Our first Hawaiian meal -- aside from that pineapple-drenched shave ice we treated ourselves to after hiking to the top of Diamond Head in serious heat -- was at the Saveur-recommended Side Street Inn on Hopaka Street in Honolulu.
Determined to try as much as we could that was unknown to us, we ordered about eight dishes between the two of us. When we asked for the ika, our waitress hesitated. "This is dried and charbroiled squid," she explained, totally convinced that haoles wouldn't be able to handle it. Bring. It. ON.
The dish came and, as you can see above, this is not your typical calamari. The strips of squid were served with a soy mayonnaise as a dipping sauce, which they really didn't need since all it did was up the saltiness of the already well-seasoned squid. As we thoughtfully gnawed through strip after strip of the squid -- a workout our jaws definitely felt the next morning -- my husband decided, "This is squid jerky!" And so it was. I have to say, I wouldn't mind having a packet of ika with me on my next hike. It was briny and chewy but strangely satisfying. Even more satisfying was our waitress' surprised but pleased look when she cleared away our empty plate.
Another plate that was nearly licked completely clean was the aku poke. Slathered to a silken sheen with sesame oil, the dense gobbets of ruby-fleshed aku were dressed with bright green threads of lime kohu seaweed, crushed kukui nuts (inamona), and a crunchy blend of local salt and minced red pepper that happily set our mouths aflame. Aku is a kind of Hawaiian tuna, also known as skipjack, katsuo, or striped tuna. It was the first and best poke I was to taste on the islands.