Dig up your sexiest Speedo and a bottle of sunscreen — we’re flying to Oahu!
In Hawaii, every meal is the most important of the day — who cares about beach bods when there are so many delicious thing to eat?? Start off strong with the best sweet breakfast imaginable, Leonard’s malasadas. They’re softball-sized balls of fried dough with a dark shell and a light, yeasty center, tossed in sugar while still piping hot. Each bite is satisfyingly crispy and chewy and leaves a telltale crusting of sugar on your fingers, lips, and lap. No joke: heaven . . . And although Leonard’s has other pastries — hot dog pão doce [pigs in a Portuguese sweet bread blanket], guava sponge cake, malasadas filled with coconut or chocolate — stick to the original, a half dozen per person if possible. I haven’t even bothered to try anything else.
Sometime in the last few years a Japanese guidebook writer finally got curious about this fifty-plus-year-old bakery and now Japanese tour groups — in addition to the never-ending crowds of American tourists and locals — descend in photo-frenzied droves. I can’t blame them since the product is truly superior and there’s always been a line, but now the line makes cat ear faces and wears frilly frocks to the beach. It’s kind of a bother.
Feeling peppy after all that sugar? Aside from the famous beaches, Oahu is all peaks and craters and valleys, which makes for some spectacular hiking. At the top of St. Louis Heights — a straight shot uphill from Waikiki — you’ll find a state recreation area and the head of the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail. The entrance is shaded by huge evergreens that give way to knobby-branched trees, strawberry guava [waiawī – “vy-vee” – in Hawaiian, but actually an invasive species from Brazil], tiny orchids, and ferns. Walk by the patches of dirt rooted up by feral pigs and the tiny cave where people leave tea leaf-wrapped offerings, then back up the next ridge, and down, and up . . . Take care when the red mud trail turns slick after a heavy rain, and keep your balance traversing the thin spots — the land drops off steeply to either side of your feet, the vegetation grows sideways, and you feel like you’re on a tightrope crossing the sky.
I’ve been hiking this trail as long as I can remember, and for years there was one tree that marked the point of exhaustion — we’d push to the top of that ridge, have lunch sitting on the tree, and then troop back again. It wasn’t until maybe my early teens that I ventured past The Tree, past the fork that leads to the Kolowalu Trail down to Manoa Valley, and all the way to the summit of Mt. Olympus. There my two friends and I met a nice man who told us about the drum circles that took place in that clearing every full moon. I don’t remember the details, but there was some implication or offering of drugs, at which point we politely excused ourselves and hurried back the way we came.
. . . INSERT BABY NIECE NAP TIME HERE . . .
[Turns out babies need to sleep a lot. Like every few hours. Who knew?]
Aaand, now that we’ve napped til dinner, perfect timing for Jin Din Rou soup dumplings!
These are not the doughy, pan-fried pot stickers common in Asian-American restaurants. Called xiaolongbao — literally “small steaming basket,” since that’s how they’re cooked — they’re magical little pods that explode in your mouth with rich broth. There is some disagreement on how the mixture of meat and broth is created inside the dumpling, either bits of gelatin folded into the meat or vice versa, using individual cubes of meat-filled aspic — I thought injecting hot liquid with a syringe sounded like a good theory — but Jin Din Rou, at least, uses the former. The large windows to the kitchen provided a great view of the chefs pulling bits of dough off a log, rolling it out with small dowels, spooning in the filling, pinch! turn, pinch! turn, pinch! sealing up the tops lightning fast, and dropping them into a bamboo steamer. So simple and so delicious!
Since you’ve probably never had these before, allow me to provide a brief tutorial:
Din Tai Fung, just east of LA, is renowned for THE BEST soup dumplings outside of Shanghai. I’ve only been there once, a few years ago, so don’t remember well enough to compare. The spicy dumplings at Jin Din Rou, however, were incredible. And look at that color! Mm, mm, good.
Put some aloe on your sunburn and settle into a hammock with a cold drink. Not a bad vacation, huh?