Like father, like daughter

Disclaimer to my mother: please sit down before you read the first sentence.

IMG_2258

I hitchhiked for the first time the other night.

kauai mapLet’s get a couple things straight.  First, hitchhiking on Kauai is a fairly regular and comparatively safe occurrence.  People who hitch here say they would never do it on the mainland.

Second, hitching on this island is logistically simple.  There is one main road that traces the circumference of the island almost from end to end (it skips a bit of the Na Pali coast on the northwest side).  Directions are given in relation to this one road.  This makes an atmosphere most conducive to hitchhiking.

Third, hitchhiking appeals to my environmentally friendly side (which is most sides of me I hope) because it keeps a couple more cars off the road.

IMG_2996The night began innocently enough over dinner at The Eastside in Kapa’a with a couple of new friends.  (The potato wrapped Mahi Mahi was so delicately melt in my mouth spectacular that I could have eaten it for the next six meals straight).  The majority of my dining companions dropped off for responsible adult reasons (…having to put the four-year old to bed…need to wake up at 4 am to open the bakery…) and left Robert and me to our own devises.  After another bar though, Robert’s bed was calling to him as well and I was left the last one standing…on the side of the road.

IMG_2994I put my thumb out and start walking towards my destination about five miles away.  I thought, “This is going to be easy.  I’m a chick and I’m wearing a cute little sundress.  The first car that passes me will pick me up.”

Ten cars later, my ego starts to develop a small bruise.  No one has stopped.  Hmmm.  I carry on.

Twenty cars.  My ego is now turning a pretty shade of black and blue.  Really?!  I’ve seen dozens of hitchhikers get picked up in the time that I’ve been here.

Thirty cars.  Okay, now I seriously feel like the last kid picked on the softball team, except I wasn’t even competing against anyone.  It’s as if teams had to be picked and I was the only choice for a teammate and I’m still left there standing on the sidelines with no one to play with.

Forty cars.  I start to laugh at myself.  How egotistical could I be?  Did I really think that I was such a hot ticket that I would be in demand even when hitchhiking?  Get a grip Darla.  With each car that passes, my self-mocking smile grows bigger.  Oh, okay.  I get it.  I’ll be walking all the way home.

IMG_3095Finally I see taillights pull over to the side of the road a couple yards in front of me and I run up to the passenger-side door.

“Thank you so much for picking me up,” I say with an appreciative smile to the thirty-something surfer who has been nice enough to spare me any more embarrassment.  I slam the door beside me and we take off.

“No problem.  Where are you going?”  The driver responds.

Silence.  Where do I want to go?  I don’t want to go home yet, but I do have a ride…hmmm.

“I live up Kawaihau, but just drop me at Kealia,” I decide.

“At the beach?” he asks.

“Yeah.  I want to walk the beach for a bit before I go home,” I say surprised at my own answer.

We exchange some small talk and I find out that Russell has only been on the island for a couple months.  Due to the high-cost of living and lack of viable professions, the non-native population here is very transitory.  After a couple miles, Russell flashes his blinker and slowly turns right into the dirt parking lot that stretches in front of the beach.

“Are you sure it’s okay for me to leave you here?  Leave a woman alone at night on the beach?  I could take you home.”  He stammers nervously.

“It’s fine.” I respond confidently and head out into the night.

IMG_2264Now, the reason my answer to be dropped at the beach surprised even me: I’m scared of the dark.  Yup, that’s right.  Totally petrified of being alone in the dark.  I tried to get over this fear once when I was about 19.  In fact, I tried to get over that fear as well as my fear of public speaking at the same time.

I had just started working at the law firm that would later consume my twenties, I was living in North Philadelphia and I needed some extra dough to help pay for my lofty university bills.  So, I saw an ad in the paper, figured I could make some money and battle a couple demons all at the same time and went to the open interview.

After successfully landing the job I added a new talent to my repertoire.  I was now a tour guide at the Eastern State Penitentiary’s Halloween haunted house.   Not only was I a tour guide, but I was in charge of telling a tale crafted from the only real ghost story of the penitentiary.  Dark; check.  Public speaking; check.

eastern state penitentiary

IMG_3089

.

.

.

Let me explain what this interview entailed.  After weeding through the pool of freaks and weirdos that showed up for this open call (me included), those of us who were left were divided into different sections depending on our talents (scaring people, being intimidating, having artistic endeavors, speaking in comprehensible English).  When the gaggle of tour guides was brought together for our group meeting, we were asked which one of us would like to take on the illustrious job of telling the one true ghost story.  Before the question was out, my hand was in the air.  I think it happened without me knowing.  One minute I’m sitting there thinking, “I would never volunteer for that position,” and the next minute I’m picked.

Night after night I would dress myself up in my best sexy vampire outfit, paint black sexy vampire make-up on my face and ride the subway from my office in Center City to my penitentiary in North Philly.  Night after night I would stand alone in a solitary confinement chamber, pump a smoke machine, and tell a tale to a group of strangers.  This routine went on for about 30 nights.  I told that story 15 times a night in the pitch black.  And during the lag time between tours I was alone in the darkness of a rundown prison.

I emerged the day after Halloween still scared of the dark and still petrified of public speaking.  So much for that little experiment.

IMG_3071IMG_3060Ten years later, I find myself walking along the deserted beach in Kauai, thinking about my Dad as I splash through the waves.  My father is an adventurer.  It’s his genes that give me this constant need for adrenaline in all its forms.  He’s the reason that as a thirty-year old middle-class

suburban American girl I feel comfortable flying to India solo or walking into a new bar by myself or hitchhiking alone.

After I had felt like I had frolicked enough for one night, I started the hike home.  The road was more deserted now so my thumb (and ego) was ignored by fewer cars, but it was ignored nonetheless.

Eventually I saw the friendly sight of taillights pulling over in front of me and I ran to meet my ride.

Ricardo was nice and took himself out of his way to drop me at my door.  I waved good-bye and headed into bed.

IMG_3009A few days later I was on the phone with my dad.

“Dad, I hitchhiked the other night.”  I tell him with pride.

“I hitchhiked the other day too!” He exclaims.  “It’s the first time I’ve hitchhiked since I before you were born.”

After putting our dates together we came to realize that 5,000 miles apart, we had hitchhiked on the very same day.

Don’t mess

Or maybe it’s a gay bar…or a biker bar…or…oh, who cares.

Lumahai

Lumahai

I heard from some locals that The Noodle House was the way to go.

“You want Saimin?” they said.  “Go to The Noodle House.”

IMG_2756I definitely wanted Saimin, but what I got was more than a bowl full of noodles.  First off, Saimin deserves much more than a footcard so I will describe it here.  Saimin is the Hawaiian gourmet version of ramen noodles.  It’s just like the language here (pigeon) – a nice combination of everyone who originally mixed together to create something new and totally delicious.  It has a little Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Hawaiian all mixed up in a bowl full of broth.

A different beach view

A different beach view

Technically speaking (because I can admit that the above description lacked a lot of technicality) it is a big ceramic bowl of delicious dashi, crammed full of wheat egg noodles, green onions, bok choy, pork-filled dumplings, fish cakes, wonton crisps, a hard-boiled egg and, in my case, because I love to pretend I’m vegetarian, tofu.  My dining companion had some juicy hunks of pork in place of my big chucks of tofu.

dashi.

.

.

As Sara says, “This is so much better than Ramen.”

IMG_2326aJust like in the noodle houses that pepper the streets of Chinatown in Philadelphia, a plate of condiments arrived with our ludicrously large vats of soup.  The condiments are usually shoyu (soy sauce), hot mustard sauce, Sriracha (a hot chili sauce) and some other tasty flavorings.  If you are unfamiliar with Asian soups, it can be an intimidating delivery to the table.  At times like this I like to remember a sweet little Arabic saying that my foodie friend, Leen taught me: “Eat whatever thou likest, but dress as others do” (wise words, especially when in the very fashionable Dubai).

IMG_2871aThe Saimin is eaten using a combo of chopsticks and an Asian soup spoon.  It’s not as tricky as it sounds, I promise.  The chopsticks grab the big hunks of meat and dumplings and the spoon follows closely behind to scoop it all up and add some dashi to the savory mix.  It is comfort food at its best.

IMG_2104As I sit on my stool and sip on one of the strongest Mai Tai’s ever placed on a bar I realize that the room is nearly empty.  Sure tourism may be down a bit due to the recession and the layout is a little funky and could use some updating, but this is damn good Saimin in the heart of one of Kauai’s busiest towns.  It’s prime dinnertime.

“What was this before The Noodle House?”  I inquire reaching into the depths of my easily distracted brain for an inkling of a story I’m sure I’ve heard.

“It was a biker bar,” Darren responds as he slurps soup from the spoon.

“And before that?” I ask turning to our doting bartender.

“Gay bar,” she says.

“Gay bar,” I repeat.  “Gay bar then biker bar then Noodle House?”

Silence.

Is it the previous bar’s reputation that keeps diners at bay?

Sort of.

IMG_2887

Nature on art

In the next four minutes I get two versions of the same small town story.

First, the bartender tells a tale of a much-loved local biker who came into the bar one night, as he did most nights.  He had one drink, left on his bike and his night ended in a fatal crash.  The bikers stopped coming.  The locals stopped coming.  The owners changed the name, menu and the establishment.  The bikers never came back.  The locals never came back.

Doesn’t make much sense until Darren fills in a couple holes after the bartender goes to the kitchen to check on an order.

The local story is that the much-loved biker had much more than one drink and left the bar thoroughly intoxicated.  The fatal crash ensued.  The rumor is that the owners never took responsibility for their part in this fateful night.  The bikers didn’t like that.  They stopped coming.  The locals stopped coming.  The owners changed the name, menu and the establishment.  The bikers never came back.  The locals never came back.

A rockstar in the making

A Hawaiian rockstar in the making

Bikers are loyal people.  When I was growing up, my dad and my aunt were friends with a Harley gang.  My cousins and I would spend weekends hanging out with bikers, riding motorcycles and listening to crazy stories over cases of cheap beer.  (Let’s clear that up – we weren’t drinking the beer – the bikers were.)  People with names like Chickenthroat and Sarg’ would tell us on a regular basis that if anyone bothered us we were to let them know so they could take care of them for us.  They were loyal to my dad and for that they would do anything to protect “us kids.”

“Ain’t no one gonna’ give yous kids no trouble,” We would hear on a regular basis.

IMG_2755

I glance around and see patrons at only one of the twenty or so tables scattered around the room.  As I lean in for another heaping chopstick-spoonful of deliciousness I hope that The Noodle House might one day recover from giving the wrong kids some trouble.

Where’s the pork?

A plate lunch may seem like a strange choice for a semi-vegetarian foodie, but…well, there’s no but.

IMG_2695

As a Temple student, I am well versed in the art of ordering lunch from a truck – after all that is where the best food on campus comes from.  You can get Chinese food, a gyro, a hoagie, a slice of pizza and most recently warm cookies right from the back of a truck.  Everything served to you in (environmentally-unfriendly Styrofoam) take away containers.

So the idea of eating a plate lunch from a truck on the side of the road in Hanalei (my new favorite place thanks mostly to the picturesque nature of the little beach town and the over-abundance of cute surfers to look at) was comforting.

IMG_2379A plate lunch is a quintessential Hawaiian dish.  Typically it includes some type of meat, two scoops of rice and macaroni salad (or “mac salad” as it is better know here).  The meat can be chicken or beef, but more popularly pork.  Apparently, it used to consist of white dog as well.  Not black dog, not brown dog.  Only white dogs.  Don’t worry Lassie, that tradition is long gone.

TJ, my willing local surf instructor/tour guide and constant source of entertainment, took me to sample the mixed plate lunch, which consists of the above and then some.  At the Hanalei Taro Juice Co. that means a $9.00 Styrofoam container of all the best foods served at a luau.

“Gone all out Hawaiian now girl.”  TJ says with a satisfied smile.  “This is all-guns-blazing Hawaiian style right here.”

.

IMG_2382We order at the truck, wait until the steaming-hot, fat-laden plates are passed through the window to our hands and sit down at the picnic table to indulge.   TJ gives me a tour of the cuisine as I not-so-delicately shove it into my mouth.

taro

.

.

.

Let’s start with the vegetarian friendly pieces of this schmorgasboard.  A scoop of sticky white rice is accompanied by the traditional mac salad, but the Hanalei Juice Co. is kind enough to grate some taro into the mayonnaise-y mix.  Next is a container of poi – a slimy purple paste the color and consistency of pureed black beans, but tasting more like a starch in its purest form.  Poi is mashed taro and water and is scooped out with two or three fingers rather than utilizing something silly like a spoon.  Despite its bland flavor, it’s an acquired taste.  Hence the $0.50 poi sample option for the skeptical.  The vegetarian portion of the meal is rounded out with a bite-sized piece of taro mochi – very similar to the Japanese desert, but with…surprise…more taro.

ti

IMG_2641A culinary bridge between the plants and the pigs is a small plastic cup of rosy-red lomi-lomi salmon.  It has the consistency of salsa, but no spicy jolt joining the diced tomatoes, onions and tiny bites salted salmon.

As I dig into the two heaping piles of steaming hot fatty pork sitting in front of me I hear someone order a Polynesian Papaya smoothie.  I wonder if I will remember how to eat healthy again after I finish devouring Wilbur and his brother.  The pork laulau is pig wrapped first in a taro leaves and then a ti leaf and finally steamed.  The meat takes on the flavor of the tropical leaves and is left juicy and tender.  The kalua pig, on the other hand…or maybe it’s the very same hand…comes from the traditional underground smoked pig.  You know the one that is a dead giveaway of a luau.  Essentially it’s Hawaiian pulled pork, but without all the fancy sauce dragging the pork flavor down.

IMG_2590

My fingers scoop some lavender paste from the bowl of poi on my left as I dig past the taro leaves to get into the succulent pork laulau.  Damn, I guess vegetarianism will have to wait another day.

IMG_2340

« Older entries