Ox-tail Ramen at Ramen Nakamura (Honolulu, HI)


We were really eager for lunch after the forgettable breakfast on our flight from Auckland. Only a few blocks from our friend’s condo where we were staying, we headed straight for Ramen Nakamura on Kalakaua for their specialty, ox-tail ramen. While my usual choice for ramen broth is miso, Nakamura offering it (as well as shoyu) for an extra 50¢, my wife and I both chose the customary shio broth. The ramen arrived in a big bowl with two colossal sections of ox tail, meaty, bony and generously ribboned with fat. Prying the meat from the cartilage and bony flanges proved to be challenging, but there’s no denying they provided plenty of flavor and gelatin. The slightly thicker than usual ramen noodles were flawless. Adding to the experience were generous slices of baby bok choy, negi (Japanese green onion), slices of seasoned bamboo shoots (menma), roasted peanuts, and thinly julienned strands of ginger. For dipping the meat, a small bowl of grated ginger also arrived, into which the server recommended we pour a shoyu-ponzu sauce. Outstanding! Honolulu’s great ramen shops likely started up to cater to the legions of Japanese tourists who visit Hawaii, but the locals and other visitors have benefitted greatly from their presence.

Ox-tail shio ramen

Ox-tail shio ramen

Ramen Nakamura
2141 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI
808.922.7960
 

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Airline Food, Part 2


Breakfast into Honolulu

Breakfast into Honolulu

Breakfast is my least favorite airplane meal. Airlines seem to spend the least amount of effort to make anything remotely appetizing, at least as far as I’m concerned. Most, if not all of the meal consists of pre-packaged items that have been thrown together and weigh in heavily on refined carbohydrates and sugar. Hawaiian Airlines did not disappoint me. The breakfast served two hours before landing in Honolulu from Auckland was made up of pre-packaged croissant, pre-packaged blueberry muffin, pre-packaged butter spread, pre-packaged strawberry jam, pre-packaged apple slices, and pre-packaged yogurt, and served with pre-packaged plastic utensils. For someone who much prefers savory breakfasts, it was all I could do to eat breakfast. To make matters worse, the coffee was just north of lukewarm, meaning it wasn’t freshly brewed. After the surprisingly pleasant dinner that was served on the Honolulu-Auckland arrival leg over a week ago, all other meals have been Standard Airplane Food.

But, what about dinner right after takeoff from Auckland Airport tonight? Even though it essentially was the same dinner served only twelve nights before, it was just as agreeable, proving that the first dinner was not a fluke. Though tonight’s dried shiitake mushrooms weren’t sufficiently hydrated, they at least tasted like they were cooked in, can it be, dashi broth? I was probably dreaming. On top of it all, there was actually silverware with a nice large, turquoise-colored napkin, and pleasant complimentary wines from Redtree, your choice of a fruity cabernet sauvignon or crisp, dry chardonnay that was thankfully only slightly oaked.

Dinner out of Auckland

Dinner out of Auckland

To be fair, the breakfast was contracted out to a supplier in New Zealand since almost all the items had Kiwi provenances, but it was still under Hawaiian Air’s control. Methinks that the lion’s share of the measly budget set aside for food (sounds too frighteningly close to school lunch programs) goes toward dinner, and everything else, “Katy, bar the door!”

Waipara Valley Wine and Food Festival (Glenmark Domain, NZ)


waipara_festival

The Waipara Valley Wine and Food Festival is an annual event that celebrates the wines produced in the namesake valley. Such festivals are generally fun to attend, so when our son-in-law told us about this one, it didn’t take long to decide on going. In order to reduce traffic and congestion at the venue, several buses provided for-fee service to the venue from as far south as Christchurch. We caught our bus in mid-morning at the Cashmere Club pick-up point and headed north, the shuttle stopping to pick up additional passengers at six more stations before arriving at the festival grounds at Glenmark Domain.

As we stepped off the bus, the warm northwest winds for which the Waipara Valley is known were blowing stiffly, causing me to wonder if it was a good idea to have come to the festival. Because the winery and food pavilions were set in a forest of trees that served as effective windbreaks, I soon lost interest in the weather and began to get down to the business of sampling wine and food.

First a rant. I paid NZ $57.50 for each ticket, which included the bus fare from Christchurch, admission, a “complimentary” wine glass and entertainment. It did not cover even a limited number of wine samples or the wine glass holders, basically lanyards with an ingeniously designed clip for securing the wine glass around your neck, sold for an extra NZ $3 each (2 for $5). Wine fees were generally $2 for a sample (little over an ounce per pour), $5 for a glass, a bit more if you purchased a vineyard’s logo’ed glass. Some wineries offered purchases of full bottles using EFTPOS, but not credit cards. I felt like I was being nickled and dimed to death, more irritating since I began to worry about running out of cash.

Waipara Valley is known for its zesty rieslings, gewurztraminers and pinot noirs, a result of the warm northwesterlies that blow in the fall. All the wineries had rieslings to sample, many had gewurz and sauvignon blanc, as well as pinot noir and pinot gris. The sampling fee policy restricted our wine tasting to only a few wineries, including one which we really enjoyed when we visited the estate in 2010, Pegasus Bay Winery. Their Aria, a beautifully crafted late harvest riesling, is one of two bottles we brought back home that year. At the festival, we enjoyed the few samples we did have.

Sample festival wines

Sample festival wines

What surprised me was the quality of the food. Not typical festival fare, at least by U.S. standards, the food was first-rate. While there were the standard offerings you’d find in the States—chips (fries), hot dogs and waffles—we weren’t so keen on getting those, seeking out Kiwi food instead.

The first place we came across was selling crayfish fritters and garlic scallops, both shellfish locally sourced. There was already a crowd around the booth even if the festival had only been open for an hour. The transaction here typified what happened at all other food stalls. You paid at one station and picked up the order at another, with no claim ticket, relying entirely on the honor system. Nice. The scallops were cooked just right with their corals still attached, a great nosh. More ordinary were the fritters where the eggy batter overwhelmed the mud bugs. Both fritters and scallops were served between two slices of bread to avoid the use of paper plates presumably. We didn’t sample the seafood chowder, which other customers seemed to be gobbling up.

Janene McIllwrick's food pavilion

Janene McIllwrick’s food pavilion

Crayfish fritters

Crayfish fritters

Garlic scallops

Garlic scallops

Three restaurants were involved in a cook-off, though unclear how it was being conducted. Regardless, food was being sold by all three, including Isabel’s, where we purchased an order each of bruschetta and grilled lamb kafta.  The tomato-basil salad bruschetta was topped with a triangle of grilled haloumi cheese, a refreshing and excellent snack. A sloppy but tasty sandwich to eat was a pita garnished with lamb kafta, very thinly sliced ribbons of cucumber, tomato chutney and grilled red onions and garnished with too much of a tangy mint yogurt dressing.

Grilled Lamb Kofta

Grilled Lamb Kofta

bruschetta

Bruschetta

The Whitebait People pavilion was offering whitebait fritters. Since I first learned of whitebait on our first trip to New Zealand, I’d wanted to try some. The first encounter last July was not so impressive, sold by the shop that otherwise makes excellent fish and chips (Coppell Seafoods), probably pre-frozen patties that were thrown into the frying oil. Today’s was a better example of how Kiwis like theirs, in the form of fritters simply prepared. Sprinkled with salt and a squirt of lemon juice, it was fine, though not something I’d have to have again.

Whitebait on the griddle

Whitebait on the griddle

Whitebait fritter

Whitebait fritter

At around 4pm, we piled back onto the bus to take us back to Christchurch, facing the same stiff winds that greeted us on arrival. At the rear of the coach was a group of boisterous, tanked revelers who eventually quieted down as we got halfway to town. All in all, a pleasant day spent in wine country, which would have been even better if I didn’t feel ripped off.

Fried Fish from Coppell Place Seafoods (Christchurch, NZ)


coppell_seafoods

Ask a bunch of Kiwis where they enjoy their favorite fish and chips and you’re likely to get a range of opinions, so ubiquitous is this kind of shop throughout New Zealand. As an aside, an odd fact in New Zealand and Australia is that hamburgers are often sold in fish and chip shops, too. After asking around among friends, our daughter’s family has started going to Coppell Place Seafoods, about 5km from their home, a small takeout (takeaway, as it’s called in New Zed and elsewhere) that isn’t much to look at from the outside. Though many items are on the fry menu, including donuts, the fish is what customers usually order. The most popular is likely the first fish listed on the menu, akaroa cod, enormous pieces that are over a foot long. Fish can be ordered either crumbed or battered.

Since Coppell is takeout only, much depends on maintaining quality when transported home, and their’s delivers. Wrapping the fish in newsprint paper helps. Even 45 minutes later when we sat down at the table, we dove into the fish, even our young grandson (not yet 4 years old) who devoured almost a single foot-long piece himself. The fish was mild, moist and flaky. There is a specialness about the crumbed coating, crispy, almost crunchy, and nicely seasoned. It also clung to the fish without falling off in pieces, culinary sleight-of-hand that makes you wonder how Coppell’s does it. The frying oil itself may not have been the freshest, registering an off-odor in the car on the drive home, but that was something I didn’t want to think about too much.

My wife and I both agree that the fried fish here is among the best we’ve had (☆☆☆☆). My grandson thinks so, too.

Fried akaroa cod

Fried akaroa cod with crumbed batter

Coppell Seafoods
3 Coppell Place
Hillmorton 8025
Christchurch, NZ
03-338 5440
 

Furikake Chips


One of the extras of Hawaiian Airlines service is the Pau Hana snack bar area at the rear of the airplane. There, you can purchase a variety of beverages and snacks or even pick up a gift or two, including leis. I was curious about the concept, so I went to check it out soon after the announcement was made that the snack bar was open. Two flight attendants were busy ringing up purchases.

One of the snacks I noticed in the basket were Kona Furikake Potato Chips, which I’d never heard of. Being a fan of furikake, I was intrigued and bought a bag. It would be easy to overdo a product like this, especially since furikake, a condiment used for sprinkling on steamed rice, by itself is pretty salty and almost always contains MSG. So my first thought was that the chips likewise would be over-seasoned. Instead, the recipe is an example of restraint. While the marketing on the bag claims a special process to reduce oil and enhance crispiness, the chips to the naked eye appeared to be no less oily than any other fried chip, though they didn’t leave big oil stains on a napkin like some. The flavor, on the other hand, was quite good. With the right amount of salt, they had a hint of sweetness and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Finally, to justify the furikake label, each chip was dusted with powdered seaweed flakes (aonori) that rounded out its taste profile. That’s it, no other ingredients.

Kona Furikake Potato Chips

Kona Furikake Potato Chips

When I get back to Honolulu later in the trip, I’ll have to look for the product at Foodland, where by the way you can pick up Ted’s chocolate haupia pie.

Trans-Pacific Surprise


I was pleasantly surprised in a most unlikely circumstance.

Nowadays, you eat a meal on an airplane flight just to help pass the time, to get your mind off the cattle car roundup in the cabin, engine noise, TSA, and the other discomforts of modern-day flight. The last thing I thought I’d ever blog about is airplane food. And yet, here I sat on a flight from Honolulu to Auckland with a slight grin on my face. Did my taste buds awaken ever so slightly?

Hawaiian Airlines likes to brag that it is one of the few remaining airlines in the world to serve meals on all its flights (except for short-haul). While breakfast between Seattle and Honolulu was forgettable, the dinner on economy on the leg to Auckland was a mild surprise. Mind you, we’re not talking about restaurant-quality food here, but what normally rouses grunts of resignation turned out to be a decent repast of chicken with rice. The bird, a small cut of breast that might’ve been brined, had light teriyaki chicken flavors and pleasant smoke flavor from grilling, topped with a tasty if limp mango-red bell pepper salsa. Rather than Uncle Ben’s, the rice was steamed Japanese short-grain rice. It was good to the extent that pre-cooked rice shuttled from kitchen to airplane tray can be, a little mushy, not ideal but decent. Oh, and the mango cheesecake was a pleasant surprise.

At the risk of harboring false impressions, the so-called Hawaiian Tea served an hour outside Auckland featured an unimpressive chicken salad sandwiched in a cold kaiser roll, which our neighboring passenger sniffed at, put back in the meal box and enjoyed her pre-purchased spam musubi instead—my kind of people!