During the second day of my trip to Honolulu, I met up with a friend, Robert, whom I met online on Couchsurfing.com.
We decided to meet for lunch at Ono Hawaiian Food.
Located on a quiet Hawaiian neighbourhood, I chose this place because I had seen this place on the Taiwanese travel show 食尚玩家, which was visited and introduced by the funny duo 浩角翔起.
My initial concern about this restaurant was that it was pretty hyped up by the media and by the awards and accolades it has won; and the food may not be as it was said to be. However, I must say my purpose to visit Ono wasn’t entirely for the food. I wanted to find if their photo was still physically there in the restaurant.
This famous sign is still here exactly what I saw from the travel show.
We arrived pretty early and there wasn’t a queue. The photo below was taken after we left and there was already a small queue forming outside.
The interior of the restaurant is really exactly how it looks like on TV, however, I was so engrossed with our conversation and meeting Robert for the first time, I really just pulled the plug on my “blogger’s habit” and forgot a photo of the restaurant interior.
Surprisingly, I found out from Robert that the locals do regularly patronize this place and they love to get their Traditional Hawaiian Laulau fix here! That said, Robert himself is also a regular at Ono Hawaiian Food.
Robert, a cook and aspiring chef at the famous Royal Hawaiian Hotel (the flamingo pink Hotel in Hawaii) said the best and easiest way for someone to take in the whole Ono experience is to order their Laulau combo plate.
So, what exactly is Laulau?
Laulau is a traditional Hawaiian dish.
It consist of marinated pork and fish wrapped in Taro leaves and steamed till it is very soft.
*Ordering Tip from Robert:
- Order the Laulau set with Poi (taro paste), then add $0.50 for rice. If you order Laulau set with rice, the ala-carte price for Poi is $3.50.
- Order fresh Poi instead of the fermented version. The Poi in the picture is fresh Poi. The fermented Poi has an acquired taste. Even Robert mentioned that not everyone could appreciate the taste of fermented Poi. He prefers fresh Poi over fermented Poi too.
The Poi, as describe by Robert is a dish that although made from simple ingredients, requires lots of patience and painstaking preparation.
According to Robert, taro roots are first boiled or steamed until soft, then pounded or mashed into a thick paste. Water is then added little by little while stirring the paste to create the consistency and viscosity.
The Laulau consists of pork with a piece of fatty pork belly and a piece of fish inside, wrapped with taro leaves, steamed for 4 hours. The taro leaves were very bitter, but accompanying the salty steamed pork and fish, the bitter taste of the taro leaves becomes mellow and the balance of the saltiness and bitterness makes the overall palette less salty, and the freshness of the pork meat and the flavour of the marinate was able to surface in the midst of those multiple flavours.
- Kuala Pig/Kuala Pork:
Kuala Pork is actually pull pork that is cooked in an underground oven.
Firstly it must be marinated with sea salt, then wrapped in ti leaves, then baked in an oven created by digging a hole in the ground. The word “Kuala” meant “cooked in an underground oven”.
The pull pork on its own is salty with the juices of the meat in every bite and chew.
- Lomi Lomi Salmon:
Salt rubbed salmon chunks tossed in a sour tomato and onion salsa makes a very refreshing starter.
This is my favourite side dish.
This is like Beef Jerky. As I don’t eat beef, I don’t really know exactly what it would taste like. Robert took care of that.
How to eat the Laulau:
There is no one way to eat this dishes, but there are a few combination that Robert has taught me which I thought was quite an interesting taste when came together.
- Poi and lomi lomi salmon
- Poi, lomi lomi salmon, onions and kuala pork
- Poi, laulau pork and taro leaves
I like these combination too when I did my own style of mixing:
- Rice and lomi lomi salmon
- Rice, lomi lomi salmon and kuala pork
- Rice, Poi and kuala pork
- Rice, laulau pork, taro leaves and lomi lomi salmon
- Lomi lomi salmon, kuala pork and onions
OK, the combination can go on forever, so, you get what I mean.
*Please Note!! :
The above portion is good for 2 average person’s appetite.
Robert was telling me how the Japanese who patronized the store had tried to finish the entire set on their own!
I had replied that it is an Asian culture not to waste food.
For Robert and I, we still had much leftovers, so we got a take-away container from the restaurant and he gave me the rest to eat for dinner.
As all the food are steamed, heating up is minimal. I had a microwave oven in my apartment to take care of that. Still tastes good!
While in the restaurant, the first generation owner (the father) (now the ropes has been passed to his son, the 2nd Gen) came and chat with us. He was curious because I was looking around the entire room for 浩角翔起’s polaroid and I couldn’t find it.
As the interior was and still is plastered with photos, he offered to help me find it as he said he remembered every celebrity’s photo position.
However, we couldn’t find it at all.
A war veteran himself, he also spoke about his life experiences during the Vietnam war. You can see the passion of life in this old man’s eyes.
It was definitely a good start to an interesting afternoon.
The Laulau combo was about USD$14 plus tax.
Ono Hawaiian Food Restaurant
726 Kapahulu Ave,
Honolulu, HI 96816, United States
Tel: +1 808-737-2275
Closes on Sundays