Posts Tagged With: hawaii

How To Eat Pipikaula Ribs At Helena’s Hawaiian Food

Helena's Hawaiian Food

Helena’s Hawaiian Food

In the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean lies the most remote archipelago on the planet . . . Hawaii, the quintessential tropical paradise.  When traveling there, you will experience the most amazing beaches, tropical rain forests, cultural activities and restaurants.  But what is Hawaiian food and where do you get it?

That is a difficult question as Hawaii is a melting pot of many cultures.  Most people’s first experience with the Hawaiian cuisine is at a commercial luau.  (TIP: To find one while in Hawaii, check out: This Week Hawaii ( or Spotlight Hawaii Publishing (  These are the free magazines with coupons that you can pick up at the airport or tourist locations.)  But commercial luaus are just that, the food is made for the large crowds that attend.  So where does one find authentic Hawaiian food?

One could say that the Hawaiian plate lunch is Hawaiian food and they would be correct to an extent.  You can find plate lunches at many restaurants and roadside food trucks.  Plate lunch is two scoops of white rice, one scoop of macaroni salad and some super flavorful Hawaiian delight such as Kalua Pork (pig cooked in an Imu pit…amazing), Loco Moco (beef patty with egg on top), garlic shrimp, etc.  Plate lunches derived from immigrants sharing lunches while working on the sugar plantations.  It has become a staple of daily life in Hawaii.  While it is Hawaiian cuisine, it is not traditional fare.

One of the best places to find traditional Hawaiian food, in a non-luau setting, is at Helena’s Hawaiian Food (, 1240 North School St. in downtown Honolulu.  This is a no nonsense, local and foodie restaurant.  The only way to get this kind of authenticity is if you are eating at your Hawaiian auntie’s house.  If you go there during peak hours, you should expect to wait for a table.  Be patient, it is beyond worth the wait.

The menu is a compilation of unbelievable traditional Hawaiian fare.  They have the famous Kalua Pig, Laulau (pork and/or fish wrapped in taro leaves), amazing stews, Luau squid or chicken (cooked in coconut milk), Lomi Lomi, unbelievable seafood and much more.  But, when you go to Helena’s, you absolutely cannot miss their world renowned Short Ribs Pipikaula Style.  This dish is so good, it has been featured on two TV cooking and travel shows and is a winner of the prestigious James Beard Award.

The Short Ribs Pipikaula Style are strips of beef short ribs which are hung and dry aged.  They are then cut up to bite sized pieces and cooked to order.  While the Pipikaula Short Ribs are not to be missed, there is a proper way to eat them to enhance their succulent flavor.  Sure, you could pick them up and devour them as is and would not be the slightest bit disappointed.  But there are extras that come with this dish that should not be ignored.  When you order these wondrous morsels they are served with a small bowl of sliced Maui onions and another small bowl of Hawaiian sea salt.  Each piece of meat still has the bone in, but it is a small cross section of the longer rib bone.  It is just the right size for picking up and eating around the bone.

The meat is meant to be eaten with a small piece of the Maui onion and a little sprinkling of the Hawaiian sea salt.  The way you do this is entirely up to you.  Personally, I dip the onion piece into the salt catching a few granules and then putting in onto the meat I am about to bite.  I have seen people lick the meat, dip it into the salt and then pop a slice of onion in their mouths before they bit the meat.  Again, you can add your own flare to this.

Pipikaula Ribs

Pipikaula Ribs

The meat has a very rich flavor that is enhanced by the Hawaiian sea salt.  The Maui onion provides a sweet and pungent contrast to the beef.  The combination of these flavors makes the beef flavor explode in your mouth.  You are left salivating waiting for your next bite.

I have to make a comment about an underappreciated menu item, Poi.  When newbies first encounter it, usually at their first luau, they think it is a Hawaiian joke to get mainlanders to eat it.  But, I assure you it is not, they just do not know how to eat it.  Poi was and is the starch staple on the islands.  When eaten straight up it has no immediate appeal and is an acquired taste.  But, that is not how Hawaiians generally eat it.  Many Hawaiian dishes are highly flavored or extremely rich in flavor.  When you take these powerful proteins and dip them into the poi it tames the flavors down a bit.  Let’s say you are not a fish eater but are over a friend’s house and that is what they are serving.  If you dip the fish in the poi, it reduces the fishy flavor and makes it more palatable.  That is the trick with eating poi, dip something else in it and it magically becomes wonderful.

You can tell the great pride owner Craig Katsuyoshi takes in his dry aged beef.  Before we took a picture together, he joked about my height saying I might hit my head on his hanging beef strips.  We had discussed the variety of Hawaiian specialties he serves.  He was surprised how deep a mainlander went in trying items from his menu.  I told him that I am a long standing Kama’aina to the Hawaiian Islands.  He nodded understandingly knowing that I was just coming home for dinner.

Rob and Craig Katsuyoshi

Rob and Craig Katsuyoshi

Author:                  Robert J. Gorman, Jr.

Date:                      8/3/2013

Categories: Eatin’ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How To Be Like A Local In Hawaii

Napali Coastline

Napali Coastline

Imagine a tropical paradise isolated from everywhere in the middle of a vast ocean.  A place of magnificent beauty that remains at a constant 80° F (27° C) all year long.  A distant land where the briny smell of the ocean blends with the sweet aroma of tropical flowers and all carried on the trade winds.  This place is not a dream . . . it is Hawaii!

About 8 million people visit the Hawaiian Islands every year bringing their tourist dollars and acting as if they never left home.  (TIP:  For more on Hawaiian tourism, see: – more detailed information:  Hawaii may be part of the United States of America, but it previously was a sovereign nation and still holds fast to many local customs and traditions.  Once you step out of the tourist areas you will stand out as an outsider.  So, how does one act like a Kama’aina (pronounced ka-ma-EYE-na) or a non-native local?  (’aina)

“Why should I act like a Kama’aina?” you may ask.  Because the Hawaiian Islands are so isolated from any other landmass, people living there tend to rely on each other on a daily basis.  Outsiders generally are indifferent to the locals and only bring tourist dollars or want something.  Once you step outside of that cycle, a whole new world opens up to you.  You get to see and do things that the average tourist only dreams about.

Hawaiian Fruit Stand

Hawaiian Fruit Stand

Let’s start out with how to dress like a local.  Both men and women dress pretty much the same . . . board shorts, T-shirt and flip-flop sandals.  While anything is generally accepted, you should steer away from your local shirts such as sport teams, schools, etc.  This is because you open yourself up to negative preconceptions before you even say hello.

OK, now that you look like a local, get out there and meet some people!  Start with “Aloha”.  To outsiders this may seem cheesy or cliché, but it is used everyday by Hawaiians to say “hello”, “good bye” or “I love you” (based on context).  If the person you are saying Aloha to says it back and seems interested in talking to you, ask them something that is relevant to the situation you are presently in together.  For example, if you are at a roadside food truck, ask what they recommend there.  Or, if you are at a beach, ask when the best time of day is to catch awesome waves.  Basically, asking them for their local expertise shows that you respect their opinion and culture and is sure to lead to some good conversations.

Hawaiians, by nature, are very curious about life outside of the islands and like to “talk story” with people.  So, if you get the opportunity, share your experiences or listen to theirs with them.  On one occasion, I was talking with a local about a state park that had closed.  I had asked him about the reasons for the closing and he had shared something deeply personal with me about it.  It is a story I will treasure the rest of my life and also the bond and trust that was formed.  On another occasion, I was talking with a person and he discovered that I liked hiking.  He offered to take me on a hike on private property that he and his family had access to.  These are experiences I would have never had if I had not taken the time to get to know and share with a new acquaintance.

When talking to a Hawaiian local, it is acceptable to use Hawaiian words like Aloha and Mahalo (thank you) peppered in with your normal conversation.  (TIP:  More on basic Hawaiian phrases:  But do not try to speak the local pidgin as you will appear foolish or condescending.  It is a common bond between locals that should only be entered into if you have a long standing relationship with someone from the islands.

If you are invited over to a local’s home, make sure to remove your shoes before entering.  This is a tradition that arrived with the Japanese immigrant population and has become part of everyday Hawaiian life.  It is rude to enter a Hawaiian home with your dirty shoes or sandals on.

The “Shaka Sign” ( is used frequently on the Hawaiian Islands.  It means, “hi”, “how are you” and “thank you”.  It also denotes the Hawaiian spirit so you will see a lot of people, local and visitors alike, using it when taking a photo.  You may also see it being used by drivers.

Ray's Kiawe Broiled Chicken

Ray’s Kiawe Broiled Chicken

Driving in the islands is much different from the mainland.  The pace of life is slower and gentler.  Aggressive driving is not acceptable behavior, so please leave that at home (this includes the use of the horn).  It is the norm for people to drive at the actual posted speed limits or slower . . . and that is OK.  If you have to be somewhere at a specific time, make sure to leave extra early to account for this slower pace or unexpected traffic.  Another anomaly on the Hawaiian Islands is courtesy.  People actually will stop to let pedestrians cross the roadway or another car enter into the line of cars.  As a matter of fact, this is the expected behavior.  The driver you let into traffic will often give you the Shaka Sign to say thank you . . . make sure to Shaka back.

If you have noticed throughout this article, I have referred to the Hawaiian people as locals NOT “natives”.  They are citizens of the United States of America and are proud to be both American and Hawaiian.  If you live in the USA, then refer to it as “the mainland” and NOT “back in the USA”.  If you remember this distinction, you are well on your way to being accepted.

Now that you know the basics, get out there and meet some people!!!

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Dress Locally: board shorts, T-shirt & sandals
  • Use basic Hawaiian words: aloha, mahalo, A hui hou (until we meet again)
  •  “Talk story” with the locals
  • Remove shoes/sandals before entering a home
  • Use the Shaka Sign often
  • Drive slower and more courteous
  • Hawaiians are “locals”, people from the lower 48 states are “mainlanders”, Alaskans are “Alaskans” or “mainlanders” too

 Author:                  Robert J. Gorman, Jr.
Date:                      7/25/2013

Categories: Behavin’ | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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