Considering how far I’ve traveled around the world, it seems strange that I have yet to visit Hawaii. Lately, I’ve been hearing so much about the rising level of gluten-free awareness there that I’m tempted to head out to the Hawaiian Islands and do some first-hand research. (It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it, right?)
A while back, my friend Liisa wrote a report for the Gluten-Free Guidebook about celiac-safe spots she’d found in Oahu and Kauai. Her list includes Sweet Marie’s — the first dedicated gluten-free bakery in Kauai — Smith’s Tropical Paradise in Kauai, and Down to Earth in Honolulu. Last month, another friend sent me a photo to show off a delicious-looking gluten-free sandwich she was enjoying while on vacation in Hawaii. It turned out she was at Living Foods Market & Cafe in Poipu, Kauai, a combination grocery store and café featuring specialty gourmet goods (including many gluten-free items), organic products, and an extensive wine selection.
Next, my friend and fellow travel writer Lucas Aykroyd passed along a list of gluten-free restaurants and shops in Hawaii, with notes on each spot from the Hawaiian Tourism Board:
Chrysalis Foods (Oahu) – Looking for a gluten-, dairy- and nut-free spot to eat while shopping at Ala Moana Center? Break away from the food court and visit the Vim ‘N Vigor store for the Chrysalis foods counter. The menu changes every week, offering local favorites such as mochiko chicken and mochi treats.
Up Country Bakery & Cafe (Hawaii Island) – Satisfy your breakfast taste buds with gluten-free mixed berry muffins, gluten-free banana bread slices or gluten-free pancakes. On your way to see the volcano? Grab a sandwich on gluten-free bread and take it on the road.
Maui Brick Oven (Maui) – Located in Kihei, this restaurant initially gained popularity for its gluten-free pizza. Locals and visitors frequent this eatery for its impeccable service and menu selection that also includes pasta and salads.
I’m almost ready to buy a ticket. Has anyone else discovered some great places to eat in Hawaii? Let me know and I’ll add them to the list!
Finding gluten-free food while traveling is an obvious challenge, but I’ve been hearing lately from readers who are having a tough time eating at home. One reader in Canada was appalled when she began to place an order at the online Gluten-Free Mall and discovered that it would cost $34 just to ship a one-pound parcel to her (unfortunately, the Mall doesn’t post its shipping charges on the site, so potential customers are sometimes in for a shock when they reach the checkout stage).
Living in New York means having lots of options, since grocery chains such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods carry plenty of gluten-free products, as do independent stores such as Natural Green Market. In other parts of North America, it can be tough to find gluten-free baked goods, pasta, and other essentials. For those who depend on mail-order to get their gluten-free groceries, here’s some advice:
Find manufacturers that ship products to customers directly: A few companies, such as Shabtai Gourmet, make this incredibly easy. Shabtai, which makes cakes, cookies, and other treats that are gluten free, lactose free, soy free, and casein free, ships its products anywhere in the continental US — for free. Kinnikinnick Foods ships its celiac-safe bagels, breads, donuts, and other products to Canada and the US; as you order, a tally of charges, including shipping, adds on the upper right corner of the page, so there are no upsets at checkout.
Remember to comparison shop: Gluten-free products tend to be expensive in North America, and there are no government subsidies for celiacs, as there are in countries such as Italy and Turkey. I’ve found Amazon to be a great place for deals on basics such as gluten-free pasta. Amazon is a bit like Costco, in that you have to buy in bulk, so instead of purchasing one package of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Homemade Wonderful Bread Mix, you need to buy four; in the case of Tinkyada Brown Rice Spirals with Rice Bran, you’d need to purchase a pack of 12. However, when you compare Amazon’s prices to certain sites that market themselves to gluten-free consumers, Amazon’s are great deals. Also, “Gluten-Free” is a major category in Amazon’s grocery department, so products are easy to find — and shipping is free on orders of $25 or more.
Read product reviews: It can be tempting to order treats that you’ve been missing, but we know that not all gluten-free products are equally good. In fact, some have the consistency and flavor of cardboard. Unfortunately, with products for delivery, you usually can’t send them back if you don’t like them. Before you order something new, be sure to check out sites such as Gluten Free Food Reviews; Amazon is also useful for its product reviews, even when you’re not ordering from the site.
Know that some restaurants do mail-order, too: New York’s Risotteria immediately comes to mind. Have you tried the Fudgie yet? You really should. My favorite local bakery, Babycakes, delivers, too. (By the way, Babycakes has its first-ever cookbook coming out; click on “Recommended Reading” to see it.)
Check out the great lists of gluten-free retailers that have already been compiled: Gluten-Free in SD has a great one, and it’s not just for people who live in San Diego. The Celiac Handbook has links to an exhaustive list of companies that ship gluten-free products. A listing isn’t an endorsement, but it’s still a great place to start.
Shop locally when possible: Some American companies won’t ship outside of the continental US. However, Canadians have the option of shopping from Toronto’s Specialty Food Shop, which I’ve written about before. The SFS will even ship frozen foods. In Hawaii, Sweet Marie’s (which reader Liisa wrote about here), delivers locally and internationally.
When I created the Gluten-Free Guidebook group on Facebook earlier this year, I wanted readers to have a place to exchange information about their travels and their upcoming plans. Several people have shared recommendations from around the world. Liisa, a reader in Arizona, took the time to report on her trip to Hawaii, where she visited the islands of Oahu and Kauai. With her permission, I’m including her suggestions here as a reader report — a must-read for anyone visiting the Aloha State. Thanks so much for sharing this, Liisa! And as they say in Hawaiian, mahalo.
LIISA’S REPORT ON HAWAII
La Cucaracha in Waikiki: Fresh, delicious Mexican food and wonderful service; [address] 2130 Kuhio Ave, Honolulu, Oahu [tel] 808-922-2288
Duke’s Canoe Club in Waikiki: Good service — when I said I was gluten-free my server understood right away and made menu suggestions for me. Excellent buffet for breakfast and lunch; [address] 2335 Kalakaua Ave., Suite 116, Honolulu [tel] 808-922-2268 [web] www.dukeswaikiki.com
Down to Earth: This shop had lots of GF food to buy, as well as GF pizza, smoothies and salad bar; [address] 2525 South King Street, Honolulu, plus 4 other locations on Oahu and Maui [tel] 808-947-7678 [web] www.downtoearth.org
Polynesian Cultural Center: I went to a Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center, again great service and yummy food. I reserved ahead and made sure they noted I was gluten-free on my reservation. When I got to the Luau food area the head buffet person showed me through the line and showed me what was safe to eat; [address] 55-370 Kamehameha Highway, Laie [tel] 808-293-3333 [web] www.polynesia.com
Sweet Marie’s: This is a dedicated gluten-free bakery from a gourmet baker. Decadent desserts that I haven’t had in years, I had here. It’s reasonably priced and Marie herself really is a sweet person. She’ll even tell you where to eat and shop GF locally; [address] 4-788 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa [tel] 808-823-0227 [web] www.sweetmarieskauai.com
Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion: Absolutely wonderful. The first thing the server asked was “Does anyone have any food allergies?” Superb, but pricey; [address] 7 locations in Hawaii [web] www.roysrestaurant.com
Smith’s Tropical Paradise: This Luau is where I had the best dining experience in Hawaii. I emailed ahead to make sure they could accommodate GF. Sure enough they did, and they had the kitchen prepare an extra plate of gluten-free food to supplement what was available at the buffet. They also arranged for a staff member to take me down the buffet line to show me what was safe for me to eat; [address] Inside Wailua Marina State Park, Kauai [tel] 808-821-6895 [web] www.smithskauai.com
Photograph of a dessert at Sweet Marie’s courtesy of Liisa.