Kauai Cuisine: Eating Good on the Garden Isle

By Coco Zickos

Spicy ahi (tuna) roll. Photo: Sarah Browning.

Kaua‘i’s more than 500 square miles of ‘āina (land) is home to a range of microclimates. Rainforests dripping with precipitation and dry cactus-laced coastlines make the island an exclusive location for harvesting a variety of food. Chefs have the privilege of using purple sweet potatoes, green beans, mango and lychee to spruce up their dishes, as they are among the bountiful edibles regularly available to them. That’s what makes dining here so special. This variety of flavors straight from the soil is why the culinary culture on the Garden Isle is something to look forward to during your Hawaiian vacation.

Fresh, Local Ingredients

Lychee fruit. Photo: Duluoz cats.

Most restaurants encompassing the island have at least one or two specialty dishes that use fresh, local ingredients. You’ll find salads made with greens from north shore farms and desserts created with fruits plucked from west side gardens. Most places strive to use as much local produce as possible for their dishes.

Fresh Catch of the Day

Ahi (yellow fin tuna). Photo: Lee Sean.

The cuisine on Kaua‘i also represents the myriad of fish found in deep waters surrounding the island’s coasts. Often, restaurants will serve the fresh catch of the day, which can fluctuate from ahi (tuna) to ono (mackerel). Chefs use the fish in a range of ways from baked with a macadamia nut crust to rolled raw in sushi. There’s often an Asian Pacific flare to these dishes as well. Teriyaki sauces and miso glazes are common to many menus — something you won’t be able to taste in quite the same way anywhere else.

The Kauai Food Truck Scene

Pineapple sunrise pancakes with coconut honey syrup from Fresh Bite Kauai food truck. Photo: Kate Vacanti.

Sit-down restaurants aren’t the only option if you want to experience Kaua‘i’s culinary culture. Food trucks keep springing up in places like Hanalei, Kapa‘a and Po‘ipū. They are a less expensive, more casual option, but the food is just as delicious. Many of these trucks also go out of their way to work with farmers and fisherman to accommodate the local food movement.

Farmer’s Markets

Sipping a coconut in Hanalei, Kauai. Photo courtesy of Keira Morgan via flickr.

It goes without saying that farmer’s markets are one of the best places to get in on Kaua‘i’s culinary action, especially one where value-added products are sold. These items are pre-made and can be anything from popsicles made with fresh fruit and homemade jams, to pasta and soup.

Kaua‘i’s cuisine is so eclectic with such a unique tropical flare it would be difficult not to please your palate during your stay in paradise.

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