Beyond the picturesque surroundings and abundance of natural scenery, Hawaii is also one of those rare places that is home to a unique melting pot of cultures that have flourished harmoniously amongst one another. Today, Hawaiian cuisine is not just defined by tropical fruits and fresh produce, but influenced by American, Chinese and Japanese cultures and cooking techniques.
For an introduction into Hawaii’s food culture and a glimpse into the everyday lives of locals, look no further than joining a Food Tour at the very start of your trip.
The Hole in the Wall Food Tour takes you on a journey through some of the oldest eateries (and local favourites) in Downtown Honolulu and Chinatown. The standouts of tour were not just the food itself, but the incredible wealth of history and insights into Hawaiian culture that we learnt in the just 5 hours – from stopping to smell the beautiful flowers at Lin’s Lei Shop to learning about the new wave local cuisine.
One highlight in particular was visiting the operations of Ying Leong Look Funn factory, which has been producing flat rice noodles for over 70 years. We were also able to taste some of the more common Hawaiian dishes that you would generally find everywhere, Poke (typically cubed, seasoned, raw tuna) and Spam Musubi (Spam nigiri).
After the end of the tour, we had a stopover at Leonard’s Bakery, known for its Malasada’s (Portuguese doughnuts) that it has been producing since 1952.
Below are a couple of highlights from the day, make sure you start the tour with an empty stomach and you won’t be disappointed, and remember – don’t say no to seconds!
Baked Manapua from Royal Hawaiian Kitchen
The first stop of the tour was at the Royal Hawaiian Kitchen where we each had a taste of Hawaii’s version of ‘Char Siu Bao’ ( Barbecue Pork Buns), Manapua, which were introduced to the local food scene via Chinese migrants. The name ‘Manapua’ is derived from a Hawaiian word meaning ‘delicious pork thing’ – and I couldn’t agree more. Compared to traditional Char Siu Bao’s, these buns are baked with a variety of different fillings, both savoury and sweet, including smoked kalua pork and curry chicken.
Fresh steamed & fried cheong fun from Ying Leong Look Funn Factory, BBQ chicken from Jackie’s Corner
After catching a glimpse into the operations of the Ying Leong Look Funn factory, we were able to taste two types of look funn which were served with some flavoursome, grilled chicken. Made using a traditional method of pouring a rice mixture into oil-lined metal trays, these are then steamed, rolled and available to purchase on the same day. This results in silky noodles with a slightly chewy texture, which are sold per piece.
Learning how to eat a Rambutan
Coco puff pastry from Lilihua Bakery
Filled with a luxurious chocolate custard and topped with Chantilly frosting (butter and evaporated milk are the key ingredients), this decadent treat gets top marks as one of my favourite desserts in Hawaii. Just too delicious to resist.
Lychee, Vodka, Pineapple smoothie
Fresh Caramel Banana Lumpia and Maui Gold pineapple, plain and topped with Li Hing (plum) power
Chinatown & Downtown
Mid-way through the tour, we also had the opportunity to do some exploring on our own and check out some of the local markets in Chinatown. If you love your fresh fruit, a return trip or visits to some of the farmers markets (such as KCC farmers market every Saturday morning) are a must!
Hole in the Wall Food Tour
Pickup: 9.30am (varies depending on your hotel)
Cost: USD 139 per person
Booking: via online