All Over Mo Betta

Moloka’i Part I

If you’re from Hawaii you know, Moloka’i has a reputation for being the unfriendly Friendly Isle. There are threads on travel sites dedicated to tourists inquiring if Moloka’i is safe or about getting stinkeye. Even local people in Hawaii talk about spoiled fishing and hunting trips.

During Anthony Bourdain’s visit with Parts Unknown, he notes Moloka’i is “supposedly the most unwelcoming place in Hawaii” with a reputation for being “mean…inward looking (even) hostile.” But in the end he concludes it’s the place he felt most welcome with some of the nicest people he’s met on his stay.

So what’s the deal? The truth is, like most things–It’s complicated. With family on almost every island, I’ve had a chance to visit nearly all–except Moloka’i. Maybe because of its reputation or because I don’t hunt or fish, but in 30+ yrs I never had a reason ’til now.

Above: Halawa Valley at sunset. Below: Ala Malama Ave, Kaunakakai

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We arrive on Friday for a weekend wedding and pit stop in Kaunakakai. The sleepy town has only two grocery stores and an equal number of smoke shops. Yet with an island population less than 7500, it’s the largest town. At Friendly Market we stock up on coffee, spam, eggs and rice, green onion, steak, poke and beer. In true small town fashion we bump into a couple friends also there for the wedding.

That night we have an epic rehearsal dinner, topped only by an even more memorable wedding day. A stunning beachside ceremony followed by a foreal, not faux-real, luau reception–Everything made with love by family and friends. Like Bourdain, I’m left feeling Moloka’i is the most welcoming place with the purest aloha in all of Hawaii.

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The next day we drive with nothing but an Alamo map and Google, neither of which are really needed. We find a beach access within minutes–Not some sorry excuse of an easement hidden down a “private road”, but a wide welcoming, clearly marked access like the law intended.

The beach is unlike any I’ve been to in Hawaii. Houses are few and far between, set back high, and far away from the shoreline. You can practically hear Moloka’i Slide “I like the sand spreading out to the sea...

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Save for a few bodyboarders, the beach is completely ours. And there’s plenty to go around. The water is clean and uncomplicated. The way O’ahu used to be.

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Cleansed by the salt water and warmed by the sun, our stomachs naturally start calling. We pack up and head back to the rental. As we leave we pass other beach goers, clearly more local than us. We wave. They nod.

From west side we head back to town. Everything is closed on Sundays except for a few shops. We make it a mission to try ’em all. First course–poke bowls. Cold cubes of sashimi grade ahi, a glossy sheen from the sesame oil, sprinkled with furikake over plain white rice and side lomi salmon. Even better with kalua pig. Get that one.

Not nearly as traditional or soul soothing as uncle’s limu kohu wedding poke, but something equally satisfying about standing in a deserted parking lot in our rubbah slippahs, eating poke ‘n rice after the beach.

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Just across the street an Open sign. Big Daddy’s. At 1p the only things left on the hot line are fried chicken and chicken katsu. On special “crispy roast pork.” The unmistakable sound of a cleaver butchering meat in the back. I’m no fool. We’ll get the pork.

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We settle on a vinyl covered picnic bench. Two old men talk story across the room. OC16 high school soft ball plays softly above our heads.  

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Second course. Soft pork meat. Golden skin. Crispy, crunchy, sticky and chewy all in the same bite. Served with a mouth watering chili pepper vinegar and sweet chili dressing. Soak the salty pork chunks in vinegar. Then dunk in sweet chili. Follow with plain white rice. Then repeat.

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Roast pork drunk, we stumble out to the car. Some local guy says sayonara to us, making me question, just how local am I?  Part II continued…

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