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8 Days of Eating in Hawai’i. Well, Almost. Chinatown First.

Hawai'in Lychee

(The rambutans pictured above are very much like a fruit we eat called mamoncillo, which have a completely different exterior. Both are similar to lychee in taste.)

I find myself traveling home way more often than I can afford these days.

In the middle of September, I left Atlanta for one month to attend my brother’s wedding in Hawai’i. It’s been three weeks since that lovely day in Angels Beach in Waimanalo Bay, though it feels as if just this past weekend we were sunbathing in nearby Waikiki and eating fresh pineapple out of tightly packed plastic bags.

It’s amazing how time flies. And, it doesn’t help that I’ve only just started to settle into my time zone.

My brother’s decision to get married in Hawai’i was the crux of family discussion and disagreement for the past year. Kind of unbeknownst to him, but we were all questioning Honolulu. None of us had ever been and planning a wedding over waters was a bit daunting. It was his (and his then fiancee’s) wedding so we had to put up our put out.

Clearly we put up and found ourselves a quaint, yet lackluster condo just 3 blocks from the beach. We figured all we needed were beds, a bathroom and a decent kitchen. After all, we weren’t going to be spending too much time boxed up. On the flip side, eating out is not always the most cost-effective way to survive in a pricey hot spot. And since eating local food is the most important part of traveling for our family, a formidable kitchen where we can cook is essential.

Hawaii's Chinatown Street Food

After settling in, we headed straight for Chinatown. Bro arrived a day before, had hit it up and recounted its facets. National Chinatowns are usually hit or miss for me, but I enjoy going. If anything, just to see foods I’ve never heard of. Being in Honolulu’s Chinatown was no different, actually.

When we first got there, I instantly felt like I was staring at a polished Old Havana in the face. Something about it had that vibe. Perhaps a subconscious connection to mami’s paternal family triggered the emotion. I met my Chinese grandfather just once and regretfully never got 1st hand stories of his literal Chinese laundry he ran and was robbed of during the Cuban revolution.

I digress, of course.

So, Chinatown was neat but not spectacular. The most attractive thing was buying papaya for .59 a pound and pineapple for not too much more.

Hawaiin papaya

[Update: I’m guessing the fruit below is mamoncillo, or green lychee. If  it’s the former,  I mention above are very similar to lychee in both taste and exterior texture but completely different in exterior texture to rambutans. I can only find mamoncillo in Miami, due to the tropical climate. And, I’d dare say they’re better than lychee. I can’t speak on it’s comparison to rambutans as I’ve yet to have some…crazy, I know, especially since there were crates and crates of them everywhere!]


I saw a lot of new root vegetables I inquired about (like the daikon below) and varieties of seafood and fish I’d seen before but have never had. Super shiny anchovies which looked perfect for some kind of soup were expensive. Don’t you think?

Dried fish

Daikon Radish

One such sea thing which still has me clueless is below. Does anyone know what this is?? I can’t find its source anywhere and oddly enough, not a single vendor understood what I was asking. Honestly, it doesn’t look edible to me 😉


We continued up and down the streets stopping at most of the vendor stands and purchased things here and there. The lychee was particularly beautiful and boldly eye-catching. We didn’t buy any, though restrospectively, it would have been useful in making a sexy cocktail for bro’s rehearsal dinner. But, I wasn’t thinking. Neither was mami. She was still consumed with the papaya and finding jasmine rice.

Dragon fruit

The dragon fruit was also lovely and reasonably priced. Boiled peanuts surprised me–I thought that was a Southern American thang. Abundance of rice paper was predictable but very colorful.


The ultra long string beans intrigued me just as much.  I’ve not worked with that length but am interested. It was great watching a local elderly woman purchase a thick stash. And I wanted to steal all the ginger they had!

Okay, maybe not steal as I did buy some.

Hawaii Chinatown Farmers' Market

Ginger root

Boxes of flawless figs had me drooling.

The visit to one of the indoor markets was thwarted by a sighting of roaches in the stands right at the door. I squealed like a child (yes, I loathe, hate, detest roaches) and ran inside to catch up to my unfazed parents. I perused the aisles and saw familiar staples like rice, beans, peas, fresh tamarind,  soybeans, even canned lychee, etc…

Dad in Chinatown

And, then newbies to me like this wormy looking thing.

Any thoughts on it?

White fish

We walked out of the foul-odored market with rice, jasmine tea, tomato sauce, fresh mahi-mahi, with papaya in tow. Oh, and this unappetizing basil seed drink which was akin to drinking liquified  lychee gel. I drank it all but would totally pass next time.

(thanks to my iPhone, I was able to take  picture of this drink to share on Twitter as I was sipping)

Lunch was interesting to say the least. Papi insisted on eating in the neighborhood which was cool, until I decided to choose the spot. I will leave details of the actual restaurant for a formal review in my Restaurant Review area, since we had at least 10 things off the menu. Needless to say, no one in the group was a fan of dim sum. Well, except for me and my 7 year old niece who was totally smitten with the spicy short ribs.

A discriminating palate is being developed. That’s the best thing we got out of Chinatown. Well that and the mere experience of walking through yet another American Chinatown.

On the bright side, dinners at our place were great, which I can’t wait to share with you including a Cuban-esque pineapple chicken recipe. On the bad side, eating out proved to be a major fail, which I’ll also share with you in the next recap of eating through Hawaii!

In the meantime, enjoy some of these flix I took while there.

Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.

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28 thoughts on “8 Days of Eating in Hawai’i. Well, Almost. Chinatown First.

  1. Great pictures from my hometown! I notice they have more tropical fruits nowadays than they used to: the hairy, red rambutan, the dragonfruit, and the hard, dark-purple mangosteens.

    Dried anchovies can be of varying quality – the more expensive ones are cleaner and give a better flavor to soups and sambals.

    The white root vegetable is a daikon radish.

    The sea “thing” is seaweed, used in salads and pokes.

    Those yard-long beans are a great ingredient. We have a wonderful Thai-style stir-fry using them:


    The “wormy looking thing” are just small white fish. Nothing to be afraid of.

    Sorry you didn’t like the basil seed drink. A fresh lychee cocktail sounds better 🙂

    So, you’re part Chinese? No wonder you’re so pretty! 😉

    Looking forward to your future reviews from Honolulu!

  2. Chinatown and your dim sum notwithstanding … I WANNA GO BAAAACK. Yes, in general, I was not impressed with food, although maybe we didn’t hit the right spots (Hmmm, on second thouhgt, that Thai restaurant seemed semi high end, but ended up the pits 🙂 ) Great post. Pics are awesome. Thanks for the memories. Please, share more (of the good stuff, like the burger joint 🙂 )

  3. Rosa: yes, indeed, the produce was lovely. Most of it was unblemished and very clean looking.

    Nate: Thanks for the clarifications of the things I was unfamiliar with.
    I was told the white root vegetable was like a carrot.
    I thought seaweed was just that, but didn’t want to erroneously guess.
    I knew the wormy thing was a fish, but just curious as to what kind of fish. What does it taste like? What dishes is it good in?
    Will definitely check out your recipe with those lovely green beans.
    And, yes, the basil drink was not my fave but I’m glad I tasted it. A lychee cocktail is always a great option, no matter when or where!

    Dad: I wanna go baaaaack too. The lack of good food didn’t bother as much only because everything else was so fabulous. Plus, the trick is to make some friends and have them cook fabulous native food! I’ll post the other food excursions and resto reviews next week!

  4. Yes for boiled peanuts! They are so good, but only if you get them from the stands off the side of the road. 🙂 If you need suggestions for those Chinese long beans, just holla! Have 2 uses for you.

  5. DuoDishes: Loved boiled peanuts when at a Braves game–that’s about the only time I enjoy them. I don’t like raw peanuts in general. Peanut sauces and butter are another story! And, please do share your recipes for the long Chinese beans. Never had them–smh.

    Nate: Forgot to mention the purple thing. Never had that either! I’m feeling like a complete novice when it comes to food that is part of my heritage (on both sides). And thanks for the compliment.. my paternal grandmother very Chinese looking, too even though she was born and raised in Cuba. Evidently the gene was very dominant in her family which makes her lovely!

  6. Funny you mention the vendor could not tell you what he root vegetable was,cuz that happens to me often when I go to the farmers markets in the island. They have so many weird looking things ? that I have no clue what they are and no one is willing to share how to cook with them!

  7. B, you really have to stop talking so much about these trips you take and not invite me… it’s pathetic! When do you get any work done?!? 🙂 Lovely pics. I see you’re continuing to grow with that nicey nice Nikon… iphone not too shabby either. Looking forward to seeing the food mami cooked! I know it was a banger! Besos y camarones.

  8. Thank you for visiting my site and leaving a comment. I haven’t updated my recipe site since my husband died in June.

    Those dried fish you pictured … I buy those and feed them as treats to my Cairn Terrier. I buy them in Vancouver at the pet store. I call them ooligans but at the pet store they call them Japanese Sardines. He LOVES them. I’m a little hesitant to try them!

  9. The best part of any indigenous concentration is that such populations often love to be more of what they are missing.

    Consequentially, one will often find the most intensely bright colors (speaking metaphorically of course) in an otherwise mundane world (speaking metaphorically of course). And yet in the real indigenous country, that explosion of palatial color never seems quite as bright amidst the vast crayola box.

  10. In Asia, they call daikon radish “white carrot”. They are great in soups, and even hold together well in stews:


    I’m not sure, but the white fish may be called “shirauo” in Japan. I’ve never cooked with them before. My inclination would be to stir-fry it with some bok choy, or maybe lightly dust them with flour and pan fry in butter.

    The purple mangosteens are one of my favorite fruits – so sweet, with a hint of tart!. I see from the sign that they’re grown in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. That’s good. Much of the mangosteens that I’ve seen in California are brought in from Thailand – yucks.

    I understand there was a sizable community of Chinese in Cuba, back in the day. We’re like the Jews of Asia!

  11. Hi Bren, thanks for stopping by my blog earlier and nice to meet you as well. You have a very lovely blog here. I guess all your questions have been answer by Annie. Btw, have you ever tried the one next to that dragon fruit? That is also one of our famous local seasonal fruit. Very juicy delicious! Hope to hear from you more often. & have a great day ahead.

  12. Juliana: Girl, it was so fabulous and I can not wait to go back. Like my dad said above, notwithstanding the failed culinary experience, it’s paradise and worth every penny spent there!

    Lola: It was sooo odd, right! I asked several times about what I now know is the daikon radish and mangosteens, and no one was able to tell me. Thanks, Nate for the disclosures.

    Dave: Dave babe you know you’re always welcome to come with. And, with re: to Hawaii, we all know you should have been there with us! We needed you–you know we took over 4k pictures, combined! hahahahaha. Smooches.

    Sharon: Thanks woman. And, I know I’m a complete moron for not having had rambutans yet. How truly pathetic.

    Eilee: 🙁 So sorry to hear about your loss. On the happy side, it’s nice to see you also visiting other blogs. I’ll pray you’ll find a happy place again and real soon!

    Drew: you’re so damn poetic! sheesh. it was all lovely and pretty… yes, the colors were bold and vibrant. it just wasn’t all so tasty…

    Nate: Ahhhh. The “white carrot.” no wonder a by-passer told me she thought it was a carrot like root. Highly interested in working with it now. I love it. It was so pretty and utterly clean! I’ve never seen mangosteen in person, not even at the most robust and abundant farmer’s market’s around me… it was great seeing something new, but not knowing what to do with left them right in the box. 😉 And yes, there was a indentured servant trade in Cuba in the 1800’s, I believe. I was totally freaked out when I met my maternal grandfather! I saw him and was like “oh my goodness, this man is Chinese!” My mom looks so much like him and I of course have a lot of her traits! Fabulous! I’m such a mut!

    Kristy: Hi! Well, thanks for coming by as well. No! have not had the fruit next to the dragon fruit, which I clearly failed to even mention. What’s it called?? I’ll definitely be back! (adding you to my blogroll now).

  13. Hi Bren, m soooo happy to meet u , love and am always looking forward to meeting warm and positive people in blogosphere and ur one of them!!
    U rock gurl!
    Oh i loved walking the walk to thru the markets with u and looking at all the fresh stuff!!
    That weird lookn sea thing doesnt look edible to me either ,maybe used in Chinese medicine ???

    Oh ur bros weddn does sound romantic bdw!!!

    I usually send the replies i reply on my blog thru email too:-)but cudn find ur address:-(

  14. B,
    the trick really is to make friends with the locals and eat at their homes. Also they know where the best places to eat are. Let me know when you are returning as Bria’s godmother is there as I was stationed there for 3 years and loved everything especially the local people as they are the most hospitable and loving I have ever encountered.


  15. What great photos, I sure miss living in Hawaii. One nice thing is now living in Florida I can still get a lot of the tropical fruits locally. The green spiny stuff almost looks like it’s some kind of seabean or seaweed. The little white wormy looking thing looks like “white bait” a specialty dish that they served us when I was in New Zealand. That’s a great price for dragonfruit.

    It is my first time here, I saw your comment on Kristy’s blog. I really like it here.

  16. maravillosas fotos de veras que dan ganas de ir a visitar de nuevo ese maravilloso paraiso .gracias por compartir con nosotros esas maravillas y esos explendidos y diferentes vegetales y frutas .muy raros algunos o por lo menos algunos no los habia visto .gracias chef

  17. Lorraine: Yes, indeed they were. I was happy to have learned of some great new fruits and vegetables.

    Summer: Ditto! 🙂 Luv the name! I try to take people there that haven’t been or are planning or going… can be helpful, you know! The sea thing turns out is seaweed. I suspected, but wasn’t sure. Wait til I share bro’s wedding pics! Stunning! email is bren (at) flanboyanteats (dot) com. 😉 Looking forward to staying in contact and reading ur blog!

    3Piece: Girl, don’t I know it, but the two friends I have there were unavailable to get together. Shame. I don’t like traveling without knowing where the beest places to eat are… it’s so key to having a real experience. I just found out we’re going back in Feb., so I’ll make sure to let you know well in advance so I can connect with your fam. Thanks for that offer! Luv ya.

    Lyndsey: Hi!!! Wow, so you lived there. My parents are now seriously considering retiring there, it was so fabulous. See comment above. The spiny stuff was in fact seaweed! Go figure—something I eat A LOT of here. Wormy thing I hear is a fish and that it’s good in fish, stews, etc… Thanks so much for coming by. Will be adding your blog to my weekly reads! 🙂 so nice to *meet* you.

    Carmen: gracias, mami! I love que te encanta leer mi blog y ver las cosas que tu tambien compartes conmigo… sabes que esto es cosa de familia! 🙂 La papaya estaba de otro nivel, no! Y la piña!??! que me dices de eso!?!?

  18. Love all of the amazing fresh fruits and vegetables…The seaweed does look a bit strange, but I love seaweed 🙂
    Lucky I was not there with you when the roaches entered…I have very long legs so I would have been in the next town over in no time, lol

  19. Interesting variety of produce you got to see. I’ve been to Chinatowns in other cities but never saw anything like those items.

    Should I ever make it to Hawai’i I’ll make sure to check out the Chinatown market to see what else they have to offer.

  20. I can’t believe those worm looking things are actually fish! Never seen or had those before. You took some cool pics. The ginger looks very fresh.

  21. Magic of Spice: I love seaweed, too, but it totally threw me off. In fact, I’ve seen it raw as well, but this here look odd!

    Rohan: that’s that great thing about Chintowns: you get to see all different kinds of things. I haven’t been to my own Chinatown in a minute (DC) will plan on going next time!

    Dullah: Yes I know it! Interesting, right. Ginger was amazing. It was stunning. Some other vendors had completely peeled them.

    Angie’s Recipes: Would love to taste those wormy-looking fish. They look interesting!

  22. Chinatown seems to be pretty much the same wherever you go. For me the best so far is San Francisco but then I have never been to Hawaii.

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