Have you ever craved the taste of the islands? It’s not fair when you see a picture of family members back home drinking guava juice or boasting they got to have some kulolo. When they talk about the chi chi dango they just had, or the coconut mochi they tasted at a wedding, you can’t help your mouth from drooling just a little. It’s also not fair when they get to have Big Island Candies or Bubble tea drinks while you’re suffering the dearth of island flavors while on the mainland. Don’t worry though, because there are some things you can make to satisfy those cravings. Here’s a list of things you can make while living on the mainland. A few of the following items on the list may require some assistance from your island friends and family, but if you can get some key ingredients, you’re good to go!
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
This is dad’s favorite cake, and a tradition of his birthday each year. You can easily get a can of pineapple at your local supermarket, so take advantage of this one. There are numerous recipes online but my favorite is the one where you don’t use a recipe and just pack that brown sugar on the bottom!
Li Hing Mui Gummy Bears (or Worms or Watermelon)
You might need someone to send up a bag of li hing mui, but once you get your hands on it, the world of sweetness is yours!
Haupia Chocolate Pie
This is surprisingly easy to make, especially if you’ve learned to do it from scratch. I like to buy the premade graham cracker crusts and make my own haupia, which is composed of coconut milk, corn starch, and sugar. The chocolate pudding mix is a breeze to make. Put that on top with some whip cream and you’re good to go. It might not taste exactly like Ted’s Bakery, but hey, it is good enough. 🙂
Guava and Lilikoi Juice
Did you know that you can find Guava juice at your local Walmart? It isn’t Hawaiian Sun brand–and it doesn’t really taste like Hawaiian Sun brand–but it’s GUAVA. I’ve also found Welch’s Passion Fruit drink, which tastes like heaven! (Disclaimer: My Walmart is different from yours so don’t get mad if your local Walmart really doesn’t have Guava or Passion Fruit juice).
If you can find a box of mochi powder at your local supermarket, take advantage of it. There are numerous recipes online that will satisfy your mochi cravings. Chi chi dango can be made in the microwave while coconut mochi could be baked in the oven. If you’re ambitious like me, you might even try mochi ice cream during the summer!
This is super easy to make, and it tastes just like camping trips at the beach. Remember when all your family was there and they made cocoa rice cause it fed the army? There are some really great recipes online if you never learned how to make this warm island dessert from your kupuna. Can you smell the cocoa rice, coupled with the salty sea mist? Love it!
Mom makes cold tapioca pudding, kind of like halo-halo. Make the tapioca, add a can of coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, a can of fruit cocktail, a can of mandarin oranges, and, if you’re lucky like me, a can of lychee will do just the trick!
King’s Hawaiian Sweet Bread
Most stores carry this, but you’re probably going to have to pay the price for it. I can say, however, that it is worth it to buy, especially if you’re craving it. I can’t count how many times I walked past it in the store and thought to myself, Come on Lei, just get it. So just reward yourself sometimes! King’s Hawaiian Sweet bread never disappoints and tastes just like home!
I absolutely love pani popo. When I lived in the Philippines, I’d take advantage of making this, because it was so easy to make and tasted just like home. Also, if you’re not into making rolls (like me), then you can buy rolls ready-to-make (in the freezer section) or use sweet rolls (King’s Hawaiian can even work for this but if you’re like me, you’d rather save that to eat by itself).
If you’re absolutely dying for the sweet island flavor, then just buy some tropical fruit. I’ve found it so helpful (emotionally, mentally, and physically) to reward myself with some local fruits. They’re probably going to be expensive, which is why I call it a reward, but you should treat yourself to a mango here and there, or, if you’re ambitious, a pineapple. If you don’t have either of those things at your local supermarket, then try sprinkling some li hing mui on your apples or oranges. That always brings the taste of home back to me.
Dried Tropical Fruit
Dried mango is one of my favorites, especially because there’s usually an option for this anywhere you go.
If you have some bananas, there are numerous ways to prepare them and satisfy cravings. If you’re Hawaiian, banana bread tastes so much like family. If you’re Filipino, make some banana lumpia (although you might have a tad bit of difficulty finding the wraps). If you’re Samoan, make suafa’i by boiling them, adding some tapioca and coconut milk, and sticking it in the oven (I LOVED when my mom made this–can you taste it now? Mmmmm). If you’re haole, then just make some banana pancakes and sing Jack Johnson’s jams… “Making banana pancakes…”
There are so many delicious local foods you can make while on the mainland. I know that when I first moved, I felt like I had access to nothing. But, as I learned where to look (besides the Asian aisle–did you know they have coconut milk in the baking aisle?) and to keep an eye out for local goods, I’ve really enjoyed experimenting and learning to make the foods my mom used to make. Sure we might not have bubble tea, although I will say my sister ordered some of those items from Amazon and mastered it–so it is possible!–but we still can satisfy our inner local cravings using the goods we got!
Is there a snack or dessert that satisfies your sweet tooth craving? Is there a recipe you tried that really worked for you? Share in the comments below!