Sunday, January 13, 2008 the tropics

Sorry to have been away for so long. I was recovering from strep throat and then went to Hawaii (Big Island) to dive and to hang out with my parents who were there for a conference.

The Big Island is an outstanding place with diverse climates and gorgeous natural wonders like the volcanoes, waterfalls, and a reef system. It has been on my list of places to go for quite some time. Apparently it is more laid back, more low key with fewer tourists, and less expensive than the other islands. I've heard that Maui is basically McBeach nowadays but I cannot say from personal experience.

The Big Island was still expensive and Kona is kind of an eyesore with places like Hooters and Bubba Gumps. Who travels 5,000 miles to eat at Bubba Gumps? When I go on vacation I don't want to see the stuff that I can find a mile down the road from my house.

We ate lots of good things. We went to local farmers' markets to pick up fresh fruit whenever we could. We ate a lot of tangerines, bananas (small finger bananas), rambutans, passionfruit, and macadamia nuts. I like the Hawaiian word for passionfruit: lilikoi. Passionfruit juice, tea, and sorbet are everywhere. It's so good! Rambutans are like lychees. My favorite dessert was some rambutan ice cream!

The best food we ate was grilled chicken that we picked up at a roadside stand. It was also inexpensive, by Hawaiian standards, at $7/plate. We ate great Korean food too in a little strip mall restaurant in the town of Waimea. The food at the resorts was fairly forgettable and outrageously expensive.

Two places are worth mentioning. One is Cafe Pesto and the other is the Harbor Grill. Both are located in the Kawaihae harbor area. The food at both places is imaginative and delicious using local ingredients and fresh catch. Neither place has much of a view unless you consider a dock for container ships a view. So all you pay for is the food and service. At Harbor Grill I had pan seared mahi mahi in a citrus beurre blanc. At Cafe Pesto I had a fish called walu in Hawaiian served over a salad of mixed greens. Walu is a delicious buttery fish from the tropics.

The Big Island would be an exciting place for a home cook. The diverse climate offers everything from fresh tomatos, berries, and greens to durian, taro, and pineapple. People can even grow their own coffee! I wonder what it would be like to grown and roast my own coffee.

If you dive and ever head out to Hawaii, I highly recommend Kohala Divers in part because they are not affiliated with a resort , in part because I could drive my car right up to the boat dock and throw aboard my 50lbs of dive gear, and in part because one of the dive leaders is a young woman in what is still a very male-dominated field. GIRL POWER!

I tried to take surfing lessons too, but the waves were not suitable for beginners so the lessons were cancelled both days I went over to the surf school. Maybee next time.

So that's it. I'm home. My cupboards are bare except for Kona coffee and mac nuts so I'd better head to the store. Wonder what I should cook...


Anonymous said...

i went to the big island a few years ago and was really amazed at the varying landscapes all on one island: lush green hills; black sand beaches; fern forests...not to mention the Volcano National Park. It's really an amazing place.
As for the food, I can't really say. I was cooking at an event held at one of the resorts for a week, and most of what I had was prepared by other visiting chefs. Though we started each day with a japanese breakfast; that with the best coffee I've ever had in my life...pretty good mornings had I.

Leandra said...

We spent ten days on the Big Island for our honeymoon back in 2001 and wound up eating at both Cafe Pestos (Kawaihae and Hilo) on the island. Delicious. Good to know they are still good. :)

Kelly said...

I really liked Hilo. It seems like an old, ramshackle sort of town with old Hawaii charm, unlike Kona.