The Hawaii Wine and Food Festival is a glamorous first-time introduction to our fiftieth state, but even without events crowded with star chef toques (where mixology queen Julie Reiner herself served the kind of killer tropical cocktails that could make any place go down easy), Hawaii wants to woo you. The aloha spirit, the generous mood of love and kindness that permeates the culture and governs the simplest daily interactions, is what makes the islands more even spectacular than your run-of-the-mill tropical paradise. But it's the food––fresh fruit and seafood with no shortage of bold seasonings––that will haunt your memories back on the mainland. Perhaps best of all, many island favorites can be recreated, meaning you can fake a tropical vacation in your own kitchen, no pat-down at airport security necessary.
Mai Tai at the Halekulani
After significant Mai Tai taste-testing around Oahu, the version served at the Halekulani wins hand's down. It's perfectly balanced and not-too-sweet, but be careful of that overproof rum; it'll sneak right up on you. Also: is there anything more glamorous than a cocktail garnished with an orchid? Snag a table at House Without a Key as the sun sets, tuck the orchid behind your ear, and sip the signature drink to a soundtrack of ukulele, three-part harmony, and waves cresting on the nearby shore.
RECIPE: Mai Tai
1/3 ounce orgeat syrup
1/3 ounce orange curaçao
1/3 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce Bacardi Gold Rum
1/2 ounce Bacardi 151 Rum
1 1/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 Ounce Bacardi Select (float)
Fill a high-ball glass with crushed ice. Add ingredients through lime juice and stir well. Float with 3/4 ounce Bacardi Select. Garnish with lime wheel, sugar cane stick, mint leaf, and Vanda orchid.
Poke and Poke Bowls
Simple and deeply succulent, poke (Hawaiian, "to cut crosswise into pieces") is a dish of fish––often tuna, usually raw––served with Hawaiian sea salt, ogo (seaweed), and Hawaiian chilies. "I love it," said Chef Vikram Garg, executive chef at the Halekulani. Served as an appetizer with drinks, the burst of salt, rich tuna, spicy pepper, and seaweed create a dish alive with all the briny freshness of the ocean, Chef Garg explained. At home, get the freshest tuna you can find, and stay true to the original ingredients. "It has to be Hawaiian salt," says Chef Garg. A poke bowl turns the appetizer into a meal by adding a scoop or two of white rice to the mix.
RECIPE: Ahi Shoyu Poke
Loco Moco at the Rainbow Drive-In
Cheap, fast, and as filling as a brick in the stomach, the Hawaiian dish of loco moco is white rice and a hamburger patty covered in mushroom gravy, topped with fried eggs. The Rainbow Drive-In is the classic place to get it, but you can't go wrong with any of the similarly brown-and-white hued plate lunches here. RECIPE: Loco Moco
Ono Giant Shrimp Chips
The shrimp chimp, the pan-Pacific equivalent of the potato chip, gets the artisanal treatment from Ono Giant Shrimp Chips with wild shrimp, Japanese seaweed and sesame seeds, and creative flavors like Hot Furikake and dark chocolate bacon.
Chocolate Covered Macadamias
If you're flying Hawaiian Airlines, make the addictively delicious Island Princess toffee-coated macadamia nuts your midnight snack. Once you land, dark and milk chocolate covered macadamias are at every turn, and for good reason: They're like peanut M&Ms on a whole 'nother level.
You don't want to be transported to Italy when you're sitting on the beach in Waikiki, but you might not mind licking a cone of island artisanal-style fruit-flavored sorbetto from Via Gelato, like mango-lime garnished with fresh lime zest or lilikoi (Hawaiian passion fruit)-shiso with scattering of Hawaiian sea salt on top.
Chili Pepper Water
At a roadside festival outside a church on the North Shore, a man sold his chili pepper water out of Crown Royal bottles for $10 bucks a pop under the shade of a white tent. His hot liquid was a mix of Hawaiian chili pepper and garlic, and various renditions of the traditional Hawaiian condiment are used throughout the islands to add kick to rice and fried foods. For your own homemade version, substitute Thai chili peppers. It would be sort of brilliant in a bloody mary, right?
RECIPE: Hawaiian Chili Pepper Water
Furikake is likely next to the chili water when you order your poke bowl and might inspire the same flavor fervor. The dry Japanese condiment can be a mx of dried fish, seaweed, salt, sugar, and sesame, and comes in hot varieties. It's meant to flavor rice, but is also awesome on popcorn.
Forget the blue cartons of coconut water you buy at your Bikram studio. A hairy brown coconut with its top sawed off and a straw slid inside is the ultimate island refresher. Once you've sucked it dry, hack up the coconut and sprinkle with ground chili, lime juice, and salt for a snack.
Two young tourists enjoying a shave ice at Matsumoto's Grocery Store in Haleiwa on Oahu.Shave Ice
RECIPE: Homemade Hawaiian Shave Ice
We're fans of fried dough in all its many forms, and locals and tourist buses alike agree that the Hawaiian-style doughnuts at Leonard's Bakery are worth the line out front. Fans get rapturous over the classic sugar-coated balls of fried dough ("Words can't express how much I love Leonard's Malasadas," coos one Yelper), as well as the custard-filled variety.
RECIPE: Hawaii Malasadas
Drive the ocean-hugging road along the North Shore of Oahu for the jaw-dropping views of jagged green mountains and turquoise surf, but make time for a stop at one of the many food trucks serving mostly local fresh-caught shrimp in Thai food, plate lunch style, or with simple butter sauces.