Recently in my Localism.com blog, I mentioned Hawaii Regional Cuisine. Those of us who “live Hawaii” happily patronize our local chefs when the opportunity to dine out presents itself. My family eats a lot of fish, so I own several celebrity Hawaii chef cookbooks, and they are dog-earred and coconut milk splattered. But the cuisine is certainly not limited to Hawaii wide variety of seafood.
Those who vacation in resort neighborhoods of the Kohala Coast may not know they are eating Hawaii Regional Cuisine when they visit Roy’s and Merriman’s restaurants, but they are. Chefs Peter Merriman and Roy Yamaguchi are two of the 12 (some say 19) gifted chefs who, in the late 1980s, established a culinary movement that blends Hawaii’s diverse ethnic, cross-cultural flavors. Honolulu Magazine has named Merriman’s in Waimea (Kamuela) the best Big Island Restaurant for 13 consecutive years. Roy Yamaguchi is a James Beard Award winner based in Oahu, but there’s also a Roy’s in Waikoloa Beach Resort.
The main idea of Hawaii Regional Cuisine is to take advantage of fresh local island ingredients and incorporate them into creative and beautifully presented dishes. The cuisine focuses on grass fed cattle raised upcountry on deep, lush pastures, tropical fruits and vegetables grown in rich volcanic soil, and large deep sea fish. If you are a red meat fan, I highly recommend a night at Kahua Ranch, or a tour of Parker Ranch to learn about Hawaii Island’s paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) past.
Previously, Hawaii’s food scene was sliced pineapple on a pizza. Pricey Honolulu restaurants served meals made from frozen, picked-before-it’s-ripe food from distant lands. Traditional Hawaiian cooking was distorted to meet mainland tastes. When my parents think about dining in Hawaii, they think of poi, laulau, kalua pig and lomi salmon. This traditional Waikiki lu’au fare was soon followed by the “tiki” cooking style, which was mostly Cantonese with a fruity Hawaiian twist. Then came Hawaii Regional Cuisine which put the Aloha State on the international fine dining map.
Menus may include items such as seared albacore tuna with coconut ginger sauce; panko oysters with spicy, vine-ripened yomato relish; grilled mahimahi with poha, mango and papaya relish; furikake crusted salmon; Chinese pasta with sesame crusted opah and baked coconut taro. Thank you to Sam Choy and my Choy of Seafood cookbook.
If you are visiting Hawaii in June, the state’s largest “foodie” festival happens on Oahu. Flavors of Honolulu is a three-day event showcasing dishes from more than 25 of the island’s best restaurants. There’s live musical entertainment, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, a beer garden and exhibits. The event takes place at the Honolulu Hale on South King Street. For more information call (808) 532-2115.