Hamakua Mushrooms and the Hukilau at Anini Beach

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Hamakua Mushrooms and the Hukilau at Anini Beach

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai
May 31, 2012

I’m sitting on a Hawaii beach thinking about mushrooms.

High school graduations, summer vacation and a recent holiday weekend all point to summer on Anini Beach, where a long thin, thread of sand runs along Kauai’s North Shore. A white ribbon of surf breaks across the reef some hundred yards off-shore and is home to a high number of endemic fish and marine organisms. This is where the island greets incoming waves from as far away as the Bering Sea, waves that this time of year are not much of which to speak. Summer means Hawaii’s surf season has swung around to the south shores of the archipelago, where the southern hemisphere's winter storms deliver waves. But stiff trade winds draw kite boarders and windsurfers to the usually calm inner lagoon, so there’s still plenty of fun to be had on the water at Anini.

I drive to far end of Anini, past the county beach park with its picnic pavilions, past the campgrounds, past the old Polo field, past the spot where Bar used to park his food truck and serve up some of my favorite fish tacos on the island. Alas, Bar retired over a year ago and now a different food truck sits in his spot. I suppose I shouldln't be melancholy, since I am now eating a vegan, as in fish-less, diet.

Before my dog, Lulu, can dig up a dead crab shell, a rain squall blows in. A man grabs his beer and cooler and heads for one of the vacation rental homes across the street, his wife collecting their daughter and wrapping her in a towel. They leave their beach chairs and gear behind. 

Another man scurries to cover his MG convertible classic that has a for sale sign tucked behind the front windshield. Asking price: $6000. 

A group of snorkelers don’t care about a few drops of rain. They flipper-kick their primary blue and yellow fins into the air, the only splash of color seen for a brief moment as this grey cloud covers the sky. 

I do care about rain. Water and laptops don’t mix. I drive back to the beach park end of Anini, and that quickly, the squall disappears and the sun returns.  A tour guide has gathered his flock under a pavilion and serenades them to the accompaniment of a slack key guitar. Just about everyone in Hawaii plays a musical instrument, even if it’s just to pluck some strings. I’ve seen this guy before. It’s Domi. He brings his tours to Kilauea Lighthouse, pointing out birds, sharing Hawaiian words, Pidgin English and Hawaiian history. He works hard. I always think he must go home at the end of each day so completely exhausted that he doesn’t have enough energy, even, to eat dinner.

I park next to the new food truck vendor. Turns out it is Princeville’s North Shore General Store “On Wheels.”

A cheer goes out from the folks under the pavilion, but it’s not for the sun. It’s for the long-haired ponytailed Domi who has finished a song. “Kiss your bride,” he yells when the cheers die down, and I realize he’s been singing one of Hawaii’s famous love songs. Maybe Ke Kali Nei Au, also known as the Hawaiian Wedding Song. Perhaps Beautiful Kauai or Hanalei Moon. Or Blue Hawaii.

The banner on the food truck reads, “Local Style Plate Lunches and Kauai Beef Burgers!!!!!” Yes, five exclamation points. Now, I am neither a plate lunch nor beef burger kind of girl. But I do enjoy hand-made veggie burgers—often called boca burgers or garden burgers or black bean burgers—so I scan the menu and discover a Grilled Mushroom and Onion burger. 

See, that’s the thing about Hawaii. You can’t judge a book by its cover. The video store in Hanalei sells fine, hand-crafted ukuleles and high-end knitting supplies. The video store in Kilauea sold Hawaii-made ice cream. The Maytag store in Kapaa used to share space with an art gallery. So, why can’t a plate lunch and beef burger place make a tasty veggie burger? 

At least, that’s what I’m thinking when I order it. I am also thinking how appropriate it is for me to find a mushroom burger when I had just published a story to OutriggerHawaii on mushrooms grown on Hawaii (Big) Island. (Go ahead. Read it. Mushrooms are interesting. There’s even a native one.) Hawaii is like that, too. A person you haven’t seen in months (years?) comes up in a conversation with your husband one day and the next, you run into them at the post office. Serendipity, I think it’s called.

I sit on a rock to wait for my burger and turn my attention back to Domi while my dog scours the droppings around the rubbish bin.

Is he really making them do that? And they’re all participating? Even the young newlywed couple?

Indeed. Domi has 10 people in a line, and he’s teaching them the hukilau. 

“Huki means to pull,” he says. “Lau means leaf.”

All 10 mimic Domi’s hand and body motions. They sing after him. He is a magician. Or would it be sorcerer? Someone who is so charming that they can get others to do whatever he asks?

Ah, what a beautiful day to go fishin'
The old Hawaiian way 
And the hukilau nets were swishin'
Down in old L'ie Bay 

Oh we're goin' to a hukilau 
Everybody loves the hukilau 
Where the laulau is the kaukau at the l'au 

And little do these visitors know it, but they are dancing hula. A rough form, yes, but they’re all pulling nets together mimicking the way an old Hawaiian community would come together to cast a net from shore and pull it to shore in synchronicity. The method used ti leaves tied to the net to scare the fish it.

Oh we throw our nets out into the sea 
And all the 'ama'ama come a-swimmin' to me 
Oh, we're goin' to the hukilau 

Oh we're goin' to the hukilau 
Everybody loves the hukilau 
Where the laulau is the kaukau at the great l'au 

Oh we throw our net out into the sea 
And all the 'ama'ama come a-swimmin' to me 
Oh, we're goin' to the hukilau 
Huki-huki, hu-uki-huki, hukilau-au...

The auntie behind the screen window in the food truck calls my name. “Your Mushroom and Onion burger is ready,” she says and hands me my to-go order in a recyclable box, long, skinny and sea-salted French fries sticking out the edges. Good for you, I think, using environmentally-friendly food containers.

I drop the truck’s tailgate down. The dog hops up. I sit down and slide my thumb under the lever holding the lid in place. It pops open to reveal what looks to be a home-made hamburger bun, a thick slice of tomato and fresh lettuce peeking out. This is going to be good, I think, and pick it up to discover a Mushroom and Onion Hamburger. As in an All-Kauai Beef Burger. With grilled mushrooms and onions on top.

Across the grassy park, I hear Domi say, “Pop quiz time. What’s the state fish of Hawaii?”

He waits a beat. “Repeat after me, “Humu humu.” 

“Nuku nuku.” 

“A pua’a.” 

And they repeat after him, phrase for phrase. Twice.

"Lulu, are you hungry?" I ask my dog.

Here is a recipe for the way I prefer to eat my Hamakua mushrooms—that I pick up at, of all places, Costco.

Alii Oyster Risotto 
Serves 4-6

1 cup arborio rice 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
2 tablespoons minced shallot 
4 oz. finely diced Alii Oyster’s 
3 oz. dry white wine 
3½ - 4 cups hot vegetable stock 
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese 

Sauté the shallot in the olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes, then add the rice and mushrooms and continue stirring. Do not brown shallots or rice. Add wine, followed by the stock, about a half cup at a time. Stir frequently as stock is added. As the risotto becomes creamy, test a grain of rice now and then. Stop adding stock when the texture is smooth with just a hint of al dente firmness at the core of the rice. Then stir in the parmesan cheese.


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