book ’em, danno: aloha from honolulu + onopops

A week’s vacation in Hawaiʻi sounds like a dream to most, especially those in the northern hemisphere preparing themselves for the cold chills of winter. And although I traveled to Honolulu, on the island of Oʻahu, for a forestry conference, my brief foray into the tropics was not without its adventures, both culinary and tourist-ary.

During the twelve hours of flying and six hours of layovers that it took to get there, I contemplated all of the Spam delights that I anticipated trying. Did you know that Hawaiʻi consumes the most Spam per capita in the US? I did. And indeed, I tracked it down, along with much more than I hope to share with you.

In Hawaiʻi, palm trees grow inside of buildings. The photo at the top right is inside of the Hawaii Convention Center, where my conference was held.  If you are in Honolulu and trying to find this place, try looking left of the dingy canal filled with trash, and right of the Naked Lady XXX joints. I don’t mean to downplay the place; rather, it is important to acknowledge that the city has a dingy side to it. A side that either augments or takes away from the scenery, depending on your viewpoint.

The graffiti is prolific, and many of the buildings look as if a breath of wind would knock them down. On the other side of that trash-filled canal, skyrising hotels populate Waikiki, creating distinctly equal visual pollution. And yet there is such stark beauty in the polluted, traffic-laden streets. A diverse populace and burgeoning tourist industry bring terrific food options and cushy comforts to an excited, undemanding tourist such as myself. Honolulu will leave you exhausted (or is that just the jet lag?), but it will also leave you refreshed.

For instance, people (or maybe just tourists, such as myself) eat grilled bananas for breakfast, on top of the rest of their meal. How refreshing is that?

Even more refreshing than grilled bananas, dragon boats, Spam treats and palm trees? Fresh and organic local produce and products.

When in Honolulu, there is nowhere better to turn than the Ala Moana Farmers’ Market, held on Saturday mornings on the 2nd level of the downtown mall’s parking lot. Above the traffic and clutter, this open air market finds tourist and locals mingling, vying for a savory crêpe, grabbing a still-warm garlic baguette, contemplating the art of poi-making, or trying very foreign-looking fruits.

Have a hankering for some ahi tuna? Find it fresh or smoked at the market. Interested in something a little different? Try the abiu fruit (from the Puteria caimito tree), shown at the top left. It was described as tasting like caramel, pineapple and mango, and although we found the custard-textured fruit to be slightly reminiscent of feet, it was still pretty tasty.

If neither fish nor fruit are to your liking, perhaps you would consider giving sea pickles a try (below, top right). Marine AgriFuture is a three year-old company out of Kahuku on Oʻahu’s North Shore, that sells hydroponically-grown sea asparagus and red ogo (seaweed).

While at the market, I picked up a few ripe avocados, a mango, one of the abiu fruits shown above, several grapefruit, and my first pitahaya – or dragon fruit – since my 2007 visit to Barcelona.

If I had had more time on Oʻahu, I would have grabbed a few fresh nutmeg fruits (below, top right), and experimented with the rinds, which can be pickled or ground into drinks, and the outer spice-mace, which I have never had before. I also would have considered trying some longan fruit (below, center) from the Dimocarpus longan tree, which are sweet and juicy and reminiscent of lychees. Given that lychees have not yet impressed me, I find it acceptable that I skipped the longan fruit this time around.

I was most excited about the farmer’s market because I was looking forward to checking out the bean-to-bar operation known as Madre Chocolate. Unfortunately they weren’t at the market this past Saturday, but as I visited their shop several days later, this didn’t pose a problem. Look for an upcoming post on Madre and their fantastic chocolate.

Luckily, there was one shop at the market that could give Madre a run for their money: OnoPops. I can’t even begin to express my enthusiasm for this paleta, or ice pop, stand. As it was early in the morning and I was still a bit tired aka lame, I made the foolish decision of only ordering one paleta, the Crackseed Lemon Peel. My fellow crêpe-savorer-in-crime ordered the Kombucha Pumpkin, which was equally delicious, but very different.

Before I get too deep into the intricacies of the OnoPop, let me introduce you. Meet OnoPops, the kind OnoPops sella-fella and seller-lady (who is modeling one of their t-shirts), and several of their flavor flavs of the day.

The folks behind OnoPops have created over 60 flavors, with 25 to 35 options available at any one time. Half of their menu consists of sorbet water-based pops which are sweetened with raw cane sugar and made with local farm-to-table fruit, such as the Crackseed Lemon Peel paleta I enjoyed. The other half are dairy-based ice cream-styled pops, such as the Kombucha Pumpkin (which had caramel in it, and was some kind of wonderful).

The OnoPops motto is cool in itself: “If it’s not local it’s organic and if it’s not organic, it’s local.” And the flavors? Creative, amazing, take-your-breath-away delicious-sounding. I can’t help but list some of the flavors to tempt your tastebuds: Pickled Green Mango, Avocado Honey Lime, Starfruit Lemongrass, Salted Watermelon Cream, Kula Strawberry Maui Goat Cheese, and Surinam Cherry Clove are but a few of the many options available from OnoPops. Oh, how I regret only trying one pop – have I mentioned the best part, that they were only $3 each?

Given that I was crazy about these sweet treats, I asked Josh at OnoPops for some words of wisdom regarding the mystery that is paleta production. Thankfully, he was willing to share recommendations on how to make homemade ice pops turn out (nearly) as good as those sold from his company’s vintage Brazilian ice cream cart.

So take out your notepads, and scribble as fast as you can before your paleta melts all over your hands, arms, and part of your leg – as my Crackseed Lemon Peel pop did when I stopped to admire all of the other fresh flavors !

Making Sorbet-Style and Dairy-Based Ice Pops

From Josh @ OnoPops:

For Water-Based Paletas

The traditional paleta ratio is 3:2:1 — 3 parts fruit : two parts water : one part sugar.  That formula works perfectly for citrus; with sweeter fruits we take the sugar down even more than that (paletas arise out of the agua fresca tradition, and a trip to a good taqueria for agua fresca will show you the Mexican sweet tooth is fierce), down to 3:1 (for sweet but still acidic fruits like oranges and surinam cherries) or even 6:1 (for mangos, pineapples, watermelons).

Puree the fruit and strain as necessary.  That’s a big question mark — mangos and pineapples we don’t strain at all, and their pulp aids in making fantastic frozen textures.  But most things have some seeds or pith you want to get rid of, though you want to save some pulp for texture, so use a coarse chinois or similiar coarse strainer to achieve that.

Make simple syrups out of the best raw/organic sugar you can get.  A simple syrup has to boil completely to insure there will be no reverse crystallization in freezing.  Dilute your fruit base with the appropriate amount of the right concentration syrup for the fruit’s particular sweetness and acidity levels.  Example: Meyer lemon juice gets equal parts 2:1 syrup.  Mangos get a 4:3 ratio of 6:1 syrup if they are really ripe and sweet, equal portions of 6:1 if they are less sweet.  This is where trial and error comes in [note: but isn’t that what makes baking, cooking, and making ice pops fun?].

If you have a home ice cream maker, spin your base to a soft serve consistency before freezing it in your molds.

For Dairy-Based Ice Pops

If you are making a chocolate pop, start by making a ganache of a good chocolate and local cream, then dilute it with whole milk and heavy syrup (1:2). 

You may infuse the cream you use to make the ganache with any number of spices and botanicals.  For our Dark Chocolate Chinese 5 Spice we dilute 14 quarts of ganache with 4 quarts of milk and 1 quart heavy syrup [note 2: any home cooks that begins with 14 quarts of ganache has my approval – and my asking for their home address so that I can come visit].  For our Mexican Milk Chocolate we dilute 8 quarts ganache with 12 quarts of milk and 3 quarts of heavy syrup.  That gives a good range for your readers to play with.  Do not spin these bases in your ice cream maker; their cream content prefers to be just chilled, then dropped into molds and frozen hard [note 3: similar to David Lebovitz’s no-churn custard-based ice cream recipes].


See their list of for-sale locations here, or contact them:

808.354.2949 /

Also check them out on facebook and twitter.

One last tidbit about OnoPops to make me, and all Pacific Islanders jealous: they have featured straight Spam pops, as well as saimin pops – saimin being a Hawaiian soup with multiple additions such as kamaboko (yum),  char siu, Spam, and Portuguese sausage. If only it were easier to travel 5100+ miles just for a few ice pops.


Ala Moana Farmers’ Market

Located at the Ala Moana Center, upper deck by Sears, corner of Piikoi & Ala Moana Blvd.
1450 Ala Moana Blvd
Honolulu, HI 96814

Saturdays 9h00-13h00

Find them on facebook and twitter, or much better, in person.

Coming up next time: Scenic vistas of Oʻahu that make your palms sweat and your heart race!

Oh, and if you happen to be in Honolulu, say hello to Santa for me. Hopefully he has reclaimed the use of his legs by now, and is mobile once again.