Local Eats and Kai Bars in Honiara
What to expect at a local kai bar and a list of our favourite local eats.
My office doesn’t have a fridge or a microwave, and homemade lunch options like sandwiches, or crackers and tuna, get old quick. For expatty Western food, there are enough foreign-run places around Honiara to tend to your food fixes as long as you’re prepared to pay the expat privilege: pizzas are about 150SBD, burgers range from 60-120SBD, Malaysian stir-fried noodles are 120SBD, butter chicken with rice is 120SBD, good steak at 200SBD a plate, you get the picture. But, as a volunteer, I don’t get to have the luxury of expat lunches every day.
Lucky for me, there are plenty of local food establishments around town called ‘kai bars’ open during the day. Before moving here, we couldn’t find many online resources about local food establishments in the Solomon Islands and we can understand why – the local food here just isn’t very good unfortunately. Meals are plain, carb heavy, and seasoned usually only with salt. In saying that, kai bars are very cheap and although most of them are terrible, some of them make it to worth-it list.
Local Kai Bars
Local kai bars are generally set up with a counter with their selection of foods available displayed in a warmer. They plate up your choices and you take the plate to a free seat in the kai bar and chow down. To oversimplify, there are two main types of kai bars.
Fish and Chips Kai Bar
Throw what you know about fish and chips back home out the window, because this is not like it. The fish is often tuna, caught local but not always fresh, chopped into bite-sized pieces, battered and deep-fried until the fish is as dry as cardboard. The chips are either chunks of kumara or cassava, cut not into the traditional chip shape but rather into fist-sized or carrot-sized pieces and again fried until it’s dry as cardboard. They seem to do all their batches at once in the morning before packing them into little brown paper bags to sit in the warmer all day so that the batter on the fish can get soft, because who likes crunchy stuff? These fish and chip bags are sold at 20-25 SBD.
An alternative to this is the ‘Fish and Carb’ combo. This is whole fish or fish pieces that have been fried by itself or fried with coconut milk on top. Usually at 30-35SBD a serving.
Carbs and Protein Kai Bar
Your choice of carbs of either rice, boiled kumara, or boiled cassava (or all three together which many locals love to do), and a serving of chicken/pork/beef casserole-thing with some local beans. Chicken is always chopped chicken-on-bone pieces, pork always has a fat to meat ratio of 4:1, and beef is always from cuts of an unknown variety. Sometimes you’ll get a few slices of cucumber or pineapple on the side. Theses kai plates come in at a very affordable 30-35 SBD per serving.
Most of these are not true local kai establishments, but also not true expat options. These “bars” exist somewhere in the middle where they are local enough not to get featured on TripAdvisor, but also not so local so that fussy palettes like ours will happily patron on a regular basis.
NPF Plaza Food Court
Run by a local guy that cooks local food with a modern and eclectic touch. For 50SBD you get a lunch plate that consists of the meat of the day, rice, salad, fruit, and an unlimited pitcher of a sugary beverage. Every day brings a different surprise. This is also one of the few places where you will get more vegetables on your plate than carbs.
Honiara Fried Chicken
At the Honiara Hot Bread roundabout in town, turn left into the start of Hibiscus Ave; HFC is on the left opposite the Bulkshop.
Nid’s love affair with fried chicken is served here and they actually serve their deep-fried foods crispy! Chicken, chips, and gravy at 35SBD a plate. The chips aren’t always fresh so Dan usually buys the chicken separately. This establishment is run by a Fijian woman and her family. If you ever see them serve motu (hangi), it’s a Solomon Island/Fijian blend and is one of the best you can buy in Honiara.
Red Cross Cafe
Although the menu rarely changes, Red Cross has a relatively wider variety of food on offer than most kai bars and definitely more vegetables and healthy options. A plate costs between 20-50SBD depending on how much you want piled on your plate.
Start of Hibiscus Ave, on the right of the Bulkshop.
Popoy’s is a Filipino BBQ where you get either pork skewers, chicken wing skewers, or whole fish, with rice and soup. This is one of the better street BBQs in Honiara. Single skewer on rice is 30SBD, double skewer on rice is 50SBD, and whole fish on rice that feeds two people is 60SBD.
Taj Kai Bar
The back road in between the City Centre Building and NPF Plaza.
Taj Mahal is a famous Indian restaurant in the NPF Plaza, but they’ve also set up a kai bar to service local lunches in the walkway going out of NPF Plaza. They have their own fish and chips that are fried with curry leaves and often aren’t that overcooked, roti wraps containing a beef and kumara mash or fish and kumara mash, and samosas and fried chicken.
Various streets and corners on the outskirts of town.
At many streets and suburbs, grill plates are placed on top of steel drums and called a street bbq. For 40 SBD a plate, you get rice or cassava with a choice of either bbq chicken or fish, or on occasion, prawns. We’ve had this a few times and haven’t been sick yet so that is a definite win.