cheap eats in Hawaii (Kauai and Maui)

All airfare and rental car pricing aside, the expense of a Hawaiian vacation is compounded shortly after you disembark from that plane to get lei’d!  Your Set of Drifters usually spend time in countries where the exchange rate is working in our favor - where it’s not unusual to have an entire meal (including drinks) for under $6 USD.  And though Kauai often feels like it’s a world away from our mainland, the elevated prices found in its restaurants and grocery stores will quickly remind you’re still in the good ole USA.  Of course, once in Hawaii, you’re not just paying for the cost of your meal’s ingredients, or for the people preparing it... you’re also paying for the import of said foodstuffs, and additional taxes that are eventually used to protect this beautiful island paradise! 

Now, far be from us to tell you what to do... but if you are staying in Hawaii for anywhere near a week, those constant breakfasts, lunches and dinners are going to add up fast!  May we suggest stopping at your local supermarket instead to stock up on some basics?  Our favorite store ended up being Foodland.  Sure, “basics” in Hawaii are still gonna cost you an arm and a leg (a dozen eggs for $6, a package of English muffins for $4.50?), but if you hunt around long enough, you just may end up with some surprisingly tasty offerings that are both healthy and evocative of the local culture. 

We chowed down on musubis a few times during our trip.  A twist on a Japanese seaweed/ rice ball, Hawaiian musubis are often embellished with chicken, egg, pork hot-dogs or even SPAM!  Satisfying - and cheap, these little “fast food” suckers will only set you back about $2.50 USD.  Elsewhere, Foodland impresses with a wide variety of local fruits (mango, pineapple and guava), fresh juices that’ll put the traditional “orange” to shame, and even its very own sushi chef!  While we recommend you stock up on your week’s ration of water here, Foodland also offers a staggering array of souvenirs to take back home.  But ditch the tacky T-shirts!  It’s always better to bring your friends unique items they can’t get anywhere else.  (Papaya-seed salad dressing comes to mind.)  

Set of Drifters tip:  Have no interest in self-sufficiency?  There’s always the local McDonald’s.  In Kapa’a, the golden arches accompany a franchise that looks entirely Hawaiian in design.  There are even special menu items like “Taro Pie,” the perfect fried accompaniment to your “McTeri” teriyaki burger. 

Foodland Lahaina - 878 Front Street, Lahaina, HI  96761, (808) 661-0975,

McDonald's - 885 Wainee Street, Lahaina, HI 96761, (808) 667-2681

Foodland (at the Princeville Shopping Center) - 5-4280 Kuhio Highway, Princeville, HI  96722, (808) 826-9880,

McDonald’s (Kapa'a) - 4-771 Kuhio Highway, Kapa’a, HI  96746, (808) 822-7290

navigating Kauai’s chicken population

Whether you like it or not, chickens are everywhere in Kauai - except, oddly, where you might expect to find them, in restaurants.  Yes, you read that right - chickens, just roaming around freely without a care in the world.  In fact, one little hen befriended us, or perhaps our food, by visiting our condo each morning of our week-long trip.  Bold enough to even step claw in our kitchen, this chick was clearly not messing around.  But she’s not the only one.  With nary a coop in sight, there are so many wild birds strutting around Kauai, you may just think you’ve entered Southeast Asia after all. 

So what gives?  According to folklore, early 1880s settlers introduced the mongoose to Hawaii in a failed attempt to control the rat population that fed on their lucrative sugar cane crops.  People believe Kauai was spared “mongeese” when a dock worker was bitten by one of the nasty creatures headed for the Garden Island, and kicked its cage into the water!  But a lack of mongooses on Kauai did not mean an increased population of rats!  It translated into higher numbers of chicken - for what the typical mongoose really longed for were the eggs of nesting ground birds!  Whoops. 

In any case, we suggest you make friends with your fellow chicks during your visit.   Who knows?  You may even get an egg out of it! 

the “Acoustic Luau” (Kauai)

As avid music lovers, your Set of Drifters have longed believed that a soundtrack of tunes will elevate any travel experience.  To that end, we often devise specific playlists of new and old favorites that will imbue the overall vibe of whatever destination we may be touring.  (Set of Drifters tip:  Not all hotels have convenient little docking stations.  Be sure to save room in your luggage for a small set of speakers.)     

Sadly, for our first trip to Kauai in September of 2012, we were caught without aural accompaniment for much of our week-long trip!  Luckily, upon renting a car for our trip to Waimea Canyon (see “sights”), we happened upon a really groovy radio show called “Acoustic Luau.”  Broadcast on KKCR 90.9FM, Kauai's “Community Radio Station,” Acoustic Luau airs every Thursday at 6:00 PM.  (An assortment of Hawaiian classics, soul and rock play throughout the rest of the week.)

Simply put, we loved the wry content of “Acoustic Luau,” almost bursting out into giggles several times throughout its eccentric set-list.  From mid-80s Sinéad O'Connor to Christine Lavin’s “Bald Headed Men,” we had no idea what would come through the speakers next.  (Come on, where else can you hear Laura Nyro’s “Eli’s Coming” on a themed radio show?  Maybe on the internet, but not so much on the dial these days.)  Interested in hearing the party, but nowhere near Kauai?  You can still check out “Acoustic Luau” on, though the coastal sunsets will have to come courtesy of your own imagination! 

Acoustic Luau on KKCR 90.9FM - Thursdays from 6:00 PM until 8:00 PM or at

protecting sea cucumbers

Apparently, whales are not the only sea creatures able to “beach themselves” on dry land.  While frolicking along Anini Beach on the North Shore of Kauai one afternoon (see "sights"), your Set of Drifters discovered a rather odd sight lapping in the shallow, calm waves.  Though at first, we were unsure as to what exactly the knobby sausage-shaped item was, we soon presumed it to be a sea cucumber (Kingdom:  Animalia; Phylum:  Echinodermata; Class:  very little).

Not knowing much about the feeding, sleeping or bathing habits of a common Holothuroidea, your Set of Drifters were a bit concerned when we noticed the little guy baking out in the warm sun for over 30 minutes.  So we got to thinking... surely, he would rather be IN the water than out.  Why don’t we help him get to where he’s going?  It’s not as though he was about to spout hind legs any time soon!  Sadly, we did not think much beyond that. 

While we should have gotten out a smart phone to perform a little research on the proper handling of just such a creature, we grabbed for a long stick instead.  Hoping to nudge the cuke softly across the sand and back into the inviting crystalline waters, the slobby sea beast rolled a few times instead.  It was then that we noticed its end orifice pulse open to reveal a smattering of jellied insides.  Fully disgusted, we rolled our little friend a few more times until he deposited himself back where he belonged.  At that point, we were truly thrilled to have helped, but the show was not over folks.  Now bobbing in the current, the sea cucumber’s mouth (?) continued to belch, proffering intestinal entrails easily three times its length.  By the time the sea sausage was done, it has completely expelled what we assumed to be its entire internal organs, or at least the remains of its last meal. 

We could not bear to watch the crude object any longer and shortly left the shoreline.  Later, however, having returned home to our condo, we finally looked up on the Internet what we had experienced earlier in real life.  To our dismay, we would learn that our sea cucumber friend would soon die.  Provoked by fear of what it surmised as a predator, an internal nerve mechanism inside the cuke sprung into action to eject the creature’s insides.  They would serve as a “loss leader” for the animal in its fight to escape.  Still, without important digestive components, the cucumber would eventually expire.

There are some lessons to be learned here kids.  Leave sea sleeping sea cucumbers where they lay... and remember, once you mess with nature, don’t be surprised if it messes right back!