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6 Tips for Eating Cheaply While on Vacation in Hawaii

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When talking about beach destinations over dinner with your significant other, the idyllic notion of a trip to Hawaii came up. Until you joked aloud that “a gallon of milk in Hawaii is like, $12 dollars,” so they swiped their phone and Googled “gallon of milk cost hawaii.” The first article that came up was: Living Hawaii: Where Milk Can Cost as Much as Wine. You both laughed and decided you’d make a trip to Hawaii when you were a bit more financially full, a little bit less in debt.

But fate doesn’t favor finances and a nearly­-paid-­for trip to Hawaii for work came up just a few months later. So, how will you eat ­­ without breaking the bank ­­ while you’re there? The good news is, no matter what you’re visiting the islands for, you can eat some seriously delicious meals while being kind to your wallet. Here are the top six tips for eating cheaply while on vacation in Hawaii.

Plate lunch
Hawaii’s unofficial traditional meal is a curious amalgam of cultural delights, including rice, meat, a brown gravy, and often, macaroni salad. A New York Times article writes of plate lunch: “The Hawaiian plate lunch traces its roots to the 1880s, when giant fruit and sugar companies controlled much of the local economy. Among other factors, the decimation of the local population by disease made the companies desperate for plantation workers, and they drew a labor pool from China, Japan, Portugal, the Philippines and other areas. For workers who toiled under harsh conditions, lunchtime was a respite, with hearty portions of rice matched with whatever meat was left over from dinner the night before.”

Plate lunch spots can be found on each of the islands, and you’re likely to get a hearty meal that’ll keep you full the whole day through for under $10. Search plate lunch on Yelp and you’ll find a myriad of options, most of which come with just one dollar sign ($), signaling the least expensive cost a restaurant can be rated at.

Hawaii’s Chain Grocery Stores
Grocery stores in Hawaii can, indeed, carry gallons of milk for up to $12. And generally, the further away from the mainland the island is, the more expensive the cost of groceries is. But if you know where to shop, you can find reasonably priced items. According to travel writer John Fischer, who’s spent many years traveling to and writing about all of the Hawaiian islands, says the ABC stores you see everywhere are something to swear by for inexpensive food. In his About.com Cheap Eats piece, he writes: “People love to make fun of them, mostly because they’re omnipresent throughout O’ahu ­ on almost every corner and in ever major resort. Their prices, however, are not something to laugh at. They carry a huge selection of snack foods, breakfast items and drinks. The ABC Store is where I buy most of my breakfasts on O’ahu.”

Lunch wagons
Lunch wagons are to Hawaii what food trucks are to Portland. Okay, they’re not that prominent on the islands, but they do make a great affordable lunch. You’re likely to find a variety of meal options, from burritos and burgers to plate lunch and lau lau. However you slice it, these are a great option, and allow you to eat outside and soak up more Vitamin D while you’re at it.

Coffee shops
You don’t have to be a coffee addict in order to frequent the best coffee shops in Hawaii. That’s because most often, coffee shops around the world, Hawaii included, have a baked goods section, as well as cheap smoothies and sometimes even salads, sandwiches and the like. Skip the latte and order lunch or breakfast at a coffee shop for a quicker, much less expensive meal than you’ll find at your average sit­-down restaurant.

Farmer’s markets
Hawaii’s temperate climate provides ripe growing grounds for fruits and vegetables that you can’t eat year­-round elsewhere. Take advantage of the bounty and experience a bit of local culture at a farmer’s market. Here you can find fresh food for much less than you’d pay at any grocery store, and you’ll be supporting local farmers along the way. Many of the islands have a daily farmer’s market, so ask around to see when the next one is happening. Head there armed with $20 cash and see how much you can buy with it!

Kauai Community College Meal
Visiting Kauai during the school year? Then you just might be in luck. According to an article in the LA Times, the Kauai Community College offers a student­-cooked lunch or dinner for diners at a price of just around $8. As the LA Times puts it: “Lunch is served 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily and features island favorites such as plate lunches (a Hawaiian staple made up of two scoops of white rice, a scoop of macaroni salad and one or more entrees). Choose from entrees such as kalbi (Korean barbecue) ribs, teriyaki chicken, kalua pork or curry dishes.”

Shaved Ice
While this island delicacy may not have vegetables, grains or protein, it does happen to be an inexpensive item you can find anywhere. What’s more, it’s something anyone is sure to enjoy. Unlike the typical snow cone you’ve tasted at your local carnival, shave ice is actually shaved (instead of crushed) from a big block of ice, and is lighter, fluffier and more delicious than the common variety. Spend just a few dollars on this treat, and we’re sure you’ll walk away with a smile!


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