Honolulu… Poke bowls, a Tiki bar and a bunch of sailors

The Hawaiian islands are full of surprises, iconic names that resemble to paradise, pacific traditions and modernity. From surfer’s dreams when it comes to waves and sands (well, surf was born here) to ancients traditions that they are part of the everyday life, even if you are not from here, like having fish poke in an average bar, but we’ll talk about poke soon.

Hawaii is a real melting pot. Starting with the original settlers, that they share ancestry with the rest of the Pacific islands like Polynesia, Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand, to Japanese families that came three generations ago, to continental Americans, and anybody else that is looking for the year-round sun and perfect weather.

One of the curiosities… well, one of the many curiosities that Hawaii has, is that is the only state in the US to have the Union Jack in their flag, since at a certain point in history, they were a British territory. Also that along history, as many islands of the world, they were subject of intensive agriculture of crops that had nothing to do with the original ecosystem. Because of these changing economic trends around the world, Hawaii was a big producer of pineapples, coffee, sugar cane and macadamia nuts, other tropical products, and each of them left a trace in the local culture.

Hawaii still produces one of the finest coffees in the world, the Hawaiian kona. Pineapple is still big, but not so lucrative in the mass scale as I heard. Some of the sub-products are very interesting, like pineapple wine. From the indigenous point of view, coconut is still traditional along with everything that comes from the ocean.

Poke bowls, an ancient tradition with an exotic twist

Fish or seafood poke has its roots here, in Hawaii. When the fishermen came back to the shore, they used to rub fish cutlets with salt and eat it straight away, as a snack. That was the beginning.

Having Hawaii so many immigrants from all around the world, particularly from Asia, and not just in this generation but for many generations already, the fusion is natural. Today, poke bowls are a regular “fast food”. It’s no surprise that the most reputable specialized place to have a poke bowl in Honolulu is not a restaurant, it’s a hole in the wall, almost a takeaway.

I’m talking about Ono Seafood, at the 747 Kapahulu Ave, in Honolulu. Don’t bother making reservations, they have only a few tables outdoors and is self service. The line at lunchtime can be long, but they serve fast. You have three main ingredients: ahi tuna (yellowfin tuna), octopus, and recently added, salmon. We choose ahi tuna in two different versions: with wasabi and with spicy mayo (mayonnaise with sriracha) marinated in the chiller with onions, garlic and some other ingredients that they didn’t want to disclose. An amazing and surprising tasty lunch served with either white or brown rice.

Tiki bars, mai tai, rum, and the US Navy

Tiki bars are one of the first expressions of mixology that we can think of, with deep roots in the Hawaiian pop culture, colorful drinks with locally distilled rum (made from sugar cane, which was a main production in the Hawaiian islands), pineapple and other fresh juices, typically garnished with pineapple wedges, cherries and even flowers. The Tiki cocktails are often served in tikis, little Polynesian idols, made of clay or wood. It’s from those days were the longboards, big waves, sunsets at the beach under the palm trees and tiki drinks like zombies and mai tai were part of the same postcard, and the original soundtrack used to be Don Ho, Elvis Presley, and later The Beach Boys.

A great representative of Tiki bar is La Mariana Sailing Club, in Sand Island, Honolulu, about a 20 minutes away from the Aloha Tower. The entrance is hidden, and is located on the waterfront. Originally a real sailing club, still keeps the facilities, but is better known for the drinks, the atmosphere and the Tiki traditions. Established in 1957, La Mariana is still a part of the Hawaiian folklore. Decorated with longboards, buoys, Tikis, palms and fishnets, it still serves, as it always did, to a very eclectic crowd.

Gathering place for old surfers, sailors, yachters, fishermen, cruise-ship crew, and even US Navy. While we were having lunch, in a corner table there was a big group. After a couple of minutes of friendly and relaxed conversation, two Navy officers, in their day uniform went to the head of the table, and out of the blue, one tells to the other: “Ok, let’s talk business… Rise right hand and repeat after me: I, (say your name), promise to defend the Constitution…”, and right there, in a Tiki bar, in front of some colleagues, friends and family, a Navy officer was getting his promotion to his new rank. That is how deep Tiki bars are in the Hawaiian culture.

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