Ignore the gourmet coffee counter. Wind past the baked goods tempting you to pause and linger with aromas of butter and sugar. The mixed steam of enticing hot foods blur the counter glass, but that’s not a reason to stop either. You are a person on a mission, and you’re searching for nirvana.

There it is, trays and trays of goodness. Freshly mixed with flavors both spicy and sweet. Laced with red and green and gold unlike any other combo on the planet.

Or as a local dude noted as my eyes widened and I moaned in joy, “It’s da poke, mon.”

The location – Princeville, just before Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii. The store – the Islands-based grocery chain Foodland. The food – POKE!

Pronounced “PO-kay”, these addictive comminglings of fresh fish, seaweed, sauces and spices is the thing we crave the most every time we think about the Islands. What makes them special might be a mystery until you’ve tried them, and after that, you don’t care.

Yes, we have sushi and sashimi on the mainland, and yes, it is frequently spectacular. But there’s something about the real thing caught fresh and served raw (no flash freezing for transportation) tossed with the greenery of the sea and lighter hints of local fruits or nuts that is as special if not more so. Add a dash of Hawaiian Red Sea Salt and we know we’ve arrived.

Our favorites are the raw ahi tuna combos, though the cooked mussels in a hotly spiced sauce are uniquely rich too. Sometimes we dine with a crunch of lychee or macadamia thrown in. Don’t forget the wakame (seaweed salad) and edamame. Could eating ever feel healthier?

We have been known to perform a screeching U-turn to come back to a poke-themed food truck on the side of the road. We have favorite little storefronts on every island that serve their versions of this quintessential bowl food. But for a place where the selections are plentiful and available as an easy takeout (as long as it’s not late after dinner), we look for Foodland.

If you’re planning to shop for edibles even once, sign up for the rewards program at the cash register – you only have to supply a phone number, and the discounts are phenomenal. They feature enough of everything you could want for a vacation stay, like local beer and Southern zone wine (best deals – New Zealand and Australia, though we’ve found super pricing on a couple of Oregon favs too).

Forgot the sunscreen? No problem. Need chocolate-covered macadamia nuts to take home for that plant-sitting friend? Milk or dark? Don’t overlook the taro chips, and mac-shortbread cookies plus Kona coffee and fresh-squeezed guava or mango juice for the morning.

Bypass the big chain stores and head instead to Foodland. You might run into the surfer dude that frequents our preferred locale. And don’t forget the poke!

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