Local ingredients are at the core of the menu at Koko Head Café – the island-style bistro owned and operated by Hawaiian Airlines Executive Chef Lee Anne Wong. Nestled on a side street in the old Honolulu neighborhood of Kaimuki, the restaurant is touted for its one-of-a-kind dumplings and perfectly balanced sweet and savory creations.
Aside from the aesthetics, Lee Anne attributes the magic of her dishes to the local purveyors who grow, pound and ferment the ingredients. We’re talking Hawai‘i’s best-of-show goods, including aromatic kimchi, creamy poi, rich honey, bold coffees, exotic fruits and more. In true locavore fashion, she looks to small farmers to tell Hawai‘i’s culinary story and brings similar flavors onboard for our guests to experience at 35,000 feet.
Hungry and inspired, we teamed up with Lee Anne for a journey through one of her favorite outdoor markets, Kaka‘ako Farmers’ Market. There, we got a special inside look at some of the ingredients that inspired her in-flight meals.
Tropical Fruits from Local Growers
Each Saturday, growers throughout O‘ahu gather at Kaka‘ako to sell their freshest fare. You can find it all, from plump dragon fruit to golden pineapples, at peak ripeness and quality.
“You can really taste the difference between a fresh, locally grown piece of fruit and one that was shipped from somewhere on the mainland,” shared Lee Anne. “Most of the fruits that I used in my menus are grown by the hands of Hawai‘i farmers and are truly unique to the Islands.”
- Lee Anne’s in-flight dish to try to experience Hawai‘i’s tropical flavors: Tomato Coconut Bisque
A one-stop-shop for Lee Anne’s fermented needs, Kakaako Farmers' Market often has homemade kimchi, sauerkraut and more. Expect to find kimchi in several of Lee Anne’s dishes at Koko Head Café, including the Kimchi Cheddar Scones, Breakfast Bibimbap, and the Koko Moco.
Known for its gut-healing powers, pungent smell and tangy taste, the ingredient is a staple in Hawai‘i households and restaurants. Local cuisine throughout the islands was heavily influenced by a rainbow of Asian cultures – Japanese, Chinese, and Korean being the most prominent – that immigrated to the islands throughout the 20th century. As a result, you’re bound to find this fermented food in several popular dishes.
- Lee Anne’s in-flight dish to try to experience fermented flavors: Hawaiian Reuben with Kimchi Kraut
Kulolo and Poi
Kulolo, one of Hawai‘i’s most popular desserts, is made from enough ingredients to count on one hand: kalo (taro)*, coconut milk and sugar. With its fudgy consistency, the dessert is often wrapped in squares for a quick treat, or sold in bricks for the whole ‘ohana (family) to savor.
“I love to buy kulolo squares for me and my baby boy Rye when we’re walking around the market,” said Lee Anne. “Poi, the staple ingredient in kulolo, is like a superfood and – the best part – keiki (children) love it!”
- Lee Anne’s in-flight dish to try to experience staple flavors: While you won’t find poi on the latest in-flight menu (yet), you can purchase an ‘ono (delicious) chip mix made with local taro from the Pau Hana cart. Lee Anne also highly recommends stopping at the Kaka‘ako Farmers' Market or a local farm for a taste of Hawai‘i’s most beloved ingredient.
*Editor’s Note: Kalo (taro) root is the staple ingredient to poi and pa‘i‘ai (pronounced pah-e-eye). After steaming and cleaning the root, it is then pounded (using a very small amount of water) to a fudge-like consistency. To make poi, more water is added to the pa‘i‘ai to a yogurt-like consistency. Poi is the most common way to find the superfood and can be eaten alone or mixed to make kulolo, donuts, bread and more!