Travel Destinations

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tasting Kauai’s Tropical Fruits and Island Cuisine on a Hawaiian Food Tour

Tasting Kauai Food Tour Hawaii
Some familiar and some exotic fruits tasted on the Tasting Kauai food tour. 
I love food tours.  So far I've joined a Baja food tour, Beijing food tour, and Shanghai food tour.  But what would a Hawaiian food tour involve?  Loco moco, plate lunch, pineapples, spam?  I stumbled across Tasting Kauai on Twitter while researching our last minute trip to Kauai and was intrigued.  When I learned the Taste of Kilohana tour included riding a train, touring the Kilohana Plantation, snacking on exotic fruit, drinking a mai tai, and devouring a three-course island lunch, I was sold.  I sent Rome golfing at the Kauai Lagoons (he’s allergic to pineapple after all) and joined Tasting Kauai’s food tour.

Kilohana Plantation Tasting Kauai Food Tour Hawaii
Who wouldn't want to spend a morning at the beautiful Kilohana Plantation?
Tasting Kauai’s Taste of Kilohana tour started at the Kilohana Plantation train depot.  We boarded the train with our guide Kai, who is the agricultural expert for the Kilohana Plantation, for a narrated train tour of the 105 acre agricultural section of the Kilohana Plantation in train cars made with rich Philippine mahogany.  During the train ride we learned about a number of the exotic trees on the property including papaya, acerola cherry, and Samoan coconut.

Kilohana Plantation Train Tasting Kauai Food Tour Hawaii
All aboard Kilohana Plantation's train.
The first stop on the train ride visited the plantation’s goats and wild pigs where we disembarked to feed them with pieces of bread.  And since it’s Kauai, a few chickens joined the feeding frenzy.  You can feed the goats by hand, but don’t try to do the same with the wild pigs as they will bite.  Those buggers are cute but mean!  The tiny baby pigs were running around trying to catch crumbs of bread, but the adults would push them out of the way.  We all found ourselves trying to improve our aim to get bread to the babies, cheering when they grabbed a piece and exclaiming out loud when an adult stole from them.  Don’t worry, those pigs get plenty to eat running around on the plantation, and they are strictly for the tourists, so they won’t end up on your dinner plate at the luau.

We got back on the train until we stopped at a pineapple field.  Did you know it takes two years for a pineapple to fully ripen on the stalk?  We learned some more about pineapples, how they’re planted, how they grow, how to choose a good one, and then moved over to a presentation area where Kai showed us all the fresh fruits he had picked for us that morning and allowed us to taste them all. 

Kai Kilohana Plantation Tasting Kauai Food Tour Hawaii
Kai talking pineapples.
We first tried ohia ai, which originally came from Tahiti and kind of look like small apples.  They taste similar to pears, have a mild rosewater perfume and are used a lot in pies. We tried some mandarins and kona oranges and then tried cashew fruit.  Cashew nuts are toxic if eaten raw, as the cashew is related to poison ivy, but the juice of the fruit to which the nut is attached can be tasted.  The juice was mild with a nutty sweet taste, but it left an unusual dryness in our mouths because the juice is 40% tannins.

Jabuticabas and Acerola Cherries Tasting Kauai Food Tour HawaiiKai next passed around a bowl of jabuticabas and acerola cherries.  The cherries were light red with some yellow and very good, but I loved the jabuticabas (also occasionally called Chewbaccas, Jaba the Huts, and more by our group).  Jabuticabas are deep purple and very similar to grapes but firmer.

Kai next demonstrated how to eat lilikoi, or passionfruit, as the fruit is completely filled with seeds.  He punched a hole in the top and showed us how to just squeeze the juice straight into our mouths.  We also tried three kinds of lychee: pink lychee, emperor lychee, and diamond lychee.  The diamond lychee was my favorite by far.  The easiest way to eat lychee is to bite into the skin and push out the milky white fruit inside.  We all got to partake of a fruit salad made with fresh pineapple, apple bananas, and papaya before walking through the property back to the Kilohana Plantation mansion.

Lilikoi Demonstration Tasting Kauai Food Tour Hawaii
Three lovely ladies demonstrating the best way to get the most out of lilikoi.
The mansion houses Gaylord’s Restaurant and the Mahikō Lounge, a bar opened two years ago in what was originally the mansion’s living room.  We each got a mai tai made with rum from Kauai’s local rum distiller, Kōloa Rum Company, and learned the secrets of Gaylord’s mai tai drink recipe.

Our Tasting Kauai food tour ended in the private dining room of Gaylord’s with a three-course meal made for us by Chef Todd Barrett.  The day’s menu started with pan seared shoyu-ginger marinated Makaweli top sirloin poke served in a lumpia wrapper bowl with Asian slaw and finished with a sweet-spicy sesame aioli.  Beef from the Makaweli Meat Company on Kauai is grass fed, natural, sustainable beef and it was some of the most tender and flavorful beef I have ever tasted. 

Gaylord's Makaweli Top Sirloin Poke Tasting Kauai Food Tour Hawaii
Makaweli top sirloin poke in a crispy lumpia wrapper bowl.
Next was fresh seared ahi, just caught a couple days before, with coconut infused ulu and Maui onion, fresh ho’i’o, squash, zucchini, and red onion and an incredible wasabi mirin beurre blanc and Kabayaki drizzle.  Ulu is breadfruit and this was my first experience with it.  In this dish it was very similar to cubed potatoes.  But a common way breadfruit is eaten is to cook it in hot coals until the skin is blackened, then serve with butter and salt.

Gaylord's Seared Ahi and Breadfruit Tasting Kauai Food Tour Hawaii
Seared ahi with coconut infused breadfruit.
Our meal was completed with a selection of three desserts.  One was a Kauai honey and goat cheesecake tart with lemon crema sauce, fresh whipped cream and candied macadamia nuts.  Another was a strawberry and chocolate tartlet with chocolate ganache in a graham cracker crust and topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.  The third was Gaylord’s famous classic banana coconut cream pie topped with Kōloa Rum whipped cream, toasted coconut, butterscotch sauce, and candied walnuts.

Gaylord's Desserts Tasting Kauai Food Tour Hawaii
Honey lemon goat cheesecake tart, banana coconut cream pie, and chocolate strawberry tart.
Travel the World on Tasting Kauai Food Tour Hawaii
Who loves food tours?
This girl!!
The Tasting Kauai Taste of Kilohana food tour was a great opportunity to visit a famous Kauai landmark, taste some unusual tropical fruits, many of which I can’t find in my local grocery store, learn what a good mai tai tastes like, eat a fantastic island meal, and meet some fun fellow travelers.  Everyone left full and had a great time.  In addition to the Taste of Kilohana tour, Tasting Kauai also offers weekly farmers market tours and A Culinary Romp Through Paradise tour.  A portion of the proceeds from the tours as well as the book is donated to the Kauai Branch of the Hawaii Food Bank.

Thank you to Tasting Kauai for hosting my Hawaiian food tour and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.  Tasting Kauai is owned by Marta Lane, Kauai’s only full-time food writer.  For Kauai restaurant recommendations you can purchase a copy of her book Tasting Kauai: Restaurants.

Travel the World: A food tour with Tasting Kauai is a great introduction to Hawaiian cuisine.

Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.