth. (Or strain through the french press if using). In a tall glass filled with ice, mix equal parts coffee concentrate and water, or to taste. Top with milk and/or sugar if desired.

After waiting 12 hours for the coffee to steep at room temperature, I used a coffee filter-lined sieve to strain the liquid. You can also use cheese cloth if you’ve got some handy.

You can keep the coffee concentrate in the fridge for up to a week so it’s ready when you need a caffeine fix. Check out the view from the kitchen–how could you not want to cook in here!

I used a 2:1 coffee to water ratio because I like my coffee strong. There really isn’t a science to this. It’s all about personal preference–some people even like to drink the concentrate straight. Add a splash of soy creamer and…bliss.

During our trip, Jeff and I spent a day at the magnificent Glacier National Park, which is about two hours outside of Missoula. I had big dreams of taking pictures of the gorgeous landscape with our nice SLR camera. In true Jeff and Lauren form, we forgot to charge the batteries. True story. After a brief moment of pure chaos and finger pointing, we just looked at each other, determined that we were both big idiots, and started laughing.

And thus the iPhone saves the day once again. Here are a couple of snapshots I took using Instagram:

Lake McDonald. Sadly, part of Going-to-the-Sun Road was closed because of late snow. While we couldn’t make it all the way to the top, we still got to see some magnificent sights.

Avalanche Lake–a four mile hike round trip. This picture really doesn’t do it justice. It is completely surreal to be surrounded by these enormous mountains. Here’s Avalanche Lake in 1901–it’s amazing how little has changed.

Warm and happy on a hike at The Loop. If you like adventure, you can actually hike in about four miles and stay at The Granite Park Chalet which was built in 1915. In the morning, you can hike all the way up to Logan Pass which is sure to have some amazing views. The Chalet is only accessible by trail and you have to bring all of your goods–food, water, linens, etc. Not exactly a five star hotel, but an experience none the less. This is definitely on the books for us when the whole park is open!