Written by Justin Ramsay
Photographed by Lorryn Smit
Growing up, I was one of those difficult kids who used to push their veggies aside at dinner time. While happily munching away on any meat or carbs, I would avoid the green monstrosities sitting beside them. Inevitably, I’d be coerced into finishing everything on the plate by my parents with the threat of no dessert or an early bedtime, but I can’t say I ever really relished that part of the meal when I was young. Luckily, as we get older and wiser, our tastes change, and we grow to appreciate, and even enjoy, the things that were the bane of every mealtime when we were little whippersnappers.
Since I hit my 20s – and especially since moving to Korea – I have found that I have come to enjoy eating the wonderful, fresh produce that Mother Nature provides us with, and now make it an important part of every meal. With this in mind, and the fact that the last few months I have covered restaurants whose dishes are centered mostly around meats, I have decided to try a new spot that recently opened in Gwangju where fresh vegetables and salads are the stars of the show.
Hawaiian Bowl is a poke bowl and salad restaurant that opened a little over a month ago next to Kunst Lounge, across from the ACC. There isn’t a great abundance of Hawaiian-inspired restaurants where I’m from in South Africa, so upon reading the storefront sign, “Hawaiian Bowl Salad and Poke,” I was mildly confused and suspected something might have been lost in translation. Upon doing a quick Google search of “Hawaiian poke” though, I felt a bit silly when I found that it was, in fact, the name of a dish originating in Hawaii. A poke bowl is a rice-based dish consisting of sushi rice, various vegetables, and some meat or meat substitute, such as tofu.
Once we sat down in the tiny restaurant, we realized it was more an “on-the-go” place than a “sit down and settle in for a big meal” kind of place. There are only about 10 chairs in Hawaiian Bowl, so I recommend going with just a couple of friends rather than a big group if you plan on eating in. The décor of the restaurant is very apt and captures all the imagery and tropes that one associates with Hawaii. A surfboard is on the wall with the restaurant’s name emblazoned on it. There are small, inflatable palm trees and neon pink flamingos aplenty, as well as lovely little menus with both English and Korean names that are both full of color and easy to navigate.
The food part of the menu is split into four sections: poke bowl, salad bowl, musubi and cup noodle, and corn. On the reverse side, the drinks menu contains a few options that are not very common in Korea, which was a welcome surprise. Along with the staples of Americano, Coca Cola, and bottled water, there is also a sugar cane latte, five different Hawaiian Sun drinks (even guava), and seven different Kona Brewing Co. beers.
After a quick browse, my companion and I ordered the fresh salmon poke bowl, chicken breast salad bowl, parboiled octopus salad bowl, and spam musubi (similar to kimbap). We also ordered a Hanalei IPA and a Lemongrass Luau blonde ale to cool off, since the sun was out in full force that day.
Because the restaurant is small and very open, we could watch the staff preparing everything in front of us (which was quite nice), and we could see that all the ingredients they were using were very fresh.
After 10–15 minutes, we were given our drinks and all four dishes at the same time. Everything came served in plastic take-out bowls with handles, and every dish was full of color.
The salad part of the salad bowl was largely the same in the chicken salad and octopus salad. Every ingredient was fresh and cooked/sliced well. The apples had a good crunch. The pumpkin, sweet potato, and broccoli were steamed for just the right amount of time; and all the lettuce and cabbage varieties had a satisfying crunch and were covered in delicious dressing.
The meat parts of the dish were the only real difference between the two salads. The octopus salad came with tasty, thinly sliced, soft octopus and a few shrimp, which were sprinkled with herbs and sesame oil. The chicken salad came with flakey, juicy chicken breast meat with a light sprinkling of cheese.
Both the octopus and the chicken went well with the other ingredients in the salad, and I enjoyed both equally. The musubi was well presented and had a familiar taste, resembling a fancy version of Korea’s beloved kimbap. Next time I order at Hawaiian Bowl, I’ll probably order the Musubi & Noodle Set, which comes with Nissin Cup noodles for under 7, 500 won.
My favorite part of the meal was the salmon poke bowl. The bowl was filled about halfway with tasty sushi rice, with neatly arranged, fresh ingredients covering the rice and topped off with a healthy portion of salmon. (I particularly relished the salmon in the poke bowl and enjoyed trying to get a bit of each ingredient in every mouthful, as they tasted even better together.) The two Kona beers were also great, with light, satisfying flavors that didn’t overpower the flavor of the food.
Another thing worth mentioning is that they deliver (to certain areas). For a 3,000 won delivery fee, you can get fresh, healthy food and fantastic drinks delivered to your home or workplace. If you want a quick, fresh meal at great value, I recommend checking out Hawaiian Bowl.
Hawaiian Bowl 하와이안 보울
Address: 광주 동구 제봉로 126
126 Jaebong-ro, Dong-gu, Gwangju
Operating Hours: Daily 8 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Price Range: 3,000 – 9,000 won per person
Justin is an English teacher from South Africa who has lived in Gwangju since 2013. He is a big fan of food and the arts and generally goes where something good can be eaten, seen or heard. He is often involved in GPP performances and writes monthly food articles for the Gwangju News. In his free times he’s usually playing boardgames, videogames or just enjoying a nice stroll around Gwangju.