There is always a food truck nearby when you’re hungry on the island of Oahu. Some have a reputation reaching far beyond the island. Others seem a little quirkier.
We ate at one of the most famous – Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. It began in 1953 in a converted bread truck that stopped at different spots to offer their limited menu – Shrimp scampi, Hot and spicy shrimp, and Lemon butter shrimp. Since they were the only show in town, the developed a following for their delicious dishes and started a trend. Now Giovanni’s has two food trucks anchoring the North Shore and eating here is part of the North Shore experience.
We ate at the one in Haleiwa village, at the west end of the road – it’s address: across from the MacDonalds. It was a 20-minute wait just to place your order. Then, another 20 minutes to get your food. But it was worth it. Garlicky grilled shrimp on a bed of rice: peel and eat. Once you taste them, you forget all about the wait.
Each food truck has a specialty: tacos, sandwiches, burgers, sushi, bbq chicken or pork, fresh fruit, and shave ice. Often, the best recommendation is simply the people gathered around the truck. One day as we were driving along the east coast, we spied a dozen people at a food truck – that’s where we were going to have lunch!
It’s called the Holo Holo Stop, open weekends and holidays only. I asked the woman in front of me what was good to eat. She said, “It’s supposed to be the best place for Lau Lau.” What’s that? “I’m not sure,” she said but ordered one anyway. We watched as the chef prepared it, keeping up a constant commentary. It looked good and like nothing we’d ever eaten, so we ordered it too.
The chef, a big man who barely fit in the cooking area, described the various components. First on the plate, steamed sticky rice, then the Lau Lau: slow cooked pork, onions and taro leaves, next the Pasteles, a savory pudding of potatoes, bananas, olives, tomato paste and various seasonings. These last two are baked and boiled respectively wrapped in taro leaves so he unwrapped them in front of us. Saimen came next, a relish made with ingredients similar to a Mexican pico de gallo, but seasoned differently and enhanced with cubes of Spam. He topped it off with his special spicy sauce and voila – lunch! It was delicious and we were pleased we’d opted to share one plate. We weren’t even able to finish it.
Taro is root vegetable staple of the Polynesian islands. In Hawaii, it famously used to make poi, a creamy food similar to yogurt that has a light purple colour from the natural colour of the taro. It’s also eaten baked or boiled. Leaves can be cooked or used to wrap other foods for cooking like the Lau Lau.
Spam is inordinately popular in Hawaii. The state has the highest per capita consumption, about 6 million cans per year for a population of 1.4 million. They even make sushi with it.
Shave ice is exactly that, ice shaved so fine it’s like snow. It’s served topped with flavoured fruit syrups and the best way to eat it is with a scoop of ice cream as the base.