Local foodie: What you have to eat

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I know locals who don’t eat raw fish. Another friend won’t eat fish if their heads are still attached. Another won’t eat pork because she thinks pigs are cute. And don’t get me started on people who won’t eat papaya, pineapple, slimy things, chewy things, spongy things.

What does it take to be a pan-foodie in Hawaii? It’s a question I mull over as part of the bigger question of what makes a good food reviewer. An open mind and a widely exposed palate, yes. An ability to communicate clearly and with a distinct style. An understanding that you’re writing for the paying customer and not the chef, restaurant owner or industry. A sense of context. A knack for identifying benchmark local and cultural favorites as well as dishes that will appeal to sophisticated, adventurous eaters. Some knowledge about the history and evolution of a dish, if possible. And a love of local food.

What do you have to eat to qualify as a pan-foodie in Hawaii? The list of no-brainers starts with all-American favorites like burgers, pizza, fried chicken and Italian and Mexican food. But Hawaii’s food scene adds a wide dimension of Asian and local-style favorites as well. Here’s my list of what else you have to eat, all based on things people I know won’t eat.

Must eat

  • Meat — Not just kalbi, stew, kalua pig, char siu and chicken katsu. Throw in ultra-fatty pork belly, oxtail and Portuguese sausage, too.
  • Raw fish — Poke, sushi, sashimi are potluck staples. We sell these in supermarkets. We even make pit stops for sushi and poke snacks.
  • Gluten/wheat — Sorry, I know people who avoid this are mostly allergic. But even if you can avoid pizza, saimin and curry, it’s still in shoyu, which knocks out vast swaths of Chinese, Japanese and Korean food.
  • Fish sauce — Can’t eat your way around a Thai, Vietnamese or Filipino menu without it.
  • Heat — Some people can’t take even a little bit; I get that. But even a little bit is an intrinsic part of too many dishes.
  • Batter-fried food — Katsu: check. Garlic chicken: check: Mochiko chicken: check. Tempura: check. Deep-fried Spam musubi: check.
  • White rice — Of course, right? If it’s not a built-in, like chili and, beef stew and, or Portuguese sausage, eggs and, then it’s so there it doesn’t even have to be mentioned, like in our state dish, loco moco.
  • Beans — Pops up as secondary ingredient in Asian dishes and a main in Mexican and Mediterranean dishes. And come on, chili? Edamame?
  • Mochi — Has a way of sneaking up on you in not just Japanese, but also Chinese, Korean and even Filipino food.
  • Sesame — In a lot of raw fish and Korean dishes, it’s often the first scent.
  • Maybe

  • Spam — I forgot, this is actually our state food, right? But unless you’re judging a Spam recipe contest or eating saimin, you can avoid Spam and still be credible.
  • Tofu — I’m iffy on this one. A staple in a lot of cuisines, but not often a raved-about staple.
  • Poi — I think you have to know the flavors of poi to be able to tell what’s good, what’s sour but still good, and what’s just bad, but you don’t have to love it.
  • Optional

  • Natto — Definitely a category all by itself. A regional preference even in Japan.
  • Kimchee — Overwhelmingly served as a side dish, not in a lot of Korean dishes.
  • That’s my list for now. Did I miss anything?

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