Before traveling to the beautiful State of Hawaii, I had several culinary treasures that were on my “Must Eat” list. High on this checklist was the legendary puka dog.
I’m not sure how I first learned about the puka dog, probably a guide book, but whatever the source the unique meal sounded like something I would love. In Hawaiian, puka means hole and in this case it describes the delivery mechanism for the one-of-a-kind meal.
In August of 2000, Puka Dog opened the doors of the little blue hot dog hut in Kekaha at the base of Waimea Canyon on Kauai. From the tropical and beautiful surroundings, Puka Dog began sampling and eventually concocting mouth-watering relishes and sauces from tropical fruits and plants native to Kauai.
A bun-sized loaf of bread, of the sweet Hawaiian variety, is made with a hole in the middle which is then lightly toasted. Into this gaping maw the customer then has many options. First, one must select one of the 4 different garlic lemon secret sauces to insert, mild to super hot, and then it’s relish time. There are 7 tropical relishes from which to choose, each with their own decidedly Hawaiian flavors. The garlic sauce and the relishes are pumped into the puka bun hole, and then a large polish sausage is gingerly placed inside. Finally more sauce and relish is added to the sausage and voila! A puka dog is born.
On my first trip to the Waikiki Puka Dog location, I decided to go with the mild garlic sauce and a sweet mango relish. I was so excited that I didn’t even find a table, I just stood there and started chomping away. The first thing I noticed was how the garlic and relish went together perfectly. It was a combination of light spice and refreshing sweetness that one frankly doesn’t expect to find in a hot dog. As I continued eating, the toasted middle of the puka bun offered a satisfying crunch and texture that really helped round out the dish. The puka dog barely survived a few minutes and by the end I couldn’t wait to try another relish the next day.
Yes the puka dog is probably mostly for tourists, as was proven by the fact that my Hawaiian friends had never even heard of it. Regardless of its intended audience, it is an absolutely unique lunchtime favorite that so expertly infuses sweet tropical flavor with the savory meal that it would be an absolute travesty for any visitor to the islands not to eat here at least once. I promise you though, if you eat there once, you will be back many more times.