Saving money by cooking on vacation.


I’m something of a planner. I plan things in my head all the time. Dinner party menus. Building a greenhouse. Yoga sequences. I guess I would say that enjoy making plans.

So, it should come as no surprise to find out that, as planned, the first thing I did in Hawaii was go to the grocery store. After all, it’s on the way to the hotel. We arrived at 10:45 am, and check-in wasn’t until 3 pm, and I love getting myself set up for vacation right from the get go. It’s worth it to me to sacrifice the first few hours so I’m free to enjoy the rest of the vacation.

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I realize many people may be unwilling to spend their vacation cooking in their hotel room, but Honolulu is expensive, especially Waikiki. But we love Waikiki because you can walk everywhere here.

We’ve never rented a car, except for a taxi to and from the airport. We travel almost everywhere on foot, and occasionally take a bus. Keep in mind, we’re so lazy, we’ve never even tried to see other parts of Oahu. Even when I went to Manoa Falls and Diamond Head, I rented a bike.

fullsizeoutput_2b9But when you stay primarily in Waikiki, eating out can be really expensive. There are more affordable restaurants outside of the tourist areas, but even so, cooking in your room can save a lot of money.

There are other advantages too:

  • Eat whenever you feel like it.
  • No waiting for a table.
  • No waiting while your food is prepared.
  • Never leave the beach early to beat the dinner crowd.

All that translates to more time at the beach! There are some challenges to cooking in-room, however. Keep these things in mind:

  • Don’t forget important basics like cooking oil, butter, salt, pepper, and other seasonings.
  • Look for reasonably priced items large enough to last through your stay, without buying way more than you can use.
  • Scope out your cooking situation beforehand. Every “kitchenette” is different.

Vini and I are staying at the Ewa Hotel (pronounced “Ava”). My first impression of the hotel was of the overwhelmingly friendliness and helpfulness of the staff. I called Evan at the front desk twice from the grocery store to ask about the kitchenette. Each time he told me not to hesitate to call with other questions!

Here are some things to ask:

  • How big is the fridge?
  • How many burners are there? Is there an oven?
  • How about a rice cooker? (There often is in Hawaii).
  • Is there a microwave? A toaster?
  • What kinds of pots and pans are there?

20180101_181400We had a mini fridge, two burners, a toaster, a coffee machine, and a microwave. Additionally, there was one pot, one pan, two “ginsu” knives, a small cutting board, and a spatula. Pretty barebones.

This is our cute little kitchenette. Toaster and microwave on top, two burners to the left, and a drainboard/sink on the right. There’s a mini-fridge down below.

I was skeptical, but I’m turning out some great meals in this kitchen!

 

 

So here’s what I bought.

L – Chicken broth, onion and garlic, lemons and limes, walnuts, eggs, rice noodles, short grain rice, Bailey’s and Bogle Essential Red. R -green tea, earl grey, kona coffee, butter, umeboshi, yams, pineapple. On the top shelf are also cooking oil, rice vinegar, yuzukosho (Thank you Kurumi!), low-sodium soy sauce, and mirin,
Also: L – Poke, sushi grade salmon, pork, and beef, olives, ginger, oranges, shanghai choi, cabbage, and lettuce. R – Mayo, avocado, coleslaw mix (I like cabbage), yakisoba noodles, mustard, ham, chevre, and cheddar cheese.
On the top shelf are two pineapples, cooking oil, rice vinegar, yuzukosho (Thank you Kurumi!), mirin, low-sodium soy sauce, wasabe powder, whole wheat bread, and Stella d’Artois.

The ham, bread, eggs, cheese, olives, nuts, and lettuce to make:

  • Ham and cheese omelets with toast
  • Ham sandwiches
  • Cheese platters
  • Salads

Mostly though, I focused on Asian foods that could create a variety of meals. Why Asian? Well, of course, it’s delicious. It’s also fast and healthy. And one more thing – it’s affordable and abundant at the grocery stores in Hawaii! Here are some of the meals I can make:

  • Stir-fry with yakisoba noodles and tofu
  • Rice bowl with stir-fried beef and yams
  • Stir-fry pork with cabbage, carrots, and sprouts
  • Rice bowl with salmon sashimi, avocado slices, and stir-fried carrots with burdock
  • Nabe
  • Rice bowl with poke and stir-fried veggies
  • Fried rice with ham and veggies

I can also make pickled vegetables with the cabbage, cucumbers, and salt. I have umeboshi, and I can make vinegared carrots and cucumbers as well.

Slice the cucumbers as thin as possible. A challenge with my ginsu knife! Add a liberal amount of salt. Stir it in and let the cucumbers sit. Stir and lightly smash a bit a few times, let sit some more. In the end, you can discard the salty liquid and give ’em a quick rinse if you like. Then eat as is or season to taste with soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, furikake, umeboshi (in any combination), or anything else you like.

I also bought a variety of fruit including two pineapples, two papayas, two mangoes, four oranges, and four bananas. So, yep. Fruit, fruit, fruit!

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So, what’s the tab for a week’s worth of food in Honolulu? Around $200. Not including alcohol. I don’t drink much anymore, but we got one small bottle of sake and one bottle of wine to share. For Vini, we also bought Bailey’s for his coffee and a short case of Stella d’Artois. All that liquor ran another $65.

That’s a lot more than I’d spend on groceries in Portland for a week, but remember, I had to buy staples and pantry items like oil, butter, mustard, mayonnaise, salt and pepper, soy sauce, mirin, etc. The thing is, dinner for two in Waikiki can easily run $100 a night, and if you consider breakfast and lunch as well, you’d probably average $160 – $200 a day per person! So really, the savings are considerable.

Here’s a gallery of meal photos for further inspiration.

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About LeilaPiazza

I am a wife and mother. I am an Orthodox Christian. I am a Syrian American with family living in Syria. I am a also a yoga teacher and freelance writer. I recently described myself in a job pitch as "a person who's lived in Portland, Oregon for over 20 years with a passion for writing and a passion for all things Portland. I'm a foodie, knitter, wine and beer lover, bee-keeper (yep, I said it), mead and fruit-liqueur maker, organic gardener, home-canner, hiker, biker, runner, and occasional skinny-dipper. I’ve camped all over the state, I sail a sailboat that’s moored on the Columbia (o.k., I'm the first mate), and I spend a large percentage of my time at our beach house in Seaside." That about sums it up.
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