Lunching at Local 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 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 SBD 150, burgers range from SBD 60-120, Malaysian around SBD 120, butter chicken with rice is SBD 120, good steak at SBD 200 a plate, you get the picture. But as a volunteer, we can’t get away with that kind of luxury every day.
This post is all about local kai you can get around the SBD 50 mark.
Lucky for me, there are plenty of local food establishments open during the day called ‘kai bars’. 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 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 to chow down. To oversimplify, there are two main types of kai bars.
Kai Bar Option 1: Fish and Chips
Throw what you know about fish and chips out the window because this is not like it. The fish is often tuna, caught local but not always fresh, chopped into bite-size pieces, battered and deep-fried until as tasty as cardboard. The chips are either chunks of kumara or cassava, cut into fist-sized or carrot-sized pieces and again fried until it matches the cardboard consistency of the fish. 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 SBD 20-25.
An alternative to this is the Fish and Carb combo. Whole fish or large fish pieces are fried by itself or fried with coconut milk on top. Usually at SBD 30-35 a serving (feature image).
Kai Bar Option 2: Protein and Carb
Your choice of carbs of either rice, boiled kumara, or boiled cassava (or all three together which is a very popular option), and a serving of chicken/pork/beef casserole-thing with some 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 SBD 30-35 per serving.
Most of these are not true local kai establishments, but also not true western 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.
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 SBD 30, double skewer on rice is SBD 50, and whole fish on rice that feeds two people is SBD 60.
Taj Kai Bar
The back road in between the City Centre Building and NPF Plaza. Next to a shop that always, always plays children’s Christian music.
Taj Mahal is a well-known Indian restaurant in the NPF Plaza, but they’ve also set up a kai bar to service local lunches. We are huge fans of the SBD 15 chicken and vege roti wraps. They also have SBD 25 fish and chips fried with curry leaves and often aren’t that overcooked, fish rolls and samosas for SBD 10, and the biggest ring cakes we’ve ever seen.
Red Cross Cafe
China Town. Down the road in between the Mataniko bridge and China Town Bulkshop. Red Cross is about 50 metres from the corner, lefthand side.
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 SBD 20-50 depending on how much you want piled on your plate.
Various streets and corners on the outskirts of town.
On many streets and suburbs, grill plates are placed on top of steel drums and called a street bbq. For SBD 40 a plate, you get rice or cassava with a choice of either bbq chicken, fish, or on occasion, prawns. We’ve had this a few times and haven’t been sick yet so that is a definite win.
Sadly, as at 25 May 2018, the following businesses are no longer operating but we’ve left them here in case they come back.
NPF Plaza Food Court
Run by a local guy that cooks local food with a modern and eclectic touch. For SBD 50 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.
My love affair with fried chicken is served here and they actually serve their deep-fried foods crispy! Chicken, chips, and gravy at SBD 35 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.