Saturday, April 23, 2011

Of Pig and Poi

You can not visit Hawaii and not sample traditional foods like Kalua pig and poi.  Food holds a significant place in Hawaiian culture and if you haven't tasted any traditional dishes, then you haven't really been to Hawaii.  All luaus or feasts, will supply lots of both of these staples. At the Kaua'i Grand Hyatt Resort, I witnessed an 185-pound pig being carried out for the traditional ceremony, above. The pig was covered in ti leaves and then wrapped in chicken wire before being buried in an imu or pit. Then it was roasted over hot coals for eight hours.

The meat is  so tender and moist that it doesn't really need to be cut so the hosts simply pull it off the bone. They offered me a quick taste but since I don't eat meat, I couldn't venture into hog territory but I made up for it with my poi consumption.

Poi is pounded taro root that looks like a lovely lavender pudding, above. The lavender roll  was also made with taro. The taro plant is so sacred to Hawaiian culture that it's considered an affront to argue once poi is served. According to Hawaiian custom, it's disrespectful to argue in front of an elder and as the living embodiment of Haloa, the ancient ancestor of the Hawaiian people, taro is technically the elder brother of all Hawaiians.  With this kind of significance, I was determined to like poi. However, it is definitely an acquired taste. Average poi tastes sour and the consistency is like paste. The first few times I tried it, I concentrated on the wonderful color (I've never disliked anything purple) and ignored the taste. And then I discovered the revelation of  Hanalei Poi.  Hanalei Poi is made fresh on Kaua'i and is  widely considered the best poi you can eat. I spooned it up and there was no sour taste, just slightly sweet, smooth goodness. I grabbed another bowl and absorbed the deliciousness all over again. My dinner mates smiled with approval but all I could think about was how I could get a tub through security to take home.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kauai's Feathered Friends

There are a lot of things that you'll find all over Kaua'i. Rust-colored dirt, the  friendly spirit of Aloha and chickens. Chickens prance around the island like they own it and I guess when you consider their numbers and the centuries they have roamed the island, they sort of do. The scientific name is Polynesian waterfowl and they are prettier and more cocky than your average barnyard birds.

It doesn't matter where you go, to the beach, a luau, a parking lot, you will see chickens. Or at least hear the insistent crowing of the roosters. You are advised not to bother them. After  I witnessed a gaggle of chickens crow and peck each other in a furious fight, flying into the air and landing on backs with sharp claws, I understood why.

Sometimes you'll spot birds that aren't chickens. You have to keep your eyes peeled because the chickens are so plentiful that all other birds seem to just blend in with them.

Except for peacocks.

There's no way peacocks can blend in and they don't seem to want to.  I spotted this beauty at the Smith botanical garden  and it's proud loveliness reminded me of Kaua'i itself.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How To Eat A Puka Dog

Just as you can't journey to New York and not sample a hot dog from a street vendor, you can't possibly visit Kauai and not eat a Puka Dog. It's a requirement. A Puka Dog is a Hawaiian style hot dog and trust me, it doesn't look or taste like any hot dog you've had before. It's a  grilled Polish sausage or a veggie dog cradled in a loaf of  toasted Hawaiian bread with a hole or "puka" punched into it. The bread is filled with a series of sauces that can make the experience alarmingly messy if you don't know how to handle it.  Fortunately, I was given detailed instructions on how to order and eat a Puka Dog.

First of all, just because they suggest a slew of sauces, doesn't mean you have to order them. The first sauce offered is a garlic lemon sauce that I was cautioned to skip to avoid sauce overload. So I did. Next you choose from a series of seven tropical relishes, which is my favorite part. You can choose from an overwhelming selection of  mango, pineapple, papaya, coconut, banana, guava or star fruit relish.  I went with star fruit because it was the most unusual to me. Then, you pick plain, Dijon or lilikoi mustard. Lilikoi is passion fruit so you know what I went with. Finally, you grab a cup of fresh squeezed lemonade and savor the flavors.

With sea breezes wafting through my hair, I gripped the dog with both hands and took a small bite. Both hands and small bites are essential when eating a Puka Dog if you don't want the sauces squirting everywhere. It's also easier if you wear skimpy clothes because lilikoi mustard wipes off your leg much faster than off your jeans. Overall, the sensation of the sweet star fruit relish mingled with the veggie dog and sharp mustard was delectable. I loved the fresh fruit flavors and the laid back atmosphere.My only problem with Puka Dogs is that they don't supply mainland delivery.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Wonders of Waimea Canyon

I'm back and I'm overwhelmed. My experiences in Kauai has altered me on so many levels that I didn't know where to begin with my posts. It has  actually taken me a weeks just to mentally shift back from Kauai and more days to decide what would be my first account. In a week of cultural exploration and natural spectacles, there's a lot to choose. So I went with the most dramatic.  Waimea Canyon unfolds with such dazzling beauty that it literally snatches your breath away.

It was a long, hour drive from the South Side of Kauai to the West Side, where the canyon stretches 14 miles long, one mile wide and 3,600 feet deep. I wasn't quite prepared when I faced these panoramas of crags and valley gorges, washed in shades of  emerald and russet. They don't call it the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" for nothing.

I know these pix look like  re-touched post cards or professional shots but I took them with my little Cannon 495. There really isn't much chance of taking bad photos of the canyon unless you get fog or clouds. I'm told that our group was very lucky to get a clear day because rain is inevitable on Kauai.

The views were almost too much to absorb. Every angle offered another perspective, every direction provided more beauty. The spiritual energy, as can be expected, was quite high and I actually became a little dizzy. I now completely understand the phrase, "dizzy with wonder."