Wisconsin: America’s dairyland. Full of cheese curds, beer and deep-fried goodness. It’s where going out for dinner usually consists of a greasy basket of fries and a juicy burger. Waikiki grinds (Pidgin for food) are plates of saffron rice and spicy coconut curried red snapper. Quite different, no?
There (almost) could not be two more different styles of food between the food in Honolulu and the food in Eau Claire.
Eau Claire loves its bar food, whereas Honolulu loves its udon shops and fresh fruit stands. However, I say “almost” because even though the dominant cuisine present here is Asian food, there are the few outlier tourist-filled restaurants that serve primarily overpriced bar food.
A main staple restaurant to the Honolulu area is Marukame Udon. With 4.5 stars on Yelp and over 7,700 reviews, this place speaks for itself. It is a very unusual dining experience for your average American (me). Upon arriving to the restaurant, customers may find the line that snakes down the sidewalk overwhelming, but don’t be fooled! The line diminishes quickly.
Inside, the smell of curry perfumes the air. Fresh noodles are being pulled in the open kitchen. Everything moves quickly: grab a tray, yell out the number of the desired udon dish. Seconds later, the udon is ready at the end of the bar. The steamy bowl is placed on the tray, which is forced by the tempura station: shrimp, sweet potato, zucchini and potato. Grab one of each — it’s worth it. The meal comes out to be around $10; it is astounding how much bang for your buck you can get at this place.
It is not a place to sit and chat. The inside of the restaurant is bustling with people, with a seemingly endless line of people waiting on the outside. The unspoken rule to keep the line moving is this: Sit down, eat quickly and leave. And everyone obeys the rule, so this crazy system is successful.
The experience at my favorite Honolulu restaurant, Marukame Udon, versus my favorite Eau Claire restaurant, Mona Lisa’s, is drastically different. Mona Lisa’s environment is extremely welcoming. With the extensive menu, from beginning appetizers to sweet dessert endings, the outing could last all night.
In regards to the dining halls, though, I miss UW-Eau Claire’s selection of food. I miss the vegan soft serve, even if the machine was down every other day. Also, there’s just nothing better than cheese curds for dinner.
The food at the University of Hawaii is very different. It is all extremely fresh and delicious. From pineapple to seafood, the Asian food theme is still very prevalent. The healthy options far outweigh the unhealthy. There are still the college cafeteria essentials like pizza and grilled cheese, but the main courses consist of a tofu and noodle dish, or a chicken and rice dish.
To choose one cafeteria over the other would not be possible. The two are just too different.
Walking to Riverview Cafe up the notorious hill in the brutal winters was always a true struggle. Arriving to the cafeteria with a wind burnt face and frozen hair was the norm, whereas in Hawaii we show up to the cafeteria dripping in sweat or that sneaky Manoa rain that always seems to catch you without an umbrella. Either way, showing up to far off cafeterias is usually an uncomfortable experience.
I constantly find myself craving an order of cheese curds with a side of ranch from Mogie’s Pub, knowing that I will not find any cheese curds here in Hawai’i. The classic Wisconsin cheese curd is the perfect example of food making a certain place so special. Eau Claire, I miss you, but I will be enjoying my tofu noodle dishes for a while longer.
Cipriano can be reached at [email protected]