If you’re a foodie heading to Kaua’i, there’s one thing you should do before you even book your travel: check out the tours offered by Tasting Kauai.
Plan Ahead For Maximum Foodie Enjoyment
The reason you want their information in hand first is so you can make sure to be on the island for the tour or tours that interest you. Each tour is held just once a week, and you’d hate to arrive on a Thursday too late to do the tour of the East Side of the island! In fact, we found that booking a series of these food tours was the absolute best way to get to know all of Kaua’i and meet many of the locals in the process. Plus, you taste some amazing food and hear all kinds of stories of entrepreneurs who are making the most of the local flavors and ingredients found in Hawaii.
Our tour guide for this tour was Sabrina, who exhibited the Aloha spirit as she shepherded us through each stop. We started where we left off on the South Shore tour, with food from Haole Girl Island Sweets—only, this time, we were at the commercial kitchen where her pastries are made. Follow along as we walk through this culinary tour. . .
Imagine stuffed fresh croissants, enticing you with selections such as turkey and cranberry with Havarti cheese. Or fresh local goat cheese from Kunana Dairy Farm paired with tomato…purple sweet potato steamed with coconut milk, with brown sugar. . . passion fruit curd with cream cheese…Asian pear with almond and green figs…local apple banana and chocolate, or Hawaiian vintage dark chocolate filling. Hungry yet?
The imaginative croissants are the creation of Chef Judy, who spent most of her culinary career opening resort hotel restaurants across several continents. After years on the corporate side of food, she decided it was no longer for her, and she chose Kaua’i to build a farm-to-table business, with most of her ingredients (with the exception of butter and flour) grown and harvested on the island. That includes the local honey used in her pastry, and the island’s macadamia nuts—the only type of nut grown in Hawaii.
She says the limitations, such as they are, are something she’s used to—after all, this is a woman who works the Cannes Film Festival, where she says you have to work with whatever ingredients they have on hand. She’s no stranger to event catering, casually mentioning catering for various celebrities, including her plans for the Grateful Dead concert coming to the island the week after we were at her shop.
Chef Judy is a 1978 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, one of only two women in her class, and is originally from upstate New York. Early in her career she started opening hotels, starting with the Grand Hyatt in New York, and moving to the Four Seasons in Philadelphia. She served as pastry chef at the Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, as well as at the Phoenician in Scottsdale, AZ.
Local, Natural Ingredients Are Key
“Now,” she says, “I’m an entrepreneur,” with eight people on staff and a steady business at the various farmers markets and catered events. She says she’s in a teaching mode these days, helping others learn the trade: “It’s important to me to give my knowledge to them so they can pass it on to the people we serve.”
Her products are representative of Kaua’i, which she calls a non-GMO island. “American pastries are heavy on sugar,” she explains, “with products developed in a laboratory. My recipes don’t use a lot of sugars, don’t use compounds or preservations, and everything is farm-to-table.” The pastry dough is made on a daily basis and left to rest overnight, and the fillings are all about what she calls, “utilizing the products we have here.”
That means she uses the locally grown small apple bananas that are a bit sweeter and firmer than typical bananas, and, better yet, don’t turn brown after they are peeled. It means making her own passionfruit curd and her own starfruit marmalade, and using what she calls “the Cadillac of pineapple,” the white sugarloaf pineapple.
“A lot of people eat with their eyes,” says Chef Judy. “I don’t want my food to look like it came from Safeway.”
After sampling the pastries, we needed something to wash it all down—and Kaua’i Juice Co. had just the thing: locally brewed Kombucha. It’s a company that was started thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, although the original business plan was modified to use more locally sourced ingredients.
The store, where you can get a variety of cold pressed juice, hand pressed nut milk, and brewed coffee, gave our tour members unlimited samples of many of the Kombucha flavors, stressing how the typical Western diet destroys probiotic content in our stomachs and that we need to replace it.
Favorite flavors included the Blueberry Basil, made with 100 percent raw Kaua’i kombucha culture, blueberry, and blue basil, and the Ginger Lemon, made with Meyer lemon juice. There was also Blood Orange, Lilikoi Lychee, Mango, Strawberry Guava, and Tangerine Vanilla made with Tahitian vanilla.
We barely touched the surface of what they have, and, sadly, they can’t ship their Kombucha due to its perishable nature. So if you are visiting Kaua’i, and want to feel better about what you are drinking—or just feel better in general—check out their offerings when you visit. You can at least grab a bottle to go.
Pono Market is the place so good we went there twice—once on the tour, and the second time to carry out their famous Lau Lau, which is tender seasoned pork wrapped in fresh taro leaves, and delicious!
The Market was first opened in 1968 on a “spit and handshake binding contract.” It has become a popular stop for traditional Hawaiian take out, including for poke, a native Hawaiian dish of cubed raw fish. We sampled both the sesame ahi and the spicy ahi, the Market’s top sellers, and were ready to empty their case of what was left.
“Pono” is the Hawaiian word for “righteous,” sometimes also translated as “goodness” or “excellence.” Pono Market has held itself to that standard since 1968, and shows no sign of stopping. When you visit Kaua’i, make it your stop for traditional Hawaiian favorites.
“Welcome to Hawaii. Eat something new.” That’s the t-shirt slogan that greeted us at the door of Saimin Dojo, a local noodle shop and more in Kapa’a. It’s a good philosophy for travelers, and Saimin Dojo is one place to fulfill the command.
The shop offers a variety of broth bowls, known as Hawaiian “comfort food.” The Classic contains fried Spam (which you knew HAD to come up at some point on this Hawaiian tour), Kamaboko (fish cake), scrambled egg, kai choy, and green onion, while the flavorful Garlic Shmoke Meat has a garlic sesame broth, pork belly, egg, kamaboko, kai choy, and green onion. In addition, they offer rice bowls, salads, and specialties such as Dojo Fried Chicken.
The broth bowl is originally the creation of Hawaiian immigrants who worked in the plantations and piled whatever they could find into their soup—fish, noodles, and whatever they could find in the house or garden. Saimin Dojo, which has been open just a year, stays true to tradition, making all the broths themselves and filling them with local ingredients.
One of the owners, Brandon Baptiste, is a trained chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who earned his credentials at restaurants such as The French Laundry and Per Se. He says, “We add our own little twists. It’s a dish that is loose, without a lot of definition. Our philosophy is to take Hawaiian foods and make them better.”
Baptiste and his partners also own Wailua Shave Ice, known for using real fruits in their products.
Take Asian influence, Japanese inspiration, and American street food and what do you get? Just ask the guys running Kenji Burger. Better yet, go and taste the burger, which is one of the more extraordinary creations you’ll find on the island.
It’s locally-raised, grass fed beef, with teriyaki, ponzu aioli, caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, tomato, and arugula, cooked with sesame oil and served on a taro brioche bun, and it’s nothing short of outstanding. If you aren’t in the mood for that or one of the other burgers, you could, instead, try one of the Sushi Burritos. We recommend the Lobster Burrito, with lobster tail, crab meat, cucumber, avocado, and Sriracha aioli in a tempura wrap, but there are plenty of other options.
Pair whatever you get with the signature Furikai fries, with a flavor that is sweet, salty, and tangy all in one.
Richard, one of the head chefs, told us their meat is fresh, never frozen, and that you can’t get this beef anywhere but on the island of Kaua’i. Reason enough to go visit—if you still need a reason. They also make all of their own sauces, and they pay attention to the details. Their fish burger, for example, is marinated for 48 hours—just one of the special touches they give to each menu item.
Kenji Burger has been open just two years, and the owners are currently finalizing plans to open a second location. Find one of them and make it an early stop on your trip, so you have time to go back a second time.
You’ll never think of a hamburger and fries quite the same way again.
Our final stop on this East Side of Kaua’i tour was for appetizers and happy hour at Oasis on the Beach, one of the first farm-to-table restaurants on the island, with a beautiful oceanfront location and accommodations for those who want a resort-like stay.
The chef introduced our first appetizer as one with an “Asian flair,” which turned out to be a potsticker stuffed with Sakura pork (from heritage breed pigs), pickled starfruit, and a maple soy dipping sauce. It was a special chef’s choice, but the menu has a great contemporary feel, with everything from a Bucket of Chicharrons to Duck Wings in Hawaiian chili pepper-honey glaze.
Topping the tour, and the evening, off was a refreshing Virgin Pina Colada, good conversation with our fellow tour participants, and a memorable dessert made of dark chocolate and Kaua’i coffee mousse, topped with whipped cream made with almond extract and orange zest, plus dianthus edible flowers and a small piece of Absinthe biscotti crowning the final creation.
Oasis chefs are committed to sustainability and work hard to showcase local ingredients and culture, while bringing out the flavor in creative—and beautiful—ways. You can find a list of their local farm sources at the website address listed.
It was a relaxed and elegant ending to our East Side tour.
Partial promotional benefits provided by Tasting Kaua’i.