One of the best ways—dare I say THE best—to see Kaua’i is to see it through the eyes of Tasting Kaua’i.
The Spirit of Aloha
On any of the offered tours, you have the opportunity to really experience some of the best flavors of the island, with the spirit of Aloha that permeates everyone we met along the way. Our primary tour guide, Katherine (ask for her), was not only knowledgeable . . . she was passionate. Her love for the land, for sustainability in food, and for the environment was evident in everything she talked about, as well as in the places chosen for the tour.
Each Tasting Kaua’i tour is scheduled for three or four hours, with enough food to take the place of both lunch and dinner in most instances.
In this case, it was the tour of the South Shore, which includes the community of Po’ipu and the historic town of Koloa. Follow along on the tour . . .
This coffee and jam shop with the unusual name was the starting point for the tour, and Carla gave us the full tasting experience.
We started with house made sweet scones, studded with chocolate chips and filled with a delicious curd made from local passion fruit—also known as lilikoi. You’ll find lilikoi pie, lilikoi ice cream . . . and that just about anything on Kaua’i can be made with the creamy fruit. In fact, people order this lilikoi curd months in advance to get it while the fruit is in season.
All of the Monkey Pod jams are made with locally sourced ingredients, using nothing but beautiful copper pots sourced from France. That’s the only “ingredient” not sourced locally, though. “If it doesn’t grow here, we don’t have it,” says Carla. They make several types of curd, a variety of jams, and marmalades—plus, she adds, “We pickle anything and everything we see.”
Products and flavors include the ones we brought home: the original Mango Jam, their best selling Lilikoi Curd, plus White Pineapple Ginger Jam, Tahitian Lime Curd, Orange Chocolate Sauce, Coconut Curd, Lemon Sage Marmalade, and a Spiced Tomato Jam that is reportedly killer on grilled cheese sandwiches. There are plenty more flavors as well, so check them out online—they do ship stateside.
Once upon a time, when a new customer at this popular food truck got his burger, he asked for ketchup. Although he was insistent, he was asked to try it first, and let them know if he really needed the additional condiment.
A few bites later, the new fan was advising other patrons to forego the ketchup and enjoy the flavor.
This “not-your-ordinary” food truck is the brainchild of Seth Peterson and his wife, Paulette. One of the first food trucks on Kaua’i, they helped open the door for what now amounts to a thriving industry of more than 70 food trucks on the island. This one is still, however, distinctive, in that the food is created with a view of science—meaning molecular gastronomy is alive and well and living out of a food truck on an Hawaiian island!
We sampled a burger that is made of a combo of hamburger and a hefty percentage of short rib meat which has been cubed, salted, and cured in the open air. Once blended and cooked, the burger is topped with bacon and an onion marmalade that takes the burger to another level.
Peterson started as a farmer, grounding him in sustainable food practices. Paulette says he was inspired by Chef Grant Achatz (of Alinea fame, in Chicago), reading through his cookbook and teaching himself how to cook. Peterson progressed to “doing some underground restaurants and hosting the occasional themed dinner.”
He has continued to train himself in “science forward food,” and their food truck is now a popular attraction for special events as well as catering during production of some of the many movies that are filed on Kaua’i—such as the next iteration of Fast & Furious.
“We’re not your ordinary food truck food,” says Paulette. Menu items include a sushi taco, something called a “hot toddy” made with tater tots and cheese sauce, an ahi tuna melt with Havarti cheese, a beef heart pastrami sandwich, and a sou vide crème brulee. “After the first year, we started experimenting more,” she adds, “and now every single week we have a new menu.”
The term “kickshaw” originally came from the word’s origin as a “delectable bite of food or a small trinket,” and the team handed out a small amuse bouche with each menu order. Now, however, Paulette grins and says, “We move a little too fast for that,” although they still do it with their tasting menus and some themed events.
“Our motto is that you should be able to go out to eat, and get something at a reasonable price that you cannot replicate at home,” says Paulette. “That’s why everything we make is unique, and we attempt to hit all of the flavor palate, including umami, across the whole menu.”
Just don’t ask for ketchup.
One of Kaua’i’s newer food trucks goes by the eclectic name of Dim’N’Den Sum, offering “Asian street food and then some.” The owner/chef lays claim to being influenced by the best chefs in Kaua’i, including those at the famed Red Salt. The food has influences that include Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino, melding into a strong traditional Hawaiian flavor.
We tasted their pork dumplings, with pork sourced from a local farm, plus a Chinese style steamed bun, all served outside the food truck next to a legendary Banyan tree, which once graced the front yard of a plantation home. The menu is built around food available on the island, proving it is possible for people to still hunt, fish, have a taro plot, grow pineapples and coconuts, and make great food from great ingredients.
Part of the fun of Kaua’i’s food truck culture is the pervasive presence of the Kaua’i chickens and roosters—a part of the island culture ever since the powerful Hurricane Iniki hit in 1992, scattering the animals everywhere. It was here that we learned one of the locals’ favorite jokes:
Want to know the recipe for cooking a Kaua’i chicken? Take a Kaua’i chicken and a rock. Put both in a pot of boiling water. When the rock is soft, the chicken is done.
And, no, chicken was not on the menu at Dim’N’Den Sum.
It was, however, voted best food truck on Kaua’i for 2018, so check it out if you make it to the island.
Our next stop was literally the last mom and pop grocery store left on the island of Kaua’i. Others, according to both our tour guide and the store owner, have been bought up by bigger stores and chains, with this lone hold-out for small business. The competition has driven the owners, known locally as Auntie Terry and Uncle Paul (Kuribayashi), to some pretty amazing innovation.
The store shelves themselves hold the standard grocery items, necessities for the residents of the Po’ipu Beach area—not to mention the tourists drawn there for some of the diverse offerings of the complete shopping experience. The store also has a variety of homemade takeaway items, perfect for lunch or the beach, a selection of local fish, seafood, and beef, and a good variety of vegan and gluten-free foods.
One of the diverse offerings is at the back of the store, where Anakē’s Juice Bar is in operation. We sampled their acai bowls, including the Funky Monkey, made with banana, acai, strawberry, peanut butter, local honey, and dark chocolate, and the Sau Sai, full of local granola, raw local honey, bee pollen, Greek yogurt, and piles of fruit.
While we tasted pretty big sample sizes, the regular bowls are huge, filled with fresh fruit, local granola, and various combinations with healthy ingredients such as spiralina, lilikoi puree, bee pollen, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and goji berries.
Juices are, of course, part of the menu, including the Sweet Date made with bananas, dates, house made almond butter, cinnamon and almond milk. You can also get a Kombucha Slushie made with kombucha on tap—and so much more. It’s a great find in an unexpected location and well worth the stop.
But, wait! There’s still more. . .
At the front of the store is Makai Sushi, where Chef Matt regularly demonstrates making his signature Gorilla roll. He’s an island native who left the island for awhile, coming back to start a food truck. That truck evolved into becoming part of the store that he “has been coming into all my life.”
He points with understandable pride to an outstanding accomplishment—Makai Sushi is now a Top 100 eatery in the nation on Yelp, showing just how popular it is. His famous sushi is made with organic salmon and local whitefish (Ono-Nairagi), cucumber, sweet Maui onion, and avocado, topped with wasabi aioli and finished off with local seaweed . . . and is something of a work of art. While the salmon is not native to Hawaii and has to be brought in, he gets his other fish daily, often directly from local fishermen.
Chef Matt says that his food stand may “not necessarily be known for ambiance,” it is “known for fresh and locally sourced quality ingredients.” He says he thrives on the great “local vibe,” and loves to tell people that they are “spending all our money on the fish and not on rent.” If you are looking for something truly local when you visit Kaua’i, you have to visit Kukui’ula Local Market and get a sushi roll or poke bowl from Makai Sushi.
Check out more on his Instagram feed at Makai_sushi.
BTW, the Kukui’ula Local Market shopping strip includes a variety of other food and activities, including Da Crack, a well-known stop for what many call the best burrito on the island. You’ll also find the ubiquitous shave ice, and a kick boxing gym when you are ready to work it all off.
Final stop on the Tasting Kaua’i South Shore tour was one of the many local farmers markets found on the island. This one, part of the Kauai County Farm Bureau, is held once a week on Wednesday evenings, and features fresh fruits such as rambutan, pineapple, avocados, edible flowers, plus live music and specials from the many shops and restaurants that reside in the outdoor mall setting. See our story on Kaua’i farmers markets for more.
At the market was a sneak peek—make that taste—of one of the businesses we’d learn more about on the Tasting Kaua’i East Side tour, Haole Girl Island Sweets—so if you can only do one of the tours, you get two chances to taste the great products made by Chef Judy.
With both sweet and savory pastry options, it was hard to choose—but we opted for the Sugarloaf White Pineapple with Cream Cheese, and the Macadamia Nut Sticky Bun, plus a gluten-free banana loaf. For more on Haole Girl Island Sweets, see our East Side story, here.
…and one more attraction
While you are on the south side of Kaua’i, it’s a good time to make your way to Spouting Horn Park to watch the sunset. The views are amazing, and it’s fun to watch the “spouting horn” as it the water mimics a whale’s blow hole in a rhythmic dance. Odds are good you’ll catch a rainbow, and, depending on the season, you may see whales from the shore. Either way, it’s a great ending to a spectacular tour of some of Kauai’s best local food attractions.
If you go, tell them Aloha from The Food Channel!
Photos by Paul K. Logdson.
Find additional links to stories in this series here.
Partial promotional benefits provided by Tasting Kaua’i.