A Hawaiian Food Odyssey That Looks Beyond the Poke Bowl

From Kalua Pig to Spam Musubi

By Shari Gab

“E ʻAi Kāua.” That’s Hawaiian for “Let’s eat.”
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08 July 2016

It’s easy to see why poke — deconstructed sushi bowls by way of Hawaii, for the unanointed — are taking over.

They’re healthy. They’re simple. They’re tuna tartare’s spunkier younger sister.

And they’re everywhere.

There’s Pokeworks. Wisefish. Noreetuh. Suzume. Sons of Thunder.

But there’s a helluva lot more to Hawaiian cuisine than raw fish over rice. So we took a jaunt to our favorite island-inspired haunt, Onomea, to see what’s cooking.

Williamsburg’s Onomea is quirky but seductive, in part due to owner Crystalyn Costa, a twentysomething delivering genuine eats and true-to-island-life vibes. She may be an amateur restaurateur, but it matters not when you’re serving up family recipes passed down six generations on the Big Island.

Here’s what she had to say about some non-poke Hawaiian go-tos:

On Spam …
“Spam is a way of life in Hawaii. If you didn’t grow up eating spam, then you didn’t grow up in Hawaii. It was originally brought over by the G.I.s way back during the war or when they were based on the islands. At the time it was rare and delicious, so it was considered a delicacy.”
The order: Spam Musubi, wrapped in rice and seaweed

On mac salad …
“Mac salad brings a plate lunch (what we call entrees at Onomea) to the next level. If you mix it in with your food, your tastebuds will hit a higher note. But all in all, mac salad was inspired by soldiers, the same way spam was originally introduced to Hawaii.”
The order: Shoyu Chicken or Loco Moco teriyaki burger w/ mac salad

On Kalua Pig …
“Kalua Pig is the go-to dish and most popular item in Hawaii. Traditionally it was prepared in an imu, which is an underground oven.”
The order: The house Kalua pig, a smoky, slow-cooked pork served with shredded cabbage

For closers, don’t miss out on the Haupia, a firm coconut custard, and fresh Kona coffee. Both are sweet, strong and hard to find.

Oh, and don’t worry: they also have poke.

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