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Hawaiian Holiday by Leah Leneman, Vegan Views 82 (Spring/Summer 1999)

Staying in Waikiki is a very touristy thing to do, but though the other Hawaiian islands all have their own attractions, nowhere but Honolulu offers a vegan such an amazing choice of cuisines. The island of Oahu has been settled by a number of ethnic minorities; many have opened restaurants (especially in the university area), and since they are not catering for bland 'Middle America' taste buds, they are able to offer authentic flavours of the east. And, since these are Far Eastern cuisines, dairy products play no part in them.

On our arrival we didn't have time to scout around looking for somewhere suitable, but dived into the Beijing restaurant in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Canter. There wasn't a specific vegetarian section, but I had an unusual and very tasty dish of tofu with bamboo fungus (no, I hadn't heard of, or tasted such a thing before either). And for dessert, they had a traditional eastern dish which I am very keen on but can rarely find in Britain, of tapioca in coconut milk (which I later managed to get at a Thai restaurant and a Vietnamese restaurant as well).

The Thai restaurants all offer a good variety of vegan dishes, as do the Vietnamese (that cuisine is also quite spicy but less coconutty than Thai). The Buddhist Vegetarian Restaurant in Chinatown obviously offers the widest variety of all, and it was difficult to choose. One gets things like black fungus, which I am fond of but rarely find in Britain, and various imitation meat dishes. Authentic desserts too: bean soup as a sweet is not something I've encountered before, but it was delicious. At the Ala Moana Shopping Center they have a fantastic food court where you can mix and match. At the Vietnamese stand they had vegetarian specials and also authentic desserts, like rice pudding made with coconut milk, topped with sweet red bean paste.

Of course, one doesn't have to eat eastern food all the time. In Restaurant Row there's a jolly Mexican place that offers a tofu version of most savoury dishes, and in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Canter there's an 'ice cream' stand that offers Dole's soft whip non-dairy delights. The Down to Earth wholefood shop and deli, in the university area, has a cafe plus takeaway foods which are mostly vegan and nothing like the bland and/or heavy vegan dishes found in some American wholefood takeaways; I even bought some muffins and wished I had bought more of their delicious foods.

Travelling out of Honolulu to the North Shore, in the town of Haleiwa, popular with surfers and ex-hippies, there's a great coffee house that also sells vegan savouries and cakes; I still can't get over being so far from home and seeing foods labelled 'vegan'!

There was just one curious thing. Japanese tourists in Honolulu outnumber Caucasians by about three to one. Naturally there are also many Japanese restaurants. But whereas anywhere I've been on mainland U.S.A., I've found such restaurants great for vegan food, this was not true of the two we ate at in Honolulu (and our guide book, while recommending Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants for vegetarians, did not mention Japanese ones). I don't know what the explanation is, I just mention it in passing.

Hawaii is a long way to go for a holiday, but apart from all its other attractions, it must certainly be numbered amongst the top ten world destinations for vegan food.

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Cross-reference: Travel