Lunch Category

Ketchup & Rice

“EWWWW!,” I exclaimed with my best blech face. Sarah, my childhood neighbor (and one of the very few Korean girls in New Castle, PA), proceeded to pour Heinz ketchup all over her beautifully steamed bowl of sticky white Kokuho Rose rice. What was she thinking? Sure, pile on the stinky fermented cabbage, pickled burdock root, dried and fried anchovies, and Spam, but ketchup? That was just wrong.

Right?

Actually, it wasn’t until years later as a twenty-something when I traveled to Tokyo and discovered omu-rice, did I realize why Sarah didn’t flinch despite my outburst, as she ate that bowl of ketchup-y rice. The sweet and tangy western ingredient worked in the strange omu-omelette “paper”-wrapped dome of fried rice. It’s like when you spoon up a perfect mix of buttery hash browns, soft scrambled egg, and ketchup from an IHOP breakfast platter at 3 am (after you’ve been drinking).

I do confess, though, that I never really took to the cold Heinz on hot rice method. And I frankly get a little tired of the flavor about halfway through my omu-rice. Maybe it’s the Korean in me, but I find myself wanting to incorporate a pickle note or spicy kick.

This recipe is still easy and comforting, but brightens up the palate with fresh herb, heat, and texture.

Kicky Omu-rice
Adapted from the recipe by No Recipes

Fried Rice
1 chicken thigh, cut into 1″ pieces
1 small onion, diced
2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
2 cups cooked rice
3 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
1/4 cup napa cabbage, chopped

Egg Blanket
2 eggs
salt
1 tbsp oil

Beat eggs – add a pinch of salt and pepper – and set aside.

Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and add the chicken. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Mix in the cabbage and cook until slightly tender, about 3 minutes. Add the rice, ketchup and gochujang. Mix thoroughly.

Fill two deep bowls, about halfway, each with a mound of the rice. Set aside.

Heat same pan to medium, add a tbsp of oil and then the beaten eggs. Using a silicone spatula, gently fold the eggs over each other, until the majority of the eggs set and look like fluffy but shiny (moist) yellow clouds (about 3 minutes).

Blanket each mound of rice with the eggs. Garnish each top with chopped cilantro.

Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 5

When visiting Kauai, surprises can happen anywhere and at any time, and they usually take the form of something wild.

It was a glorious morning at the beach in Poipu and while Jordan was off body surfing, I opted for some quiet reading time on an adjacent beach. It was there whilst lazing in the shallows, that I felt a forceful bump behind my legs. Thinking it was some errant child pushed over to me by a wave, I turned my head around – eyes sleepy with sunshine – and found myself level with a young sea turtle.

Of course I was startled at first, but elation quickly took over. When things like this happen, it makes one feel as if reality isn’t all that it seems to be, and that there is much more right under our noses. And sometimes, like a sea turtle’s head breaking through the surface of a mossy ocean, that other reality breaches our own, if only for a few moments.

As a smallish crowd began to surround the two of us, I worried the sea turtle would abruptly leave. But it visited for about thirty minutes before heading back out to deeper waters. I felt so special.

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Still in a contemplative mood, I decided on a simple, casual lunch. Puka Dog would be the perfect place to go in our damp beach clothes. This Hawaiian original is a homemade toasted hot dog bun that is stuffed with a uniquely crafted polish sausage, and your choice of crazy sauces: Garlic Lemon, Sweet Maui Onion Relish, Spicy Hawaiian Pickle, Spicy Garlic Pepper Cheese, and seven other tropical condiments. Puka, by the way, means “hole” in Hawaiian.

We decided on one with hot garlic sauce, mango relish, and Hawaiian (lilikoi) mustard, and one with the same except with pineapple not mango relish. We also got some sweet Maui onion chips too, and washed it all down with their homemade lemonade. Althoudgh Puka Dog doesn’t hold a candle to the dogs in Chicago, in my opinion, it was definitely a great example of local tastes and was worth a try.

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Dinner was at another highly rated restaurant called Merriman’s. To be completely honest, it was a solid dining experience in a romantic setting, and it’s definitely a plus that they work with local fisherman for the day’s freshest catch. But I would have been just a fine getting some poke and homemade focaccia to-go and spending the rest of the night gazing up at the stars (which I ended up doing later).

Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 4

Needless to say the soreness of my joints welcomed a jacuzzi, sauna, and steam in the morning; all the more because I was about to head out for my first open-door helicopter ride. The forecast showed heavy clouds, strong winds, and rain, but there was no turning back now. I was off to Inter-Island Helicopters for a private 60 minute tour of the island in their peacock blue Robinson R-44.

Inter-Island provided exceptional service despite the shoddy weather and it did make for an exciting ride. I actually enjoyed the pitching and weaving of the helicopter, as well as, the occasional sea and rain sprays across my face accompanying each turn. It made for the kind of ride I was hoping to experience! The Napali Coast looked mysterious and even more dangerous with the misty tumultuous weather. I don’t think I could ever tire of the views.

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After my flight of boisterous fancy, I had a roaring appetite. Jordan and I decided to let our bellies lead us through the day. We got in our midnight blue Camaro convertible, and headed toward Hanapepe and Lihue where we could stop at a local sporting goods store and hopefully, enjoy some local comfort food.

On the way to Hanapepe, we spotted Paco’s Tacos food truck parked in an empty parking lot. We figured, meh, probably nothing anyway. Let’s keep moving.

Pfft! Yeah, right!

These tacos were some of the most memorable morsels from our whole trip. Super fresh, grilled mahi-mahi tacos with shredded cabbage, lime, pico de gallo and cilantro sauce. And equally good carnitas and carne asada tacos. Hit da spot.

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After admiring some especially kitschy refrigerator magnets at a local store, we drove to Lihue to hit up Haimura Saimin. Saimin is a Hawaiian original that mixes Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino flavors, into a big bowl of steaming savory broth. It’s Hawaiian comfort in a bowl, and the joint speaks for itself. It’s the epitome of a tropical island diner complete with a menu just as small and quaint as the place itself.

I highly recommend ordering a bunch of chicken skewers and putting the chicken pieces right into your bowl of saimin, along with generous amounts of hot mustard, hot sauce, chili vinegar, and a little soy sauce. Own your saimin!

We ordered the lilikoi chiffon pie for a little sweetness. Imagine if you scooped a chunk of bubbles from the top of a bubble bath, sprayed it through with tangy sweet passion fruit, and topped it with fluffy whipped cream. It was an ultra-airy end to a heavy, savory lunch.

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Last spot on our food tour was Fish Express which is a full-on local “deli” that offers a wide variety of fresh Hawaiian fare including local fish, poke, fish jerky, and raw seafood. And if you’re lucky enough to get there for lunch (which we weren’t unfortunately), they also offer Hawaiian-style sandwiches and gourmet lunch entrees like fish “blackened with guava basil” or “macadamia nut crusted [fish] with lilikoi.”

We decided on a bunch of funky pokes and ahi peppered jerky to go. And we also were pleasantly surprised to find boiled peanuts – one of Jordan’s all-time favorite snacks from the South! Who would have thought we’d be eating boiled peanuts and kimchee octopus poke in a parking lot of a Kauai-ian deli in the middle of the Pacific?

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Ok, I lied. We still had some room left for another sweet. After a little mobile research, we pulled into a strip mall parking lot and walked into Tropical Dreams which offers super-premium gourmet ice cream. Started by husband and wife team John and Nancy Edney who source more than 50% of their ingredients locally and are dedicated to using environmentally-friendly and sustainable means of production for their ice cream, this was the best ice cream I’d ever had. I mean, EVER.

The proprietor of the place – a “expat” from NYC named Daniel – was feeling extra chatty (queue teenage son’s eye roll), so we got foodie star treatment! While giving us taste after taste of the incredibly delicious ice cream, Daniel proceeded to illuminate us on his strong opinions on fiber optics, entrepreneurial ventures, Kauai, and why Tropical Dreams covers their ice cream bins with lids despite snotty tourists turning their noses up because they can’t see all the flavors on display.

After I literally tasted every flavor, I landed on chocolate coconut almond to which Daniel insisted he add a generous dollop of peanut butter. This was seriously flavorful ice cream. If you’re ever on the Hawaiian Islands, definitely try to find a Tropical Dreams shop!

Sigh, wish I could have gotten a better picture. This definitely doesn’t do the real thing justice.

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After a much needed nap back at the ranch, we couldn’t believe it but before we knew it, we were getting in the car again to go to dinner at Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill.

I know.

But it’s OK. We were on vacation. Isn’t gluttony a virtue when you’re on vacation?

It might have been the full belly talking, but I wasn’t too hyped on going to Josselin’s despite all the positive recommendations. Although I’d been eating very well, I wasn’t so sure that fine dining restaurants on Kauai were doing anything that interesting beyond dishes that could satisfy the greatest common denominator of flavor palates visiting the island day after day.

Thankfully, I was proven wrong by some dishes at Josselin’s! It started with the “muffin” assortment which included miniature biscuit-like rolls flavored with ginger, Thai curry, and cilantro. I know I’ve got a bread “thing” but these really perked up my taste buds.

The watermelon salad was disappointing, but the naan with spicy merguez, roasted eggplant, and mint was a huge win.

What was truly the pièce de résistance, though, was the 36-hour braised pork belly with apple kimchee and Lehua honey – an unbelievable, locally sourced honey from bees that feed exclusively on the Lehua flower which only grows on the ohi’a tree.

The honey glaze created a sweet candied shell keeping the wonderful juices inside every chunk of pork you pulled off with your fork. No knife necessary. The kimchee splashed spicy and tart refreshment at the back of the throat, whilst the salty sweetness of the meat meandered over the tongue. Chestnut, vanilla and basil also remarkably came through each bite.

The experience was kind of astounding. In fact, it was so exceptional that we finished off most of it, despite our stomachs being full to bursting.

Needless to say we did not order any dessert! And this time I’m not lying!

An Adventure Anniversary in Kauai: 10 Years!

As I walked over the gap from plane to paradise, I immediately smelled sea salt in the air as its light moisture descended on my skin, wrapping me in a warm dewy embrace. We had finally arrived in Kauai.

Expectations were already running high given the accolades I received for Kauai from what seemed myriad friends and colleagues, and yet I sensed this island would still manage to surprise us.

Kauai – home to a variety of climates on any given day, stretches of grassland ideal for raising cattle, dense fragrant jungle forest, beaches ringed by ancient rocky cliffsides, and “red dirt” soil rich with iron giving it its famous rust-like hue – promised adventure, perhaps even danger. This trip would be quite a contrast from the lazy luxury I’d experienced 10 years ago in Maui for our honeymoon. Kauai seemed the ideal destination for an adventure anniversary.

And of course, exploring would require plenty of energy-fueling eating.

But first: get our bearings, eat some fresh local ahi tuna (ideally, pool-side), and relax.

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The Dock is the casual eatery on the upper level pools at The Grand Hyatt in Poipu on the southern coast of the island. Nothing fancy, but I have to admit, this hit the spot. No fuss. No muss. Just fresh ahi. The Kalua BBQ pork sandwich was tasty as well.

Done and done. Now nothing but sun and sun.

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After a truly praiseworthy hour with our concierge extraordinaire Maren, we took a quick hike up the cliffs on Shipwreck Beach which is conveniently located right next to the hotel. This public beach area is aptly named given the rocky cliffs and ocean-side outcroppings. Seasoned local body surfers love this spot for its breaks. Definitely not for newbs. The waves here are raucous and relentless.

The hike gave us our first taste of Kauai’s rugged natural beauty and unforgiving terrain. Even for avid hikers like us, the Garden Island will make you work for it.

We were stoked.

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Unfortunately our first dinner on the island at Tidepools was disappointing, but romantic. The restaurant seemed to float on a picturesque koi-filled lagoon in the middle of the gardens at the Grand Hyatt. But it seemed Tidepools took its popularity a bit for granted.

My local baby romaine salad was so heavily dressed, it was white, and the ahi I had was sadly overseasoned to the point of being salty. It was almost like it was seasoned twice by accident. The ingredients were top notch, too. Sigh.

Jordan’s opah was much better, but the fish still had to fight for attention alongside the strong Creole-flavored sauce and succotash of potatoes, corn, edamame, and crab. It was decent, but the dish still seemed a bit heavy-handed.

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All in all, no matter. We were in Kauai. The Garden Island awaited us tomorrow.

Our dopey smiles said it all as we drifted in a sleepy haze through sweet-smelling greenery back to beckoning crisp white pillows.