From HON­OLULU ’s new food scene to the epic moun­tains and beaches of the north shore, HAWAII’S most bustling is­land is rid­ing a new groove rooted in re­dis­cov­er­ing its her­itage that will feed your soul in more ways than just poke and poi


Is Hawaii the new food cap­i­tal of the world?


It was a ques­tion, but I read it as a mis­sion state­ment: “We must find shave ice. Now.” That was my fiveyear-old daugh­ter’s first wish when we got off the 11-hour flight from New York City to Hon­olulu. Not to hit the beach, not to hunt for water­falls, but to devour thin flakes of ice shaped into a fluffy mound, served in a bowl and doused with a va­ri­ety of fruit syrups — ice cream and fruit top­pings op­tional, but highly rec­om­mended.

Shave ice is to the kinder­gart­ner what a mai tai is to an adult when it comes to the thing you crave most as Hawaii’s warm air and fra­grant flora wel­come you to the most iso­lated pop­u­la­tion cen­tre of the world. They are the cliche de­sires of non-hawai­ians but I’ve found from vis­it­ing this ar­chi­pel­ago over the past 15 years that Hawaii has a spe­cial way of mak­ing cliches feel au­then­tic, even on Oahu, the most vis­ited of the is­lands, and one syn­ony­mous with the high-rises of Waikiki.

The is­land can of­ten be more of a stopover for those seek­ing the even slower trop­i­cal rhythms of Maui, Kauai, or the Big Is­land. That’s too bad be­cause Oahu has in­creas­ingly be­come an even more soul­ful place in touch with its land and his­tory. Hon­olulu has emerged re­cently as the kind of din­ing des­ti­na­tion where one makes reser­va­tions at places like Sushi Sho be­fore book­ing a flight. And when the vibe on the con­ti­nen­tal US feels as di­vi­sive as ever, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the spirit of aloha is re­fresh­ing.

Oahu mov­ing be­yond its colo­nial and in­dus­trial his­tory feels or­ganic, holis­tic. Take our first shave ice of the trip at Un­cle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha, a place in a strip mall not far from the Ka­hala neigh­bour­hood. Shave ice, while deeply sat­is­fy­ing on a hot day, can taste, and look, as ar­ti­fi­cial as, well, a snow cone. Started in 2011, Un­cle Clay’s uses nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents de­rived from the wide di­as­pora that makes up Hawaii’s food ways. There are the ex­pected guava and pineap­ple syrups, but made

from the ac­tual fruits, no neon colours added.

You feel a recla­ma­tion of Oahu’s her­itage at

Kako’o ‘Oiwi, a non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion whose goal is to help re­store Hawaii’s agrar­ian past be­fore the sug­ar­cane and pineap­ple in­dus­tries scarred the land — the last sug­ar­cane plan­ta­tion on the is­land shut down as re­cently as 2016. In He’eia, a ver­dant marsh­land with a back­drop of the lush crin­kles of rock and fo­liage that makeup the Ko’olau moun­tains, my fam­ily and I took part in a vol­un­teer pro­gram to till the earth, man­u­ally, with our bare feet in the mud, up to our torso. For a city per­son whose in­stinct is to avoid mud, it’s a kind of rev­e­la­tion once you get brave enough to jump into the bron­tosaurus­foot­print-sized hole. The stuff smelled, well, earthy. Alive. We were break­ing up the ground to plant kalo, also known as taro, a cul­tur­ally im­por­tant sta­ple. Kalo was one of a few plants that the orig­i­nal Hawai­ians car­ried with them across the wa­ter, us­ing only the stars and an un­canny un­der­stand­ing of the ocean to nav­i­gate, yet most of it is im­ported. In fact, Hawaii as a whole still im­ports around 85 per­cent of its food.

In restau­rants across the is­land, how­ever, there is greater ef­fort to sup­port lo­cal farms. The bounty can be seen first­hand at the Kapi’olani Com­mu­nity Col­lege farm­ers mar­ket every Satur­day morn­ing or at the mini em­pire of lo­cal-cen­tric restau­rants from chef Ed Ken­ney, one of the lead­ers of sus­tain­able farm­ing prac­tices on the is­land.

Oahu’s seed­ier ur­ban area is also go­ing through a re­vi­tal­i­sa­tion. Chi­na­town has al­ways been a home to Asian com­mu­ni­ties, but it also car­ried a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing a brother-es­que hang­out for sailors and sol­diers from its in­cep­tion in the mid-1800s through World War II and the years fol­low­ing it. When I first vis­ited Chi­na­town in the early aughts, I turned the car around. A lit­tle too “up and com­ing,” let’s say. To­day I shopped for mod­ern aloha shirts at Roberta Oaks, looked for vin­tage aloha shirts at Bar­rio Vin­tage, browsed the worn cu­rios at Hound and Quail, and had a most avant-garde meal at Senia. The neigh­bour­hood,


which is filled with the worn beauty of turn-of-the­cen­tury brick ar­chi­tec­ture, feels like it has fi­nally ar­rived as an or­ganic neigh­bour­hood des­ti­na­tion, a pleas­ant con­trast to the mall-ness

-of Waikiki, just a few miles away.

But in a place where rain­bows are on the li­cense plates, beauty man­ages to pop up in un­likely places. In our rental car, my daugh­ter asked me, “Daddy, do you know there’s a place where peo­ple not only sing in har­mony but live in har­mony?” The an­swer, she tells me, is Oahu.

Where did this spot-on tru­ism come from? In the rearview mir­ror I see that she’s read­ing from a travel brochure she grabbed from a kiosk in Waikiki.

When it comes to Oahu, the po­etry is ev­ery­where.

The Hawai­ian is­land of Oahu has long been a surfer’s par­adise, but there is more to it than sweet reef breaks

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