Monday, 1:00pm at Tai Pan
Tai Pan Dim Sum
100 N. Beretania St #167
Honolulu, HI 96817
Monday, 1:00pm at Tai Pan
Tai Pan Dim Sum
100 N. Beretania St #167
Honolulu, HI 96817
Every time I come home to visit, there are certain unspoken “must do’s” in the family.
We “must do” this, we “must do” that. No one actually ever says it must be done, because it already assumed.
Ahhh, the “round the island trip.” It’s a funny sort of trip. Unlike other families, we don’t stop at the beach to tan or swim (save for my sister, we’ve never been a “go to the beach” type family). The whole objective is to simply drive around the entire island, and nothing more (aside from good food stops along the way). These trips usually take place on a Sunday. We’ll wake up a bit earlier than other Sundays and start our journey off with breakfast at the Kapiolani location of the Original Pancake House. Blueberry pancakes for dad, Banana pancakes for mom, pancake & spam for sister, and the Sweedish pancakes for myself. Family tradition.
Then, with bellies packed full of sweet starchy goodness, we all pile back into the car (with a truck filled with cold bottled water and plenty of napkins) and head towards Kaimuki, then past Hawai’i Kai and Hanauma Bay, through Waimanalo and many more neighborhoods. Finally we see the first of many Kahuku Shrimp Trucks lining along Kamehameha Highways. Many have few or no customers, but Giovanni is packed to the brims as usual. Giovanni’s is the most popular of trucks with tourists, and while we’ve given it a few tries, I prefer Romy’s when it comes to Kahuku shrimps and prawns.
There’s always a steady crowd at Romy’s, but the line on that particular Sunday was insane, super insane. We arrived there around noon, but it was nearly two hours later before we had received our food! There was a good 30 minute wait in line to order the food, and after that, 90 minutes of hanging out in the sun waiting for the plate lunches. Lucky one of the staff workers was walking around handing out tons of li hing pineapple samples – so refreshing.
My sister and I went for the sweet & spicy prawns, done extra spicy. They were a bit off this time (perhaps due to the obscenely large crowds of people?), barely any of the spicy heat was detected, the sweet aspect overly done. Nonetheless the crisp and succulent prawns were a quite a sight for the eyes and tongue.
Mom and dad went for the butter garlic combo – I always regret not getting this one whenever I order the sweet & spicy…in the ideal world you would be able to order a 1/2 and 1/2 plate lunch, heheh. The blanket of rice come in rather good handy when you need a vehicle to soak up all that garlic laced butter at the bottom of the dish.
It took two hours for the food to come, and only ten minutes for us to eat it all. Go figure! ^_^
We get back into the car and after a short drive down Haleiwa, we make a sharp left into Ted’s Bakery, aka, the BEST PIES IN HAWAI’I EVER.
I’m not kidding! Every local citizen knows about Ted’s Bakery, best known for his Chocolate Haupia Pies. Reid over at ‘Ono Kine Grindz has an awesome post on Ted’s over at his blog. The bakery became famous many years past (it must have been when I was in middle school, 1998-ish), and now you can find their pies at every local supermarket around town. In addition to Chocolate Haupia, other pie flavours such as Macadamia Nut Cream, Pumpkin Haupia, and even Strawberry Guava Cream have a equally dedicated fan base.
But somehow, for some reason, the pies always taste best when you buy them straight from the original Ted’s store. We only make it out here during the “round the island” trips, otherwise it’s a incredibly long drive (by Hawai’i standards) for just a pie. At this Haleiwa location, theres a full menu of breakfast foods and plate lunches in addition to pies…I was particularly tempted by the loco moco fried rice…
But with my head on straight (and a tummy already packed with pancakes, rice, and prawns), we stuck to plan and got pie. And cake. And then another slice of cake. No sense in self-control when it comes to sweets. Just make sure to brush and floss well, and everything shall be a-okay :)
First, Ted’s classic Chocolate Haupia Pie. If you’ve never had Ted’s before, you must try this flavour before any of the others. A flakey pie shell filled with a based of thick chocolate pudding. Only, it’s so much more than simply pudding, oh yes, this one is a touch more dark than your usual pudding, a bit more on the custardy size, and ridiculously luxurious. The pudding is topped with an equally tall layer of summery light haupia pudding. It’s the ultimate summer treat, winter treat, fall treat, oh hell, what does it matter, our weather is same all year round, so there’s no excuse to not eat your share (and a tad more) of Ted’s Chocolate Haupia Pie whenever you get the chance.
Sometime early last year Ted started making cakes. It scared me at first, after all, he’s known for his pies, and so shouldn’t he stick to what he knows best? Any worries however, soon dissipated the moment I had a taste of his Dream Cake at Shirokiya’s cake sampling. Oooooh goodness, it was a heavely light cake true to it’s name…I had three samples and brought an entire cake home for dinner, and another to grandma’s the following week, and have been dreaming about it ever since. We didn’t spot the Dream Cake at the bakery on this visit, but did find a Chocolate Haupia Cake, Ted’s class pie turned into a cake. A fluffy light cocoa cake, (with an egg white base), and alternating layers of the same chocolate pudding and haupia found in the pie. In the Chocolate-Haupia question of cake versus pie, I’d go for the pie if I could only have one, but the cake is definitely worth a return visit…or as a second dessert ;).
With that said, because we had one cake, I decided there was no harm in another, so we dived straight for the Pineapple Macadamia Nut Cheesecake. The spice cake base (think carrot cake minus the carrots, plus pineapples and chopped macadamia nuts), is topped with a meltingly rich layer of “cheesecake” (really just cream cheese whipped with heavy cream, whole eggs, and sugar ;), and then a final layer of what is best thought of as a pineapple compote. Quite a lethal combination, no?
Romy’s Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp
56-781 Kamehameha Hwy
Kahuku, HI 96731
59-024 Kamehameha Hwy
Haleiwa, HI 96712
As evidenced by my gradually expanding waistline, I enjoy eating out tremendously – where to eat, what to eat, which restaurant or bakery or gelato shop to head next, whether I could fit just a bit more room post-dessert desserts and stuff of that matter, consumes 90% of my thoughts. Thought with all that said, when it all boils down in the end, I’d rather eat at home.
There’s something about eating at home that makes these meals so special – not so much the effort (or sometimes, lack thereof) involved in a home meal, but the collaboration between family and friends, or in the case of weekend dinners at grandma’s home, the joy she receives from seeing our excited expressions as she heats up the wok, and the blissful smiles to follow as we take the very first bite.
Our dinners at home often don’t even much ‘heavy duty’ cooking. Dad will stop by Tamashiro’s or Marukai on the way home, and pick up a gorgeous pound of hamachi. He slices it right before we set the table, and we’ll have the simplest dinner of steamed rice, hamachi and nori. We take fresh fish for granted in Hawai’i – I don’t even dare think how much hamachi of this quality would cost at a restaurant back in Manhattan.
Some nights we’ll mix it up and get poke for dinner – my sister likes shoyu poke, while I prefer limu poke. We compromise by getting a pound of each, most of the time from the Beretania Foodland. Like the hamachi, we eat poke with rice and nori, adding in a few local avocados from our neighbors.
We usually have a ‘hot’ dish on the side – otherwise the meal doesn’t feel complete. Most recently, we used the long beans from Ho Farms and made a beef stirfry. Oh man, the meat drippings over hot rice? Ridiculous!
The other week Marukai was a having a huge special on Hamakua mushroos just flown in from the Big Island. My mom was particularly excited and bought home tons, and tons of mushrooms…clockwise from top: Gray Oyster, Ali’i, Shimeji, and Kea Hon Shimeji mushrooms.
…and I’m not sure if it has a proper name, though when people ask, I just tell them it’s “Vietnamese Eggplant.” It’s not the most visually appealing dish, a mucky dark green, bumpy, and slopping mounds. But it is delicious…oh so delicious. This is perhaps my single most favourite dish in the world. The whole world. I was raised on this dish, two, sometimes even three times a week if I got lucky. We usually do eight eggplants at a time. Boil in water till the skin gets all wrinkly. Remove, drain, and let cool. Then, peel off the skins and mash the eggplant in a bowl. Then heat up olive oil in a pan and brown A LOT, A LOT of garlic. We’ll use up to two heads for eight eggplants. Once the garlic is brown, add the eggplant and sauté away (the eggplant uses up a lot of oil, so you’ll have to be generous with the grease, yah?). Season with nuoc nam (I told you nuoc nam makes everything better!) to taste, and a bit of salt. My sister and grandma like to scramble in a few eggs along with chopped thai bird chilis…just tailor to your personal tastes. Serve over hot rice right out of the cooker, and viola, the best meal ever :)
Futher mauka, mom stopped in a market for a few different che’s to bring over to Grandma’s house later that evening.
This particular shop (near River Street) has the largest variety of che in Chinatown – my favourite is the sesame sweet apple-bananas with a side of coconut milk, though my mom is more partial to the iced sweets while my dad prefers the steamed ones.
We ate this one right when we got home (when the weather is hot, you gotta do what you gotta do to keep cool :), pouring the che over a big bowl of ice. Jackfruit, lychees, water chestnuts and jellies of all sorts, even pandan flavoured ones, in a bath of cold coconut milk – splendid!
Mom had her own cup of che on the spot – the owner’s wife at Thang’s is well known in the Vietnamese community for her signature dessert picture above, a still warm dish of sweet mochi rice studded with soft cooked beans and coconut cream.
Hope everyone’s having a good Friday! ^_^
Thang Coffee & Bubble Tea
1120 Maunakea Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817
Next to Pineland (home of the mouthwatering, greasy and incredibly delicious garlic eggplant), sits Mai Lan. The restaurant looks dinky from the outside, like most Vietnamese restaurants in Hawai’i. But when you enter, you notice something very, very different. 90% of the clientele are not Vietnamese OR Chinese. They’re Japanese.
Based on that alone, one may be tempted to concluded that, oh, this restaurant must not be authentic. But, dear, what a sorry error that would be on your part. The owner, Sam Yu, like many of the Chinese who live in Hawai’i today, is Vietnam born and raised. Fluent in Vietnamese, he’s also equally talented speaking Japanese (having lived in Japan for a fair time). He is very likely the only Vietnamese restaurant owner on the island who is so smoothly able to converse in both languages while cooking up an intriguing storm of the kitchen – a bounty of refined Vietnamese food. And on top of that, how many Vietnamese places do you know of in Hawai’i that requests reservations? Sometimes, we even, gasp, have to order the menu ahead of time. Perhaps this is no big deal to those on the mainland, especially NYC, but on our island, Vietnamese, Reservations, and Ordering Ahead of Time are never strung together in a sentence.
You can come here for the pho. Spring rolls. Summer rolls. Bun. But that too, would be a mistake, for the menu offers so much more. With this, of course, comes a price, and unlike our everyday Vietnamese restaurants where complete meals sum under $10, you’d be hard pressed to walk out of Mai Lan for anywhere near that price.
We arrived as a group of eight on a Wednesday evening, 6:30pm to a half full restaurant that, in less than an hour, would be completely full, and by the time we left at 8:30pm, would have a line spilling out the door. (note: prime dining time in Hawai’i is 6pm ^_^). Mom took care of the menu a few days prior and we were served within minutes of being seated. I won’t go into depth on the food and let the pictures speak for themselves…consider that lazy, or how you wish, but the weather is nice today, so I’m running out for coffee & doughnut custard at Shake Shack! Either way, dinner at this most recent dinner Mai Lan was a fantastic meal as always. First, the classic bò lúc lac tossed with tomatoes and lettuce for a salad bathed in fillet’s savoury, onion-laced juice.
Steamed local fish in chili oil – mom and I found the chili oil so addicting that we asked the owner for extra oil in a separate bowl…and oh man, did he deliver, sending out an extra huge bowl of chili oil.
The oil, of course, was put to great use spooned over the broken rice, make all the more rich with bitty cubes of deep fried pork fat. It was awesome, breaking into fatty cubes, crisp little boxes hidden throughout the dish. The fat sort of crackles then explodes, flavouring every bare surface of the broken rice. This is the kind of rice I want to have with dinner every night!
We also had shrimp and lup cheong fried rice with plenty of garlic – I’m usually a big fan of fried rice done right, but with an enormous platter of fried fat studded broken rice, I simply had to turn away and dive for the other.
We closed the meal with a refreshing che, sou sa hou lac – agar agar cubes and red water chestnut jellies over ice and coconut milk. The nice thing about Vietnamese desserts is that they always leave you feeling very cool and light, despite the coconut milk factor. Jellies, ice, tropical fruits…oh man, this is the kind of sweets we need to get through NYC’s hot summers!
Mai Lan Fine Vietnamese Cuisine
1224 Keeaumoku Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96814