Taste of the islands
Surf through some of the best in Hawaiian cuisine
March 22, 1999
HONOLULU (CNN) -- With its exotic fruits and vegetables, vast variety of fresh seafood, and fusion of cultures, vacationers who value gourmet food might want bypass Paris next time for a trip to Hawaii.
Waves of immigrants from China, Japan, Portugal, and the Phillipines, just to name a few, brought culinary traditions that combined with existing Polynesian foods to create some of the most delicious and unusual dishes anywhere.
But defining just what constitutes "Hawaiian food" is difficult, as CNN's Travel Now discovered during visits to several highly rated restaurants in Honolulu.
At Don Ho's Island Grill, Chef Mark Ellman loaded a "Luau salad" with classic Hawaiian foods such as rotisserie cooked pork, pineapple, honey, and ginger. Other dishes here carried an Asian sensibility, such as the whole pink snappper with ginger garlic black bean sauce.
And just for fun, they delivered thin crust pizzas to customers on a little surfboard.
Popular 'poke' raises tuna to new heights
Hawaiian "Poke" made a delicious appearance at Chai's Island Bistro. This popular dish usually includes cubes of raw or flash-fried tuna. Chef Chai Chaowasaree serves what he calls the "Ahi Poke Tower," which mixes the freshest fish with avacado, crab salad, and Japanese fish eggs.
Also on the menu at Chai's Bistro, jumbo prawns come rolled in a crust of macademia nuts, Hawaii' home-grown legume. And in this island of many cultures, the restaurant also offers Thai noodles and Italian focaccia.
All the best local fish start with 'o'
With the dazzling array of fresh, local seafood available in Hawaiian restaurants ... ahi, ono, onaga, opakapaka, and more ... visitors can have trouble knowing what to order. Herman Caine, of the National Restaurant Association offered the following advice.
"If you're not really familiar with all the different types of fish, and you're not really sure what the waitress said, just say, 'Give me one of those 'o' fish,' and it'll be good," he said.
Onaga, a Pacific red snapper, is served with a French twist by Chef Yves Garnier at La Mer restaurant, in the Halekulani Hotel on Waikiki.
For a contemporary style of Hawaiian food, vacationers can try Alan Wong's Restaurant. Here, even the appetizers mix ingredients in a thoroughly modern way, such as the hot California rolls.
"We've taken the rice out and we've added a French style lobster mousse, which we bake," said Chef Wong.
'Moi,' the seafood of Hawaiian royalty
And there's another exotic fish to try at Wong's restaurant called moi, a Pacific threadfin fish once so highly prized only Hawaiian royalty could afford to eat it. It is noted for its delicate flavor.
So when vacation plans call for gourmet food, Hawaii's restaurants and fusion cuisine may satisfy many a hungry traveler.
If you go
Alan Wong's Restaurant
Don Ho's Island Grill
Chai's Island Bistro
CNN Travel Now Correspondent Carolyn O'Neil contributed to this report.
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