I visited Honolulu from May 9 to 16 with fellow Serious Eats contributor and Honolulu native Kathy YL Chan. Here's a food-related snapshot from my vacation.
"You've never heard of crack seed?" asked Kathy. "That's what we call Hawaiian snacks."
The first time I ever heard of the words "crack" and "seed" together was when Kathy brought me to Waiola last Monday for shave ice and pointed out that they had a crack seed store. A what-what store? The name first brought to mind something illicit, until Kathy explained that the snacks are based on Chinese dried fruits and nuts.
Oahu-based crack seed chain store Wholesale Unlimited explains, "The name 'crack seed' refers to the seed in the dried fruit that had been cracked to add more flavor." Today the name refers to much more than dried and preserved fruit, including other local snacks such as different types of candied ginger, dried seafood (squid, octopus, cuttlefish, etc.), senbei (rice crackers), arare (bite-sized rice crackers), crispy shortbread-like cookies, li hing mui-flavored dried fruits and candies (mango and gummy bears seem to be the most common), and much more. Take a look at this photo from Bill Adams on Flickr to get a sense of the wide variety found in a crack seed store.
Although I stocked up on snacks at Wholesale Unlimited, where everything is pre-packaged, Kathy said it's more ideal to go to a crack seed store where the snacks come in jars so you can buy by the pound. Crack seed stores are popular with kids who can buy small amounts of snacks at a time. It might also help that all crack seed stores have Icee machines.
Crack Seed Center at the Ala Moana Center is one of the largest crack seed stores, but Kathy said there are plenty in the city, although perhaps not all as clearly marked as Kay's Crackseed. You don't have to go to a crack seed store to find these snacks—one late night I ended up buying lots of them at at 24-hour Longs Drugs—but for greater variety and the by-the-pound option, check out specialized stores.
While having a lengthy discussion with Kathy about crack seed, she concluded, "Crack seed is a feeling!" and couldn't describe it much further. I probably would've had to have grown up with crack seed to get the feeling, and I'd have to spend much more time in Hawaii to being better acquainted with the wide variety of snacks (or, a less fun method, buy them all online). But if you hadn't heard of crack seed before and plan on visiting Hawaii, I hope you make sure to try some.
Note: The stores I'm listing below aren't necessarily recommendations, as I didn't go into either of them. If you have a favorite store, please share!
2752 Woodlawn Drive, Honolulu, HI 96822 (map)