More Hawaiian food

I continue to eat the local food, and it doesn’t look as if I’ll go to any fancy Hawaiian restaurants when I’m here, though I hear that the hula pie at Duke’s on Waikiki is awesome. (I walked through Duke’s restaurant, though, and the buffet looked very lame.) There are few things more satisfying than a good plate lunch with smoky kalua pig, poi, rice, macaroni salad, and the coconut dessert haupia. I don’t need fancier food.

Here are a few goodies I’ve had in the last few days.

First, the Japanese food court in the Ala Moana Center (a ritzy shopping mall) is an excellent place to dine. Despite the mall’s harboring of Fendi, Tiffany’s, Jimmy Choo’s, and many other upscale and overpriced purveyors of champagne wishes and caviar dreams, the Japanese food court is tasty and reasonable. And parking at Ala Moana is free, though sometimes it’s hard to get a spot.

There are three food courts at Ala Moana; the one you want is the Shirokiya Japan Village Walk, which has about 50 stores selling everything from soba, udon, gyoza and tempura to sushi and green tea ice cream (my favorite).

I didn’t take a picture, but here’s what it looks like (there are about six aisles like this):

My lunch: a big bowl of beef curry udon noodles with a side of vegetable tempura. It was just about ten bucks, and a big bonus: with every $10 purchase, you get a coupon for a free big glass of cold beer at a small bar in the middle of the court. Just the ticket with Japanese food!

A friend’s lunch, also excellent: takoyaki (octopus balls with ginger, scallion, and tempura scraps; left) and pork okonomiyaki (Hiroshima style), a Japanese pancake with noodles, described by Wikipedia:

In Hiroshima, the ingredients are layered rather than mixed. The layers are typically batter, cabbage, pork, and optional items such as squid, octopus, and cheese. Noodles (yakisoba, udon) are also used as a topping with fried egg and a generous amount of okonomiyaki sauce.

The amount of cabbage used is usually three to four times the amount used in the Osaka style. It starts out piled very high and is pushed down as the cabbage cooks. The order of the layers may vary slightly depending on the chef’s style and preference, and ingredients vary depending on the preference of the customer. This style is also called Hiroshima-yaki or Hiroshima-okonomi.

I was feeling pleasantly sated after my meal and a cold brewski, but craved a bit of dessert (as in Paris, I’m eating only one meal a day here). I learned from Mike “Strictly Dumpling” Chen’s video on the food court that there was a place that made both sweet and savory cones from crepes. I had the “Japanese special”, which was a belly-buster, filled with fresh strawberries, matcha ice cream, azuki beans, mochi, and whipped cream. Here it is:

I went into a food coma after I ate it. (I was unable to find the Japanese fried chicken and yakiniku beef places Chen recommended.)

A local speciality in Hawaii, which is surely cultural appropriation but nonetheless tasty, is Spam musubi, which is basically a big fat hunk of sushi rice with Spam on top, wrapped with nori (seaweed). It’s cheap and filling, and I found it the perfect hiking food, as it comes tightly wrapped in cellophane at every 7-11 store I’ve seen. The food court had several varieties, and it was quite popular with the Japanese tourists who throng the court. Mike Chen thinks the ratio of rice to Spam is too high, but I think it’s fine:


Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

We were out of ground coffee this morning, so I did an early run to the 7-11 for java. While there, I picked up a couple of Spam musubi for breakfast. 7-11s in Hawaii are big on breakfast food, lots having Spam in it, and the place was full of people buying Spam musubi, Spam and eggs, Spam, eggs, sausage and Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, bacon and Spam, donuts on a stick, and so on.

The musubi deconstructed. Two of these (total $3) make a filling breakfast!


Donuts on a stick! I didn’t buy these today, but confess that I did buy one when leaving early on a trip last week:

Helena’s Hawaiian Foods is perhaps the best-known plate-lunch style restaurant on Oahu. It’s highly rated by almost everyone, including Yelp and tripadvisor. It was closed for the holidays until yesterday, but we went on opening day. Even at 2 p.m. there was a line, but only a 15-minute wait.

Hungry eaters wait outside. Helena’s has been open since 1946.

The menu: it’s pricey for a plate-lunch place, but it’s Honolulu, and the place is known for quality. The most prized menu items are the kalua pig (cooked in an underground oven) and the pipikaula short ribs, which are dry-aged before cooking. I therefore ordered Menu B with a large poi instead of rice. (I do love my poi!)


Dishes below, clockwise from 12 o’clock: lomi salmon, dipping salt, a large order of poi, pipikaula short ribs, kalua pig, and a plate containing both raw onions and the dessert: the coconut custard haupia.

My take: the food was very good, especially those remarkable short ribs, which were appealingly gamy and toothsome. But the portions were small, and, all things considered, the Waiahole Poi Factory had much larger portions, was cheaper, and the kalua pig was better, as was its factory-fresh poi. The WHP doesn’t have those remarkable short ribs, though.

In my view, Helena’s prices may reflect inflated real-estate tariffs in Honolulu, but probably also its reputation, which seems to me also a tad inflated. There’s a definite “crowd effect” here.

Here’s a video about Helena’s from “Eating on a Dime”:


  1. Posted January 9, 2019 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Musubi… I could’ve lived on those things.

    • Posted January 9, 2019 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      In college.

    • Serendipitydawg
      Posted January 9, 2019 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      I cannot believe that Spam heaven is a place on Earth.

      Jealous, jealous, jealous.

      • Posted January 9, 2019 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        Not only Spam, but warm beaches you can sleep on through the night, if you’re brave enough, and tipsy enough. At least that’s what I’ve heard. [wink wink nudge nudge] It’s truly Paradise.

        • Serendipitydawg
          Posted January 9, 2019 at 9:40 am | Permalink

          It had me at Spam 😯

  2. gscott
    Posted January 9, 2019 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    “as it comes tightly wrapped in cellphone at every 7-11 store I’ve seen”? Interesting auto-correct for ‘cellophane’, I assume.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 9, 2019 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    If you do get your fill of all the local places and go for a little finer dining, I would recommend going for some of the local catch in the fish category.

    I once went fishing out of fisherman’s wharf on Oahu, mostly because I had visitors to entertain. We caught some Mahi Mahi and were able to keep some for our own use. Generally the captain gets to sell the fish. First time I had fresh mahi but it is really good.

  4. Nicholas K.
    Posted January 9, 2019 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I loved spam musubi in Hawaii. I make my own here in Chicago (there are a couple of restaurants where you can get it, too). I had to go to a specialty Japanese store to get the lucite square rice press to properly make spam musubi.

    • Posted January 9, 2019 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Do you have to prepare the short-grained rice any special way besides pressing it? Where do you get the nori?

      • Nicholas K.
        Posted March 1, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        I prepare sushi rice — short grain mixed with a bit of vinegar, salt, and sugar. I get the Nori at a specialty Japanese store in Arlington Heights (cannot find it in Asian stores in Chicago), where I also purchased the press.

  5. John Ottaway
    Posted January 9, 2019 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I love these food posts

    Thank you

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 9, 2019 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    A friend’s lunch, also excellent: takoyaki (octopus balls with ginger, scallion, and tempura scraps; left).

    Sounds absolutely delicious.

    Still, gotta feel bad for all those octopi eunuchs.

    • Posted January 9, 2019 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      They just regrow them, like they do their tentacles.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted January 9, 2019 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        Tentacles/testicles — you’ve been watching hentai, haven’t ya? 🙂

    • Posted January 9, 2019 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Tee hee… I was wondering if their local octopus had 8.

    • Diane G
      Posted January 10, 2019 at 2:26 am | Permalink

      I L-ed OL. 😀

  7. Caracal
    Posted January 9, 2019 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    “There are few things more satisfying than a good plate lunch with smoky kalua pig, poi, rice, macaroni salad, and the coconut dessert haupia. I don’t need fancier food.”

    Certainly agree with this! I had the Kalua plate for lunch at the Bishop Museum yesterday. I was not expecting too much (It’s a museum cafe after all). But it was great! BTW the Bishop Museum is definitely worth seeing but skip the planetarium.

  8. Posted January 9, 2019 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Jerry, did you get any of the spicy shrimps that Mikey raved about? (He’s so corny but lovable.)

    I’d love seeing you on video while you eat and relish your food!

    • Posted January 9, 2019 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      The spicy garlic shrimp is around the 14:05 mark. I want some!

    • Posted January 9, 2019 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      It’s on the agenda, and soon!

      I couldn’t talk like Mike does when I’m eating. PLUS he eats more than any human I’ve ever seen, especially at buffets.

      • Posted January 10, 2019 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Great! I’m curious to know if you’ll find it as good as he did (it was a 2016 video, mind you).

        I know! Bottomless pit for a stomach! When I first tune into one of his videos, I get very peckish. By the end of the video, my appetite is curbed! I’m happy when he takes a travel and film crew along, so they’ll help him eat. I wonder about his health, as I’ve noticed in the close-ups, when he shows the food to his audience, that his cuticles are very ragged. Don’t know if that’s from too much meat and not enough veggies and fruits, but he was doing renovations on his house, so who knows? Of course, he works out a ton, so that’s a good thing.

  9. Posted January 9, 2019 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Mmm, Japanese food. Great stuff – there’s something wonderful about good tempura, for example.

    Also, isn’t the “donut” on a stick a “cruller” in some dialects of English?

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 9, 2019 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Back here in the contiguous 48, picking up 7-11 sushi is one of those things that shouldn’t be done — like playing poker with a man named “Doc,” or eating at a joint called “Mom’s.”

  11. Joe Dickinson
    Posted January 9, 2019 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    At that Japanese food court in the Ala Moana Center we really liked Udon in a slightly sweet broth garnished with tempura bits (skimmed, I think, from the deep fryer where tempura was cooked) and perhaps one piece of tempura topping the bowl.

  12. Joe Bussen
    Posted January 9, 2019 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    For our 7-11 trail lunch, we usually go for the rolled sushi. The nori sheet is in its own cellophane pocket, to slide out and wrap at lunch time.
    There are also manapua with various fillings; I usually get the curry chicken, but Lup Cheong is the most sinful.
    There are little dim sum, but you don’t call them that; ask for pork hash. Some have a shrimp filling.

  13. Posted January 10, 2019 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    A bit off topic, but Mike has been promoting pseudoscience on his other channel.


  14. biblia
    Posted January 10, 2019 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    I am commenting just to say how charmed I am that Prof Ceiling Cat follows Mikey Chen! Also, want to go back to Hawaii. Plan to make
    spam musube this weekend

  15. biblia
    Posted January 10, 2019 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    mikey presents pseudoscience? I has a disappoint.

  16. Posted January 11, 2019 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    One of the highlights of our trip to Japan 25 years ago was eating Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima with the local business men. I loved watching the dish prepared and still need to learn how to do it.

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