You will likely travel to Hawaii thinking of coconut and pineapple as your only tropical flavors. But let go of that.
Seek out these only-in-Hawaii foods in the true spirit of adventurous eating.
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Spam musubi: People from the mainland are often amused by Hawaiians' affinity for Spam. But do not mock us. We're on to something. For proof, sample the No. 1 picnic food: Spam musubi.
Musubi is a Japanese rice ball -- triangular and wrapped in a strip of nori, or roasted seaweed. Spam musubi is brick-like: rice on the bottom, a slab of Spam on top. It's salty, like Spam, but the rice absorbs the greasiness, and the seaweed wrapper provides that bit of umami.
It's a favorite at picnics and at the 19th hole on the golf course. Soccer moms make them by the dozens for post-game snacks.
Acrylic molds are widely available for shaping the rice, but you can buy servings of Spam musubi ready-made for less than $2 at convenience stores or in the deli section of supermarkets.
Loco moco: This uniquely Hawaiian food is easily described but not as easily explained. Imagine a scoop of rice topped with a hamburger patty, topped with a fried egg, topped with lots of brown gravy.
This double-protein tower is eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner or as a between-meal snack.
You can find a loco moco at almost any family-style restaurant. Even upscale restaurants offer versions. At Alan Wong's Pineapple Room in Ala Moana Center, you can have one with grass-fed local beef, fried rice and veal jus.
Manapua: In the Chinese dim sum repertoire, this would be called bao -- a pure-white bun filled with char siu (roast pork).
The Hawaiian version is bigger and better, sized more like a softball than a baseball, stuffed tight with shredded meat. Along with char siu, other ingredients have become fusion favorites, such as curry chicken, sausage and even sweet potato.
Snowy white, steamed manapua is the standard, but many aficionados prefer the baked version. Both are easy to find at takeout counters and convenience stores, but the best are in shops that specialize in dim sum. Chinatown is a good bet.
Manapua can be purchased chilled or frozen to carry home.
Coco puff: These sweet treasures are sold by the thousands every year, at Liliha Bakery, about five miles from the tourist center of Waikiki.
A coco puff is a cream puff but somehow better, filled with chocolate cream and topped with a buttery frosting called Chantilly here. (Classic French Chantilly, a sweetened cream topping, often with nuts or fruit mixed in, is very different.)
Cream puffs are sold at bakeries all over town, lovely but much like what you can find at home. The coco puff is a distinctive local favorite. The bakery, a 57-year-old family establishment with an old-style lunch counter, is also worth a visit, if you can get a seat.
Info: (808) 531-1651, 515 N. Kuakini St.
10 Hawaiian specialties to sample
These items will help expand your definition of Hawaiian fare.
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