posted by Lisa

Po’ ipu, Kauai is not where the story begins, but it’s where we are now, and we have literally had to learn how to eat here.

Vacation in Kauai is becoming something of a lucky habit for us, since Kory‘s parents have a timeshare here, which they generously share with us.

On our first trip, the food was unbearably bad.

We ate meal after horrible meal and spent enormous amounts of money doing so, mostly at tacky tourist restaurants–the kind that have palm trees and fake waterfalls inside. Nothing was fresh. Most things were from California–or farther, as was the case with some Angus beef. I was pregnant with my son, so I avoided much of the ahi and other big fish, and all of the sushi and poke (more on this later). Kauai is still relatively underdeveloped, and the only market we could find was filled with dead-looking produce and tremendously expensive staples, largely imported from California. Think $7 for a half-gallon of organic milk. We ate a lot of rice crackers that first week, and shave ice, and burgers from the poolside grill. Kory drank my Mai Tais.

Then we were told by Michelle Ross of Ella Bella Farms about the Sunshine Markets, and how to pack an extra suitcase with staples, and about Sueoki’s Market, which I had seen, but which had appeared from the outside to be a hardware store (it’s not). Michelle lived here, and owned a restaurant/cafe, and told us where to go for fish and to get to the Sunshine Market early. Our second year, we followed her advice and had one of the best food vacations we’d ever had: fresh, local produce-including plenty of tropical things we’d never seen before, much less eaten; fresh, cheap fish that we could get as long as the fisherman felt like bringing it in; lots of locally produced goodies like taro chips and coconut chocolate chip cookies, pineapple bread, Huli Huli sauce, kauai salsa, Hawaiian bread (and a cinnamon version, which is neither healthy nor good for you, but really delicious).

Now we pack an extra suitcase in order to save money (milk is still $7/half-gallon, OJ is close to $5), and also so I don’t have to do a lot of marketing while we’re here. It is true that this means we have a stupid amount of luggage on the trip over. That baggage handlers and fellow travelers look at us askance in the baggage check line. And that I worry for 24 hours about whether the suitcases will be too heavy and incur the extra charge. But. I console myself with the thought of the time & money we’ll save having our staples when we arrive.

This year, this is what I brought, for a 2 week trip, squirreled away between clothes and swim cover-ups, and double wrapped in paper bags, to avoid breaking and leakage:

3 boxes breakfast cereal (not full, just what I grabbed off our shelf)

2 boxes instant porridge

2 boxes instant Annnie’s mac ‘n cheese

2-16 oz bottles olive oil

balsamic vinegar


cheddar cheese

Baby bell cheese (my son’s favorite, and nearly imperishable)

2-loaves bread

5 bottles wine, 1 bottle sake

Peanut Butter


2 salamis (also imperishable before it’s cut)

Kosher Salt (which I didn’t really need as we buy red Hawaii salt right away)

2-boxes Trader Joes mini-sandwich crackers

2-lbs rice (we’ve found a rice cooker to be indispensable here)

small tin wasabi peas

1-lb pasta

1-box ziplock bags for marinating and storing

1-roll foil for grilling vegetable packets

1-roll glad wrap for wrapping lunches

This pretty much does us for breakfast and many lunches, and leaves us free to spend our time and money buying weird produce from the Sunshine Market on Mondays, and amazingly fresh, cheap fish and impossibly good pork from the Big Island at Sueoka’s.

We stay late at the beach, come home and start the rice cooker while we shower, & bathe the kids, grill the fish & produce, and then sit down eat dinner on the lanai. It doesn’t get much easier, or much better.

Unless you’re a chicken.