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Stuff I’m bringing back to the mainland from Hawaii and why

gifts from others and for others

Many a savvy traveler will brag about how they avoid checking bags (and those pesky fees), how they can fit two weeks worth of clothing into a carryon fanny pack and how crucial it is to make choices — not black shoes and brown shoes, but black shoes or brown shoes. There has recently been a slew of such articles in the NY Times Travel Section like this one, heralding the advantages to packing light.

I admit that on short domestic trips, I, too, can pack like a ninja (I imagine ninjas pack very light), but when it comes to those long trips that truly matter, my bags (definitely large and definitely needing to be checked in) are swollen with foodstuffs, gifts for others and pride. The thought of showing up at someone’s house without a gift or, as we say in Hawaii, having borrowed it from Japanese, omiyage, is anathema to me. In the same vein, the thought of returning from a long trip without gifts for my loved ones in whatever place I’ve just arrived is just as unthinkable.

Some of the things I pack may be ridiculous and you may think to yourself, Why bother? I can get that just about anywhere! But when it comes to food, transporting it to a new place extends the memories of the old one, easing the transition from location to location. For me, it’s not just a necessary habit, it’s become my own version of an extreme sport.

I am not in a minority, as evidenced by what a friend has referred to as a “private network of couriers” and by the people behind cookinghawaiianstyle.com, who were recently featured in the Hawaiian Airlines’ inflight magazine Hanahou in this article. This quotation sums up the extent of this practice rather nicely:

“From a recent trip to Hawai‘i, the Abraham family returned with a culinary cache that included manapua, kalua pig, squid lu‘au and twenty pounds of Chinese noodles. ‘It seems kind of ridiculous to bring all that back,’ says Abraham, ‘but no one around here makes noodles like they do in Hawai‘i.'”

When a cousin from Hawaii came to visit me in Philadelphia recently, she showed up with pounds of Hawaiian snacks, many carefully wrapped presents and six cans of Spam-flavored macadamia nuts (lovingly purchased by her boyfriend) for my boyfriend, who is rather inexplicably addicted to them (he was running so low before her arrival that he had been fostering a mini-collection of almost-empty Spam-nut containers in the cupboard. “Almost-empty” as in each can had exactly one nut in it. He couldn’t bear to eat the last nut).

omiyage from my cousin: 6 cans of spam nuts, a hang loose cap and a Men of the Islands calendar

The contortions on my boyfriend’s face when he happened upon the Spam nut pyramid alternated between joyful confusion and something like “OMG I just won the lottery!” — a reaction I believe made the process of hauling six cans of Spam nuts all the way to the East Coast well worth the effort.

Humans are gloriously impractical creatures, evinced by this list of the contents of my two 50 pound suitcases (what is pictured in the banner photo is in addition to clothing, late Christmas gifts that still need to remain surprises and all the stuff my aunts brought over after I had already photographed and documented the omiyage listed below). Most of it was given to me by family members to share with my mainland friends and all of it is intended to remind me of home.

To my family from Hawaii, any place outside the islands is cold and lonely. Even if I know this to be not entirely true, the perpetual homesickness I’ve felt for much of my life (for years I’ve been in voluntary, self-imposed exile due to school, work and whatever) is eased by every packaged snack and every bag of coffee beans that has found its way from the hands of my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents into my absurdly and abundantly stuffed luggage.

So here’s the list:

1 lauhala box of Hawaiian quilt-style cushion covers

5 bags of coffee beans (4 of which are 100% Kona from Hualalai Estate)

3 small bags of macadamia nut flavored Lion Coffee

2 pairs of size small pink latex gloves from Japan (do you know how hard it is to find dishwashing gloves for tiny hands in the continental US?)

4 bags of assorted li hing mui-dusted candy

1 bag iso red peanuts

1 bag of banana and mango flavored hi-chew candy

1 bag of Japanese milk candy

1 copy of Goodnight Hawaiian Moon

4 bags of Hershey’s kisses with macadamia nuts (3 small, 1 gigantic Costco-sized)

1 48 oz. (that’s 3 lbs for you non-metric types) container of Keoki’s Kalua Pork

1 package of dried squid

1 package of poke mix (given to me with the belief that fresh ahi can be found everywhere and I can just mix up my own poke in Philadelphia)

2 bags of ginger candy (honey lemon and li hing)

1 tan, bikini-wearing stuffed Hello Kitty

2 sets of microwave mitts

1 copy of a local “Power Potluck” cookbook

1 packet of nori covered crackers

2 large Hawaiian Hello Kitty-themed saimin bowls. Would this theme better be referred to as “Aloha Kitty”?

2 boxes of Hawaiian Host chocolate covered macadamia nuts

3 packets of Knorr’s leek soup mix (to make my aunty’s amazing spinach dip which pairs with her homemade lavash. For some reason I can’t ever find leek soup mix in Philadelphia super markets.)

2 packages of rice flour crackers

1 4 oz. jar of lilikoi butter from the Big Island

1 4 oz. jar of poha berry jam from the Big Island

1 large (2.75 lbs) Costco-sized container of macadamia nut blossom raw Hawaiian honey

1 pikake-scented candle

1 box of Golden Curry mix

1 pack of chocolate yan yans

1 large bag (1.5 lbs) of pine nuts from Costco

1.6 lbs of parmigiano reggiano from Costco (not that I can’t get cheese or pine nuts in Philadelphia, it’s just a lot cheaper from Costco and I don’t have my own membership. My Chinese side is showing.)

1 packet of shoyu chicken sauce

4 12oz. Redondo’s Portuguese sausages

1 box of Punalu’u coffee flavored macadamia nut shortbread cookies

1 box of Punalu’u guava flavored macadamia nut shortbread cookies

1 bar of Tahitian monoi soap

2 bottles of monoi oil (one tiare-scented and one pikake-scented – perfect for dry winter skin, a common mainlander complaint)

2 packets of Hawaiian Sun guava juice mix

1 packet of Hawaiian Sun Passion Orange drink mix (these are GENIUS and a fairly new product. When I was a little kid and before any liquids more than 3.4 oz were banned, I used to smuggle cans of guava juice in my carry-on whenever I had to leave Hawaii)

1 can of dry roasted Mauna Loa macadamia nuts

1 large bag of honey roasted Hawaiian Host macadamia nuts

1 large bag of Maui onion flavored Mauna Loa macadamia nuts

1 Hawaiian quilt-themed coffee mug

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One Comment on “Stuff I’m bringing back to the mainland from Hawaii and why”

  1. nancy schiltz says:

    Costco is the best place. However your list made me feel better. Hurrican popcorn from Costco. I get the Hawaiian Sun drinks at Plow boys in HB. Close to FVRH. I thought I was the only one to get the ginger candy. I return with a yrs supply. Mauna Loa has onion flavored at the ABC store in Las Vegas Planet Hollywood. I do get the wassabi and other flavors when I go. I limit myself to 10 bags of Mauna Loa that are only bought on the islands. Thanks for your post. It is getting me all excited.


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