Images courtesy of Hawaii Food Tours
Food. We all need it. But some of us actually love it, and more importantly, we love its differences, its subtleties, its colors and presentation, even the surrounding atmosphere in which we take that first bite. Holidays are a great time to relax – even our taste buds — and truly take notice of what we are eating. On a well-planned holiday, the word “fast” should not precede the word “food”, and what better destination to start practising this healthy fact of life than the ever-popular Hawaiian Islands?
Matthew hangs loose with Eden Grinshpan as she samples Hawaiin cuisine for her 24-hour around-the-world food adventure show, Eden Eats, aired on the Cooking Channel.
Citing Oahu as the culinary epicentre of the Pacific Asian world, MSNBC selected it in 2007 as one of the eight best food islands in the entire world. Undoubtedly, Hawaii is a rich melting pot of cultures and ethnic groups all living and mixing together, but many have also maintained a distinctive ethnic heritage through their food. The MSNBC article recognized Hawaii Food Tours’ Hole-in-the-Wall Tour as “the best chance to taste the treats that local chefs seek on their day off. You might try a Hawaiian plate lunch, Chinese dumplings, pastries, Thai noodles, Vietnamese summer rolls, Bento Boxes or crack seed.”
Since that important 2007 recognition, Hawaii Food Tours husband and wife team, Matthew Gray and Keira Nagai, have been rewarded with plenty of fanfare and appreciative clients, the most recent recognition coming in April 2013 when About.com readers chose the company as their Favorite Oahu Activity company with a whopping 80% of the vote!
The company’s air-conditioned Mercedes bus offers a maximum of 13 guests a great day of Hawaii’s best culinary adventures.
As a professional chef in Los Angeles, it was a natural progression to become a food journalist and restaurant reviewer when Matthew moved to Honolulu in the 1990s. While writing for Hawaii’s largest daily newspaper, The Honolulu Advertiser, he became known as one of Hawaii’s foremost experts on food and wine. And during his years as a food writer and restaurant reviewer in Hawaii, he had the wonderful opportunity to visit hundreds of restaurants.
Meanwhile, his then-Hawaiian girl friend, Keira, had worked in a Waikiki restaurant where she would often see travel agents evaluating her hotel and restaurant as a potential destination for their mainland-based clients. She always took the time to find out what was important to them.
It seemed pretty much a no-brainer that their collective experience should be put to use, so in 2004 they started Hawaii Food Tours, offering guided restaurant tours in and around Honolulu. In 2013, they are taking the company to the next level by offering a new North Shore Food Tour to showcase the beautiful country setting of the north shore of Oahu, famous for its huge waves, surfers, and rural lifestyle.
Keira tempts guests with Malasadas, reflecting the Portuguese heritage of laborers and cowboys who first arrived in Hawaii in 1879. Another Portuguese import? The ukulele, strongly associated with Hawaiian music.
Jointly hosting all their tours, Matthew and Keira agree, “We think we have the best job ever! We get to meet great people from all over the world every day, and show off our beautiful city of Honolulu and our island while introducing them to delicious food. Can you think of anything better than being paid to eat and socialize? We can’t!”
Key ingredients for the Kalua Shredded Pork recipe, a traditional Hawaiian favorite.
The Hole-in-the-Wall Tour takes its guests away from the touristy areas of Waikiki, and brings them to areas of Honolulu where only the locals know and go to. Guests are treated to somewhere between 15 & 20 different foods on the day, which usually includes two of Hawaii’s most famous bakeries, plus a two-hour behind-the-scenes walking and tasting tour inside Chinatown, an amazing, colorful, exotic and delicious part of Hawaii. All the while guests are educated and entertained, learning about the culture, history, and the people of Hawaii. The tour lineup frequently changes and evolves, but suffice to say, this tour will make you happy and full. “Hawaii is so much more than a melting pot,” says Matthew, “We are more like a salad bowl where each of our cultures have retained their individuality.”
Coco puff pastry is a specialty of Liliha Bakery, a stop on the Hole-in-the-Wall Tour. The baker’s warning: “I had to take a CPR course to revive people who faint after tasting these for the very first time!”
The Gourmet Trilogy Tour for Food & Wine Lovers is an upscale nighttime dine-around experience, what some people call a progressive dinner. The Trilogy Tour visits three award-winning Fine Dining restaurants in one evening. The first restaurant is for the starter/appetizer course; the second restaurant features the main/entree, and the third showcases a gorgeous setting for a fantastic dessert. Each course includes wine. This is a special evening where guests can dress up if they wish and do something upscale and fabulous. In addition to food lovers, newlyweds and people celebrating anniversaries are among many of the special occasion celebrants who enjoy this upscale tour.
A Gourmet Trilogy Tour group enjoys a course at one of Hawaii’s finest restaurants, 3660 on the Rise.
The North Shore Food Tour showcases the “country” side of Oahu, a place made famous for its huge waves, surfers, and rural lifestyle. Visitors to Honolulu always want to see this area for its rugged beauty, memorable coastline, and gorgeous scenery, but many people are reluctant to drive in unfamiliar areas, or don’t wish to rent a car for the day.
This tour is jam-packed with food and fun, but will avoid places where the big non-personal tour companies take their groups of 40 at a time. Look forward to enjoying garlic shrimp, a North Shore favorite, visiting a farm, tasting real Hawaiian food, meeting a famous chef, enjoying a smooth cup of genuine Hawaiian coffee, decadent pastries, and much more. You’ll learn the history, the secrets, and the culture of a photo-rich part of the island of Oahu.
The North Shore Food Tour offers a taste of the “hang loose” surfing culture along with local specialties and cuisine celebrities.
TripAdvisor global community of travelers are mighty impressed with Hawaii Food Tours, with a very rare, close-to-unanimous endorsement by 1,544 clients from Canada, the US, Australia, Germany, Israel and Britain, giving their tour experiences a top rating of “excellent”.
Offered year round, Hawaii Food Tours, www.HawaiiFoodTours.com, does free pick-up from the Waikiki area for any of its tours. Guests staying outside that area meet at a designated hotel in Waikiki. For information and reservations, tel: 808-926-3663 or toll free from the mainland US or Canada, 1-800-715-2468; email: MGray@HawaiiFoodTours.com.
Don’t miss our magazine’s complete collection of Hawaiian feature articles. There you will find many more pages devoted to exciting alternative accommodations, wellness tourism, spectacular bird photography, nature tourism, language and cultural treasures of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Big Island [Hawaii], Lanai and Molokai. You will see Hawaii through very different eyes!