Our favorite lunch feast came when we visited Akaka Falls, where we had a tuna sandwich made from fresh tuna, served with cold lemon grass tea at a local art gallery. Wonderful!

Our first observation was that we had finally found a place where food prices were higher than Alaska--especially at the grocery store! But beyond that, we discovered that Hawaii hadn't become totally "Americanized" when it came to food. The climate and the distinctive cultures that make up Hawaii just wouldn't allow for it.

We were determined to sample a bit of the local fare. On Kauai, George tried "bento," a plate lunch which in this restaurant consisted of a bed of sticky rice, covered with a fried hot dog, a piece of DEEP fried chicken, fried spam, a fried egg and a slice of teriyaki beef. It was not an experience he repeated. There were other high-cholesterol choices of local fare as well.

We were pleasantly surprised to see that most fast-food places had a variety of foods that reflect the melting pot of Hawaiian life: Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese dishes grace the menu with the ubiquitous hamburger and fries.

Even McDonald's has Portuguese sausage and "saimin" (an oriental noodle soup similar to ramen) on its menu. Most places offer a "mahi-mahi" (tuna filet) burger as well. And many restaurants offer a "plate lunch" consisting of a scoop of rice and various local offerings such as teriyaki chicken, corn and occasionally poi (a paste made from the taro plant).

Another treat endemic to the islands is "shave ice" (not shaveD ice). It is similar to what mainlanders call a snow cone, but much better and finer. The first place we visited after we arrived was a coffee house that featured shave ice along with various coffees. The barrista used a machine to prepare a finely shaved ice, and offered different syrups to flavor it. When Cassidy didn't understand the flavors (most were Hawaiian fruits that were unfamiliar), he switched to a choice of colors. Cassidy chose blue, and he praised her for choosing the color of the sky and of loyalty (the flavor turned out to be vanilla). We soon discovered that shave ice was just about everywhere, and it is sometimes served over a bed of ice cream or sweet beans that taste like jam.

In general, Hawaiian food has quantities of good fruit. But from there, its pretty hard to describe "Hawaiian food." The varieties of foods reflect the melting pot history of the islands. Different cultures have brought different foods and plants with them (e.g. taro from the Polynesians, coffee with some Christian missionaries).

We were lucky enough to be on scene for the Taro Festival in Kauai and the Macadamia Festival in Hawaii (the Big Island). The difference between the two was pretty stark: the Taro festival was home-grown, a fund raiser for the local volunteer fire brigade, and the macadamia nut festival was very professional, arranged by the macadamia nut growers.

Dancer at the Taro Festival

Taro Festival: The taro is a root plant that is a very important part of Kauai's agriculture and diet. The festival is put on by locals and had lots of Hawaiian (hula) dancing and music, local food, a Taro cooking contest, crafts, festival tee shirts and agricultural displays. The only way to taste taro was to buy large bags of poi (an aged paste made from this root plant), which my friend Sharon assured me tastes like wall-paper paste - although she said that the rest of her family loves it. By the time we decided to give it a try, it was all gone! We opted for taro chips instead and really liked them. The festival was very down-home and a lot of fun. It was small, people seemed to know each other and join in with the dancing and singing and seemed to be happy to have an excuse to have a good time together.

Macadamia Nut Festival: The Big Island of Hawaii is famous for its Kona coffee, orchids and its macadamia nuts.

The macadamia festival was a professional job put on by the Mauna Loa macadamia nut company. It was held at the very beautiful Nani Mou gardens which has just about every tropical flowering plant there is, all landscaped with ponds and streams, graceful rolling hills, wide verandahs and corridors of orchids. The people who were running it had look-alike tee shirts and were helpful and plentiful.

Free samples of "mac nuts" and punch, a wandering "Mac Da Nut" in furry costume (and boy was it hot!!), food booths, a fishing pond for children, professional chefs giving cooking lessons complete with recipe cards, and all sorts of sampling (the salads with dressing made out of mac-nut oil and sprinkled with mac nuts was great!). It had professional local talent doing some pretty good rock-pop music, interspersed with some "houlie" (outsiders or mainlanders) versions of local music. There were lots of people having lots of fun (including us).

If you want to see a recipe given out by Mona Loa for Mahimahi with Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Sauce, click here.

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