I have been lucky enough to travel to Hawaii for work a few times. Now, in many ways this is just incredible. How many people get to go to Hawaii, and for free! It's a place I honestly never thought I'd go and I'm still so grateful for the opportunity to experience warm weather (and the humidity!) in the winter, slow down on "island time," and experience the wonderful culture and hospitality of the less-touristy areas of the Big Island.
But I will say there's a big difference between honeymooning in Hawaii and traveling there alone for work. I knew people at the site where I was working, and one of my sister's best friends lives out there, but there is nothing stranger than spending most of your flights and time outside with newlyweds. Like, every flight. And on every tour or next to you in every restaurant as you chow down while people-watching (really couple-watching here) or reading a book. The weirdest part was chatting up couples my age with absolute rocks on their fingers who had recently bought homes. I was feeling a little jealous that they were at this point in their lives, having found a life partner and who they were ready to share their lives and this insanely beautiful place with, but I could also tell they were a little jealous of me. Traveling by myself, for free, and getting to make my own plan for the day and leave a few things til my next visit since this wasn't a one time trip. That really helped me appreciate my experience, and feel happy for these cute little couples starting their own adventure.
So. On to the food! I enjoyed so much delicious Hawaiian cuisine so there will be a lot of posts, but I had to start with some epic Japanese food. I was pretty much obsessed with Kanpai in Hilo, on the Big Island, during my visits. One trip I went two nights in a row.
The best part about Hawaii - well, one of them - was the insanely fresh fish. Restaurants are able to utilize the best local catches from that morning, and boy can you tell the difference. I'm not usually a sushi person (except for Philly rolls), but I went overboard on my trips.
It was always worth it at Kanpai. I've had their Ahi Roll, Spicy Ahi Roll (which is like way way spicy), smoked salmon roll, ramen, and miso soup.
God their miso soup. Most Japanese places taught me that this is sort of a throwaway, a little salty broth with some scallions to keep you from freaking out from hunger.
Kanpai helped me realize just how amazing it can be. This was full of tofu and green onions, with little bubbles of heat that seemed to continually rise up. It was flavorful, so delicious that I ordered it every time I went. Just ridiculous.
Ramen looks beautiful upon delivery and tastes just as good. The big red bowl was spicy though - something I would highly recommend for all you heat-seekers but that was a little overwhelming for my bland palate.
All of their sushi was painfully good. Usually I'd get too excited by the menu and over-order. The staff is thoughtful and attentive. On one of my last visits, I ordered the Ahi Roll and chatted with the waitress about the Spicy Ahi roll and how, although delicious, it was wayy to spicy for my Irish/Polish self. When my roll came later it was accidentally the Spicy one, which the waitress had noticed as she brought it over. I said I thought I could manage, but she insisted the kitchen (which is right in front of you if you sit at a stool) would remake it. After attempting a piece and chugging half my water I agreed with her, and she packaged that roll for me for later or to give to someone else. The sushi chefs were so nice, and when I was finishing up they insisted - like seriously insisted - that they let me make them another roll to go. When I politely protested they told me that the fish was so fresh they use it daily, and it would be wasted if I didn't take some home since they'd get new fish the next day.
I think part of their offer stemmed from the mishap earlier (that really didn't bother me), part from the fact that I was eating alone with my book (actually one of my favorite things - I don't have to talk; I can focus on my food!), but mostly I think they are just a group of very thoughtful people.
Every aspect of this small restaurant is carefully executed, and every staff member I interacted with was friendly and considerate. Based on my experience I would be willing to bet that this group would go out of their way to make a gluten-free meal totally separate from everything else that someone with Celiac would not only feel safe eating, but love.
Final note: do NOT miss out on their sake cocktails.