Dateline: Koloa, Kauai, Hawaii

After weeks and weeks filled with snow and sub-zero temperatures, I decided enough was enough and booked a trip… to Hawaii.

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Poipu 

I spent a night in L.A. and then went straight on to Kauai. After six hours over the Paciifc, I got my first glimpse of the island’s ragged peaks and red cliffs from the air. As the plane descended over the ocean, I looked out my window and saw a humpback whale surface, a telltale puff of air and water rising from the sea like smoke. I knew then that I was in for something special.

I’d expected to feel as ambivalent about Hawaii as I do so many Caribbean islands: tropical places full of tourist traps, sometimes dirty and unsafe, hard to distinguish one from the other, and too hot to make you want to do too much. I couldn’t have been more wrong. A strong native culture permeates the islands, with gentle reminders to “live aloha,” something the locals practice as well as they preach. The water is crystal clear, and a steady trade wind takes the edge off the heat.

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secret beach

A lot of folks I talked to were surprised to hear that I planned to spend all 10 days on one island. They encouraged me to hop over to Maui or Oahu to see the sites. But quite frankly, I felt like I could have spent three weeks just in Kauai and not gotten sick of it. There were numerous hikes I wanted to do, beaches to laze on, and shave ices to eat. On the few occasions I returned to the same spots they felt different: the ocean is always changing, and each day brings new things. One day you might see some iridescent silver fish while swimming off a beach, the next day it might be a sea turtle. You never know.

Also, how do you get sick of views like this?

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Or this?

IMG_9365Waimea canyon

And the food… oh, the food. Hawaii seems to have adopted the best of everything: Asia’s rice and raw fish, the so-Cal beach culture’s tacos, and a cornucopia of tropical fruits. Even the papaya was palatable, and I never like papaya. Coconut (my favorite, in all forms) was ubiquitous.

My favorite local dish however, was poke, Hawaii’s answer to tuna tartare. Made from whatever fish and ingredients are on hand, the possibilities are endless; it’s served in upscale restaurants on porcelain plates, as well as at the local grocery store in plastic containers. Often, the grocery store varieties are quite good, and super affordable. My favorite poke spot was the Koloa Fish Market, on the south side of the island. Little more than a counter and a cash register, the market makes several varieties of poke, as well as traditional Hawaiian boxed lunches, which are definitely worth a try. I liked the avocado best (so creamy!), but the Korean version, with a slight kick of spice and sprinkled with sesame, were also quite good.

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Of course, when you aren’t in Hawaii (or even if you are), you can make poke yourself pretty easily. All you need is access to sushi-quality fish. Here in Boston, you can find this at a few wholesalers that sell to the public, as well as Whole Foods. The key to good poke is to be sparing with your ingredients; you want to add flavor, but you don’t want the fish marinating in a pool. It’s not ceviche.

Here’s a primer to get started, but feel free to edit depending on what’s on hand. Avocado, sriacha, and onion make great additions.

Classic poke

1 to 2 pounds of sushi grade ahi tuna
1/2 to 1 pound white albacore tuna
a few Tablespoons of sesame oil
soy sauce
3 scallions, sliced thinly

Dice tuna into bite sized pieces and put in a bowl. Add enough soy sauce and sesame oil to just coat the fish- you do not want any extra in the bottom of the bowl. Add diced scallions, sesame seeds, or hot sauce, if desired. Serve immediately.

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