Poke Your Eyes Out

That’s “po-keh”, which sort of rhymes with “okay”, as opposed to “poke” that rhymes with “croak”. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We are back on the Big Island, comfortably ensconced in our beautiful annual rental house for the next month or so, and enjoying our view of the blue, blue Pacific while all our East Coast friends and family gnash their teeth in envy. Feel free to gnash along: it’s gorgeous here. Photos in later posts.

Our first order of business upon arrival was picking up our rental car, which was, um, shall we say, more “expansive” than anticipated. Expecting a midsize SUV or large Jeep, we were presented with a Lincoln Navigator, a Brobdingnagian exercise in libertarian consumerism of such exuberant eco-criminality that Greenpeace now has a price on my head. A technology-laden behemoth, it is the size of a full-grown bull elephant and has a fuel economy measured in “crushed dinosaurs per mile”. At speeds above 60 mph, or whenever in four-wheel-drive mode, it requires its own convoy of refueling tankers. But it is roomy, quiet, and comfortable, so we’ll live with it. At least until I have to parallel park somewhere.

But mostly I wanted to talk about food, that being one of the sybaritic mainstays of our annual sojourns here. As you may know, the de facto state food of Hawaii is…. Ha! You were going to guess poi, weren’t you? But no. Poi is indeed a traditional staple here, but for historic reasons dating from World War II rationing, the go-to food in these parts is pig parts in a can, i.e. this stuff:


Hawaiians eat more Spam than any cohort in the known universe, or at least the U.S., an average of 5 cans per year for every man, woman, and child in the state. And as you can see from the photo, it comes in a wide variety of disguises flavors to suit every taste. That is, every taste except ours, since we never touch the stuff.

What we do eat a lot of here, is poke, which is a genuinely traditional Hawaiian food that has gone mainstream. Poke (remember, it is pronounced po-keh) can take many forms but is most commonly served as marinated ahi, i.e. raw yellowfin tuna. The word itself is Hawaiian for “sliced”.

Japanese cuisine has a strong influence on poke’s preparation, Japanese being the second largest ethnic group in the state, slightly behind Filipino. For one thing, poke is prepared with an enormous variety of marinades that include both Japanese and Hawaiian influences, such as soy sauce. And for another, at even the most hole-in-the-wall poke restaurants, it is presented with a certain symmetric Japanese aesthetic, as you can see from this photo of my lunch a few hours ago:


We had this little masterpiece at “Da Poke Shack”, just down the road from our house; it is possibly the mostly-aptly named restaurant in existence. That’s seaweed salad in sesame oil at the upper right, white rice with dried seaweed and sesame seeds at lower left, and two flavors of ahi poke in the other two diagonal corners. It is a little bit of culinary heaven that has now made its way to the mainland US with varying and usually dubious degrees of authenticity. I can assert from personal experience that if you are eating it anywhere outside of Hawaii with fish more than 10 hours old, you are not experiencing the good stuff.

Having thus officially alerted our digestive systems to our arrival in Kona, we moved on to the largest local farmer’s market, a frequent stop of ours. We bask for a while among the tropical fruits, a spectral riot lilikoi (a.k.a. passion fruit), rambutans, soursops, mangoes, tiny “apple bananas”, carambolas (= star fruit), and of course pineapples. The faces there are comfortingly familiar: we see the same multi-ethnic smiles at the stalls every year.


(This picture dates from three years ago, and we bought lilikoi from the same woman today. I showed her this photo on my phone; she gave Alice a big hug and asked me to email it to her.) We loaded up with a few bags of fruit, our eyes ever larger than our stomachs, before moving on somewhat reluctantly to the more conventional and cringingly expensive grocery shopping at the Kona Safeway. We will be entertaining a lot of visitors during this year’s stay; there will be many such trips to the farmer’s market, the Safeway, and to the KTA, a local family-owned grocery chain.

So in summary, we’re here, happily nestled into our house in the delightfully-named area of Kahalu’u-Keauhou. More posts later as this year’s adventures unfold.

Categories: Hawaii | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Poke Your Eyes Out

  1. Laura Friedman

    Welcome back to Hawaii. Looking forward to sharing all of the above with you soon.
    Hawaiians may eat more spam than other Americans, but I’ve heard South Koreans and Guamanians eat even more. They can have mine.

  2. Michael Weiss

    Rich, Wonderful timing for a trip to Hawaii! You missed the Polar Vortex.

    At Indiana University it was -11F (-36F with the wind chill) last Thursday, and so classes were cancelled, but faculty were still expected to be in and attend to all other responsibilities.

    Carol and I were on the Big Island two weeks ago but only for four days. It is amazing how many different microclimates and distinct ecosystems there are. We went to the Visitors Center for the telescopes–it was a bit chilly at that elevation, between 9 and 10 thousand feet. Best, Mike

    On Sat, Feb 2, 2019 at 9:16 PM Rich and Alice Go Globetrotting wrote:

    > richandalice posted: “That’s “po-keh”, which sort of rhymes with “okay”, > as opposed to “poke” that rhymes with “croak”. But I am getting ahead of > myself. We are back on the Big Island, comfortably ensconced in our > beautiful annual rental house for the next month or so, and en” >

    • Hi Mike —

      You’re quite right about the ecosystems: the Big Island has something like 12 of the 14 identified climate cones. Sorry we missed you here… best to Carol!

  3. Vicky Brago-Mitchell

    Sounds wonderful! John and I remember great food on the Big Island. Poi is yucky.

  4. We’re not gnashing too hard, 45 degrees today and supposed to be in the 60s tomorrow. But enjoy Hawaii, and try not to miss the Maryland winter too much!

  5. Plus points for the adjective Brobdingnagian! I remember having a close encounter with a Lincoln Navigator that some fool had imported in Italy. Here: https://goo.gl/maps/dHkUsUmYxbG2 I was driving up, at the wheel of a prehistoric Renault Clio, where a fine lady with said Navigator decided to cut the switchback because, yeah sod the Highway code. That radiator grill was immense!

    Enjoy Hawaii, jealousy expands to the UK as well where the weather is so bad that even the Evening Standard newspaper had a “poop’ emoji to describe this week’s.

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