Tiki drinks may come to mind when you think about what to pair with Hawaii specialties, but innovative chefs can always find some great wine pairings. So, if you are unsure what to drink with that luscious bowl of poke or even spam musubi look no further. I have answers for you.
This island nation’s cuisine benefits from all types of Asian influences, as well as traditional influences from native Hawaiian culture that often focus on cooking methods. So, I sat down with two very creative executives from the Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui to dig deeper into what traditional Hawaiian food is and what to drink with it. Responses are from Mike Lofaro, the property’s executive chef and Brent McLean, general manager of the Ko restaurant at the Fairmont Kea Lani. All responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Liza B. Zimmerman: (L.B.Z.): What are some traditional Hawaiian foods?
Mike Lofaro (M.F.): A few of my go-to Hawaiian foods are Lau Lau, a dish traditionally made out of fatty pork and salted butterfish wrapped in lu’au and ti leaves; squid Luau; poke, or raw tuna; and smoked meat.
Another interesting take on “traditional” focuses on the cooking method used. Cooking modern foods using traditional Hawaiian methods, like an imu, an underground oven. Our hotel uses an imu to cook meals for special occasions. The next one coming up is our Thanksgiving Feast during which we will cook our turkey in an imu for guests to enjoy.
While there are traditional Hawaiian foods, there is a whole other food group described as local foods. Hawaii’s local food is a melting pot of Hawaii’s local cuisine, inspired by Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese and Japanese influences, which represent the many ethnicities of immigrants that came to Hawaii during Maui’s sugarcane plantation era.
L.B.Z.: How do dishes like poke pair with wine?
Brent McLean (B.M.): Vouvray from the Loire Valley in France, which is made with Chenin Blanc grape. Counoise from the south of France, mostly grown in the Rhône Valley, which is also grown in the states. Riesling, crisp and young and semi dry from any country is also a good pairing for poke.
L.B.Z.: What pairs well with an octopus poke dish?
B.M.: Rosé Bordeaux that is dry with hints of cherry and strawberry. Chablis from the Burgundy region is also a good call with octopus poke.
L.B.Z.: What are some local fish preparations and how would you pair them with wine?
B.M.: Ko’s Catch of the day with lemongrass coconut broth with watercress, cherry tomatoes, ginger-scallion and garlic rice with Sauvignon Blanc or Rioja if you like red.
Or the catch of the day with macadamia nut and kale pesto with baby carrots, asparagus and jasmine coconut rice Chablis, Grüner Veltliner or Sauvignon Blanc.
L.B.Z.: What might go with spam musubi?
L.B.Z.: Does the starchiness of some of the local food call for higher alcohol/more tannic wines?
B.M. Starchy food needs high-acidity wines, such as Riesling, Rosés. Tannic wines need low-salt, high-fat foods so pick your favorite big red here.