3 More Lunches That Midtown Needs from Hawaii
About a year ago, Chris H. traveled to Hawaii and reported back on 5 plate lunches he thought Midtown Lunch’ers would enjoy from his travels, including Hawaiian favorite loco moco. As I write this, I’m enjoying my final hours in Honolulu, and I have found myself thinking along the same lines — wishing a few items from my trip would find themselves in Midtown one day for ML’ers to enjoy (none of which appear on Hawaiian Island Grill menu!)
The best thing we did was book the Hole-in-the-Wall food tour, which is an extremely informative tour of the best local food found in Honolulu. If you’re a foodie finding yourself booking a vacation in Honolulu, this tour is not to be missed. The first stop was at Royal Kitchen in Chinatown, where they make the best baked manapua on the island.
A kind of char siu bao, manapua is short for mea’ono-pua’a (meaning “pork cake” in Hawaiian). The Hawaiian version is typically larger than its Chinese counterpart (although Royal Kitchen’s are on the smaller side of large) and can be either steamed like the Chinese or baked. Our guides explained that Royal Kitchen actually uses a Hawaiian sweet bread dough instead of the traditional bun. And, of course, there are several Hawaiian filling choices beyond the original pork, including smoked kalua pork, chicken, curry chicken (pictured above), Portuguese sausage, Chinese lup cheong sausage, Okinawan purple sweet potato, coconut and Chinese black sugar. At $1.15 a pop, you could literally try them all … and be so, so full.
The last stop on the tour was Leonard’s Bakery, which is famous for introducing malasadas, or Portuguese doughnuts, to Hawaii in the 1950s. At about $1.00 a piece, we got these puppies freshly baked — still warm, even! — from the kitchen.
Rolled in granulated sugar, these light and puffy balls of fried dough can be eaten plain or filled with a number of different custards. I got coconut, and it was to die for. Not overly sweet, but distinctly coconut in flavor, the filling perfectly complimented the sugar-coated dough. Interestingly enough, Leonard’s already operates, not only this famous location, but also some others (one’s in Japan!), plus a couple of food trucks. I’m just sayin’ … it wouldn’t be such a stretch to expand to Midtown New York.
I’m a such sucker for Japanese noodles, and there are countless options in Honlulu, many of which are ramen joints. However, there is a reason for the huge line outside Marukame Udon off Waikiki on Kuhio street. Don’t worry, it moves quickly, and we were ordering (cafeteria-style) in no time.
I got ontama udon ($4.25 for the regular size, which was still rather large) in cold broth and chose 3 pieces of tempura: yasai kakiage ($1.50), satsumaimo ($1.25) and nasu ($1.25). I poked the half-cooked egg, and yellow yolky goodness oozed over the noodles and mixed with cool broth. Is there a more delicious sight than that? The udon here is definitely al dente, so if you like your noodles on the softer side, I suggest going with hot broth so the noodles cook a tiny bit more while you find a table. For me, the chewy noodles were perfect. Along with various kinds of tempura, Marukame Udon also offers musubi for $1.50. It would be very easy to go overboard, picking out side items for your meal. For just $8.25, I had an extremely satisfying dinner. So, just imagine the lunch possibilities! Now, there’s nothing particularly Hawaiian or fusion about this place, and it is pretty similar in concept to Onya, but I’d still love to see a Marukame Udon outpost come to Midtown.
Now, the food in Hawaii — as well as traditional Hawaiian food, which is an important distinction — has been influenced by many cultures and traditions, so there are plenty of delicious dishes to try. These three suggestions don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what’s available in the ML price range, but upon reflecting back, these are the items I found to be stand-outs on my trip.