It’s hot in the northern hemisphere and it’s time for a swim. If you are able to find a secluded beach right now, that’s the biggest win; bring some of our ideas with you in your cooler. If not, you can play beach at home. So far, I have only been to the Big Island of Hawaii, and it did not disappoint; that’s what we’re going to focus on recreating. The fruit and the coffee were the most unforgettable consumables of the trip, along with some other traditional staples you can recreate at home with or without a trip to an international grocery store.
Get in the mood with themed music while you’re prepping dinner or lounging around with a cocktail. For the “sound” of Hawaii, we typically think of ukelele and Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole’s famous medley of “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World.” Definitely check out Israel and the Makaha Sons of Niʻihau on Pandora or YouTube. But for something a little different, explore Hawaiian slack key guitar music. Kī hōʻalu, which literally means “loosen the key,” is the Hawaiian name for the solo fingerpicked style unique to Hawaii. It’s an “an arpeggio style where the thumb and the fingers are playing two separate parts on the same guitar.” It will transport you. Here’re a great example by one of the greats, Gabby Pahinui.
Some say not to go to Hawaii for the food, as the local staples aren’t for everyone. But there are some things you’ll need to experience. We’ll start with hard mode. If you need to take on a huge project, make kalua pig in an imu pit you will need to dig yourself, with fermented poi (or taro root) on the side. Or….you can opt for our easy mode options. One of our favorite fake-it-til-you-make-it meals is what we call the “picnic dinner”–for when you want to feel fancy and fun without putting forth much effort. This can get as easy or complicated as you want it to be. Here is our list of Big Island picnic recommendations:
If you have an international grocery store, go there first to find this fruit list. But you can make do with what you find at your normal grocer (who likely won’t have fresh lychee or rambutan, but canned lychee is quite good).
- Hawaiian papaya: Hawaiian papayas are pear-shaped and smaller than the huge ones you usually see. They have green-yellow skins and golden flesh that is intensely flavorful. Chill them, cut them in half, hollow them out, and either cube them, eat them right out of the skin with a spoon, or use them for a boat for yogurt parfait.
- Lilikoi (passion fruit): This is Hawaii’s favorite flavor. It’s truly indescribable and like no other fruit. Try to find the yellow variety before you settle for the wrinkled purple ones. Cut them in half, and use the pulp for anything you want (the seeds are edible). Ice cream topping, smoothies, cocktails, etc.
- Lychee: The size of a big cherry and also incredibly delicious…like a combination of grape, pear, peach, and strawberry. Peel away the soft outer red shell and eat the white flesh underneath, leaving the inedible pit behind.
- Rambutan: A lot like a lychee but more fun–it’s covered in soft spines and looks like fruit from outer space.
- Pineapple: If you opt for fresh pineapple, you can tell when it is ripe, as it will be nearly completely yellow, very fragrant, and you can pluck a leaf easily out of the top.
Savory appetizers or entrees
Spam musubi: Hear me out. I was really resistant to this at first, but it’s incredibly delicious. It’s a common lunch, snack, or picnic food in Hawaii which can be found at every deli and convenience store. here’s an excellent recipe from an islander. They key to musubi is packing/pressing the rice, and eating it with its delicious sauce as well as sriracha. You can get an inexpensive musubi press online, or improvise with what you have at home.
Poke: The simpler the better. No crazy sauces or bowls needed. Traditional poke doesn’t go far beyond sesame oil, soy sauce, and sliced Maui onions. Here’s a traditional recipe. You can make a poke bowl if you want, but poke is one of those things best enjoyed on its own or scooped up with a simple vessel, and maybe served alongside some sliced avocado. I loved it scooped up with Kona Potato Chips in furikake flavor.
Hawaiian butter mochi: You need this right now, I promise you. Get the ingredients and make it immediately. Here’s a nice compilation of info, including a recipe at the end. And here’s a link to the mochiko flour if you can’t find it at your market. You may as well buy two…you’re going to want to make this again. It’s not healthy, but it is gluten free!
Cocktails: The Mai Tai is the Hawaiian cocktail, even though it didn’t originate in Hawaii; it was created by Trader Vic in Oakland California in 1944. Here’s a little history and a recipe for an authentic mai tai. It’s not for every day, but it’s a must for our Hawaiian picnic situation. The orgeat syrup can be hard to find, but just pick up a bottle online.
Beer: Pick up a cube of Kona Brewing Company’s beer. You can find it in pretty much every grocery store. I like the Castaway IPA.
Coffee: Make Hawaiian Kona cold brew. The coffee in Kona was amazing and is special in part because it’s hand picked due to the steep, volcanic slopes where it likes to grow; it’s hard to get machinery able to navigate the terrain. Tasting notes are brown sugar, milk chocolate, honey, bright fruit, and it has a nicely low acidity. It’s pretty easy to find coffee from Kona online, but if you don’t want to pay the price, start a couple days early and make your own cold brew at home with any coffee using this method.
You don’t have to picnic while watching the movies we will recommend, but how fun would it be to open your windows to whatever night sounds you have at your disposal and spread out a blanket on your floor and picnic while you chat or watch.
- For the adults: Punch-Drunk Love (Adam Sandler), Blue Hawaii (Elivs Presley) Snakes on a Plane, 50 First Dates, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, From Here to Eternity (classic film with Frank Sinatra), and the 2014 remake of Godzilla
- Family-friendly ideas: Lilo and Stitch, and Moana (kindof)
Virtual tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Created by the National Park Service and Google. This is full of hard to reach locations and cool volcano stuff, with a park ranger to guide you
Iolani Palace virtual tour. Iolani Palace is in Honolulu on the island of O’ahu. The palace was the residence of Hawaii’s last monarchs.
- Hawaiians are all about being comfortable. Dig out your Hawaiian shirts and flowy-est sundresses.
- If you’re stuck at home but want to cool off, build a huge, reusable slip n’ slide (big enough for adults) for about $60. Here’s a tutorial from the place where you buy the plastic.
- Tiki torches. But if you need to avoid accidentally setting things on fire, check out these solar powered torches with faux dancing flames.
- Relocate a bright or natural fiber rug to cushion your floor picnic
- I don’t have an extensive cosmetics regimen, but something I do always have on hand and have used weekly for years is this Alba Botanica Hawaiian Body Cream in kukui nut. It smells incredible. People always ask me what the scent is (in a good way?) It’s not full of harsh or icky ingredients, and Alba doesn’t test on animals. Moisturize yourself and then cool off with a couple mai tais.
If you’d like an extended experience, we have collected a few highly rated titles by indigenous Hawaiian authors.
House of Many Gods: A Novel
by Kiana Davenport
“From Kiana Davenport, the bestselling author of Song of the Exile and Shark Dialogues, comes another mesmerizing novel about her people and her islands. Told in spellbinding and mythic prose, House of Many Gods is a deeply complex and provocative love story set against the background of Hawaii and Russia. Interwoven throughout with the indelible portrait of a native Hawaiian family struggling against poverty, drug wars, and the increasing military occupation of their sacred lands.”
This is Paradise: Stories
by Kristiana Kahakauwila
“Elegant, brutal, and profound—this magnificent debut captures the grit and glory of modern Hawai’i with breathtaking force and accuracy. … Exploring the deep tensions between local and tourist, tradition and expectation, façade and authentic self, This Is Paradise provides an unforgettable portrait of life as it’s truly being lived on Maui, Oahu, Kaua’i and the Big Island.”
The Salt Wind: Ka Makani Pa’Akai
by Brandy Nalani McDougall
“This postcolonial collection of poetry is the first by Native Hawaiian poet, Brandy Nalani McDougall. Of the collection, Samoan novelist Albert Wendt writes: “Once in a while a collection of poetry comes along and grabs your eyes, heart, and na’au and makes you see and feel more deeply than you’ve done in a long, long time. For me, Brandy Nalani McDougall’s collection is one of those. And I keep rereading it. Her poems have a unique and hugely inviting surface simplicity and elegance that immediately hook you into them, into their profound and complex depths of imagery, lyricism, political and historical savvy, feeling, thought and vision. These are woven together with unusual wisdom, perception, control of language, and intense aloha for her people and islands. You have to read this collection. It will lift you and make you feel you are more.”