Monday, January 10, 2011

Hole-in-the-Wall Tour, Hawaii

Being the ultimate in lazy tourist travellers The Boy and I did a few tours when we were in Hawaii.

As an experienced tour-taker I can say that the Hole-in-the-Wall Tour we did on our last day in Hawaii was hands down the best tour out of the lot. Now that I sit back and think about it, it could be the best tour I’ve ever done....really  After all, what could be better than being led and fed around Honolulu by some locals who really know their (food)stuff.

That said we did do a tour to The Big Island were we saw red hot flowing lava which was also pretty cool. AND we got to walk on lava that had flowed only a few weeks before – we could actually feel the heat coming up through our shoes from the cooling lava.  

But the volcano looses out to the food tour as food trumps lava any day in my books.

This kind of tour is right up my alley but I’d ummed and aahhed about booking it as at US$99 per person (plus tax) it’s not cheap.  Turns out it was more than worth the price and I wish I’d booked it before we’d left Oz as the food and restaurant tips that tour operators Matt and Keira gave us would’ve come in handy on our holiday.  We were lucky to get two spots on a tour that was running the day before we flew out.

The Hole in the Wall Tour is the brainchild of Matt Gray and his fiancé Keira Nagai. Matt is a former executive chef from LA and former food critic for the Honolulu Advertiser.  To say he knows about food is an understatement.  Keira is Hawaiian born and bred and offers a truly great insight into the Hawaiian culture surrounding food.

Much of the Hole in the Wall tour centres on Honolulu’s Chinatown area.  Hawaii is a very multicultural state and much of the food is Asian inspired. Honolulu has a kick-arse Chinatown, which is really impressive for such a small city.

So enough talking, let’s get to the food.

To say I’m excited when Matt and Keira pick us up in the Van of Earthly Delights in an understatement. 

I nearly pee my pants with excitement when we get to our first stop, Royal Kitchen, to try Baked Manapua.

Baked Manapua is of Chinese origin and was introduced to Hawaii in the 19th Century when thousands of immigrants flooded the islands looking for work on plantations. Manapua is a baked bready bun that is traditionally filled with char siu (aka Chinese BBQ Pork).  At Royal Kitchen in Chinatown they’ve take things one step further and offer a mind boggling array of yummy innards.

After more umming and ahhing I go for the kalau pork (as I’ve developed a huge fondness for this tasty piggy feast on my trip).  The Boy is a traditionalist from way back and opts for the char siu.

Now, the Manapua is by far the best thing I tried on the food tour. The bun was hot out of the oven and the bread casing was soft and squishy. And, the kalua pork! Oh the pork. My god it was so tasty.  The meat was tender with a lush smoky flavour (which I now know can be achieved at home with a bottle of “liquid smoke” if you don’t have an underground oven to cook your piggy in).  I’m still kicking myself for not going back to get myself a second one.

Next we’re off to Ying Leong Look Funn Factory in the Kekaulike Mall where sheets of rice noodles have been made by hand for more than 50 years. 

As part of this tour we got to go behind the scenes of this little factory to see the workers oiling pans that are then filled with the rice noodle batter, steamed, hand folded and stacked.  Ying Leong’s is the only place in Hawaii (and possibly the world I’d say) that hasn’t succumbed to the modern age and still makes their noodles by hand.

Our little group of 12 then formed a huddle outside the shop (to stop the locals pushing in and grabbing out tasty treats) where we got to taste the rice noodles.  As well as plain noodles, which we get here in Oz, we also tasted noddles embedded with shrimp and spring onion and roast pork and spring onion.

Also on offer was Korean BBQ chicken from Jackie's Kitchen inside the Maunakea Marketplace food court.

Then we all got to go for a wander around Chinatown for awhile whilst Keira raced around the various marketplaces nabbing goodies for us to try.

We resumed our huddle in Kekaulike Mall whilst platters and platters of food were paraded out for us to try.

First up is the Ma Tai Su Flaky Pastry (Chinese pot pie) from Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery.  This was tasty, but nowhere near as good as the Baked Manapua that it slightly resembled. The innards were quite strong flavoured – leek, pork, onion – and a bit overpowering for some of the tour goers. It’s a little bit like an English Pork Pie with the texture of the pastry and also the meat. 

Next we tasted some “exotic fruits” from the market.   

We tried longan, a small fruit similar to a lychee that tastes a little like honeydew melon. Also on offer was the beautiful looking rambutan

A visit to Hawaii is not complete with eating your own body weight in their beautifully sweet pineapple. We sampled fresh pineapple and also pineapple sprinkled with the exotic sounding Li Hing Powder which is made from salty dried plums and is usually sprinkled on fruit.  It has a sweet, sour and salty taste and works really well with the super sweet pineapple. We actually bought some of this to try on our fruit at home.

Also on our fruit plater is fresh strawberry papaya.  I’m not a fan of papaya (aka pawpaw) as I think it smells a bit like vomit (admit it, you agree with me right). I gave the Hawaiian version a go and it’s “OK”, not as pungent in flavour or taste as our Aussie Pawpaw.

Then came a local favourite, Spam Musubi.  Hawaii is the USAs largest consumer (and lover) of Spam. If you don’t know what Spam is, it is basically ham in a can.  During WWII Hawaiians embraced Spam – there weren’t a lot of other choices to eat meat – and they still love it to this day. It’s not uncommon to see it offered on restaurant menus for breakfast.

I’m excited to try the Spam Musubi as it is something that is uniquely Hawaiian – you certainly won’t ever see it at Sushi Train’s in Sydney. The spam is lightly grilled and flavoured with teriyaki sauce and it’s surprisingly good. I’ve actually seen Spam Musubi on offer at various convenience stores around Waikiki and now I can see why.

We also tried Ahi Poke, another local favourite.  Poke is a raw fish salad made from Ahi (yellow fin tuna) that is marinated with sea salt, soy sauce, roasted crushed candlenut, sesame oil, limu seaweed, and chopped chilli pepper.  This is fancy sashimi and I like it.

But wait! There’s still more food to come. Lucky I’m wearing a stretchy skirt as my tummy is starting to bulge.

We’re presented with a sweet offering next, peanut-sesame filo and apple banana (a bit like a lady finger banana, but very sweet with a firm texture). 

 After all this food it’s time for a beverage. Keira has rustled us up a lovely smoothie of lychee-vodka-pineapple.  As I’m a bit of a one-pot screamer I have my cocktail sans vodka and it’s pretty tasty and really refreshing. The Boy, who I think has become a bit of a boozer on this trip, has a big tipple of vodka in his cocktail. He seems to have developed a bit of a knack for drinking on this trip after downing FIVE atomic strength mai-tais on NYE.

After our picnic in the mall we move on to Sun Chong, a “crack seed” store.   

Crack seed is a term that covers a myriad of exotic Chinese preserved fruits, nuts, seeds, rice crackers, dried fish and lollies. Keira explains to us that to a Hawaiian child a “crack seed” store is the equivalent of a lollies shop (i.e. Heaven)! Any spare change they could rustle up as kids had them down at the crack seed store buying treats. 

Our last stop in Chinatown is Char Siu House where we got to sample barbecued pork (char siu) and the aptly named “5 layers of heaven roast pork”.  

OMG! The roast pork was AMAZING!  The crackling was a perfect balance of crunchy vs. salty and the meat was so tender and moist. Totally droolwortly.  God bless Keira as she could see we all (and but that I mean me) loved the roast pork so much she went back for another batch.  And best of all The Boy and I got take home the leftover roast pork which we demolished before we even got back to our hotel room.  Oink oink.

After our tour around Chinatown we hop back into our lovely air-conditioned van and head to Bubbies for Mochi Ice Cream. 

Mochi Ice Cream is a Japanese treat made from mochi (pounded sticky rice) with an ice cream filling.  Whilst I really liked my ice-cream filling (I choose Peanut Butter Chocolate and Passionfruit) I’m not overly keen on the soft texture, and almost savoury taste, of the mocha casing.  The Boy offers to eat my Mochi for me if I don’t like it. Fat chance buddy!

...and for our last stop we visited...

Leonard's Bakery for the Portuguese Doughnut called Malasadas.  The malasadas are baked fresh to order and come to us deliciously light, airy and still warm. I have mine dusted with sugar and the boy goes all Hawaiian and opts for his dusted with Li Hing Powder. 

...and that my friends is the end of our Hole-in-the-Wall Tour.   

As Matt and Keira drop us off at our hotel I actually feel quite sad that the tour was ending. It was like saying good-bye to old friends. Not only was our tour group the perfect size (no groups are bigger than 12) Matt and Keira were the perfect hosts.  They did everything within their power to make sure we had a great day.  As The Boy and I beached ourselves on Waikiki Beach for the remainder of the afternoon we agreed it was our best day in Hawaii for sure.

Aloha and Maholo.

You can get in touch with Matt and Keira to book a Hole-in-the-Wall Tour by visiting their website at


  1. zomg your tour looks amazing esp that 5 layers of heaven roast pork!!

  2. The Peanut GalleryJanuary 10, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    OMG!! That tour looks awesome! We will DEFINITELY be doing that next time we are in Hawaii. I'm missing all that lovely yummy Hawaiian food. Must get my Mom to rustle up a batch of Kalua pork...we had some on Christmas day! Love the Malasadas! So jealous - can't wait to get back to Hawaii!

  3. Firstly, congratulations! Looks like you had a marvellous and delicious trip - I already wanted to go to Hawaii and now your pics have given me so many more tasty reasons to go - Manapua looks to die for!

  4. What an amazing tour and great food sampling. The Spam place sounds fascinating

  5. The Ma Tai Su Flaky Pastry looks tastier than the Baked Manapua but if I get a chance to go to Hawaii I'll follow your advise. Mochi ice cream sounds like something I'd definitely love.

  6. what a fantastic tour! so glad you got into some spam sushi and omg, that roast pork. my heart stopped!

  7. The Hawaiians and their love of Spam is legendary stuff!

    And if you love fresh rice noodles then you need to get yourself to Asia - even in an urbanised city as Hong Kong, you can still find shops that make them in the front window.

  8. Awesome! You've made my tummy rumble. Glad you had such a great time and it didn't rain the way you thought it was going to.

  9. Ooh if I ever go to Hawaii I would definitely go on that tour! It looks chock full of delicious morsels. Now I had better eat because I got really hungry! :P

  10. Hi Suze - the tour was really amazing and the pork was even better (esp as I got to eat so much of it)!

    Hi Peanut - all of your tips for Hawaii were spot on. We did nearly everything you a big THANK YOU! Can we come to you mum's for Kalua Pork...we'll be good, I promise!

    Hi Georgia - I've got loads of great tips for you if you do decide to go to Hawaii. We're dying to go back already.

    Hi John - spam spam spam! It's everywhere over there and not as bad as we all think it is...really!

    Hi lateraleating - Nah, the Baked Manapua was everyone's favourite. Totally amazing with the Kalua Pork.

    Hi Helen - I'm surprised my heart didn't stop with all the roast pork I scoffed. Soooo good!

    Hi mademoiselle délicieuse - Spam sushi was 100% better than I thought! HK is totally on our hit list...I've been twice, but The Boy hasn't been...yet.

    Hi Beati3 - my tummy is rumbling just re-reading the blog. More rain just meant finding more places to eat in and stay dry.

    Hi Lorraine - this tour is winner. I think everyone going to Hawaii should do it.

  11. Oh those buns are making my mouth water! That doesn't sound quite right does it, lol.

  12. What an awesome food tour!! I wish that I had done that when I was in Hawaii.

    BTW while reading I was wondering when you would get to the spam :)

  13. Hi Susan - ha! That's an hilarious comment. Love it! They were mouth watering though.

    Hi Sara - the tour was GREAT! We have more spam adventures to come (or The Boy does actually - he's a SPAM FAN)!

  14. lol - looks liek it hasn't changed too much since the time I went ;) I didn't try the Spam musubi though - which I'm OK with actually. :)

  15. Hi Tina - I found out about this tour from your blog, so thanks for paving the way. It was SUCH a great day.

  16. kalua pork (not kalau). it's absolutely delicious, especially with sour poi. wish i had taken this tour when i was there.


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