Hot Bread in Molokai

By Zalina Alvi

Down a shady alley on this small Hawaiian island is the sweetest thing you’ve ever put in your mouth

Most people walk down shady alleyways to buy crack. Or to employ a hooker. Or both. But in Molokai, one of the smaller and lesser known Hawaiian islands, you go to buy bread.

Hot bread, to be exact.

And it’s delicious.

The author eating hot bread. Mmmm. Photo courtesy of Zalina Alvi

The author eating hot bread. Mmmm. Photo courtesy of Zalina Alvi

Freshly baked, melt-in-your-mouth French bread from Kanemitsu Bakery, sliced down the middle and filled with your choice of fresh jams, cream cheese, butter or cinnamon. The experience is just the icing on the cake, er, bread.

There are only 7,000 people on Molokai, and only 2,500 of those people live in Kaunakakai, the main town. In such a small place, it makes sense that there aren’t a whole lot of options for late-night eating. Once evening hits, you better hope your fridge is stocked. But that’s where Hot Bread Lane comes into the picture.

Every night at 10 p.m., people make their way down to a dark alleyway in the middle of Kaunakakai, between the grocery stores and around the corner from the post office, and knock on an unmarked red door. The walls are painted in beautiful colours and flowers, although you can hardly tell because there are only a couple of lights on right at the far end of the alley. Once you get down to the end, a sign written in black marker shows you the price of one hot bread plain, with two toppings, or the “works.” After knocking on the door, a man or woman will come out to take your order. Then, you get to wait.

In Hot Bread Lane. Photo by Zalina Alvi

In Hot Bread Lane. Photo by Zalina Alvi

When I first arrived on Molokai, people asked me – just two days after my arrival – if I had gone for hot bread yet. When I said, “No,” I was instantly berated with expressions of disbelief and demands that I go immediately. And once I went, I understood. It may not be listed in any tourist guides about Molokai, especially not in any about Hawaii, but anyone who’s been there will tell you it’s a must-see.

After a few minutes, someone will return from behind the red door and hand you your hot bread in an unmarked green shopping bag, and collect your $5 or so – cash only. Then you can finally sink your teeth into what no visitor to Molokai should miss out on. It’s warm, it’s delicious, it goes straight to your thighs, but it is authentically Molokai.

People come to Hot Bread Lane to satisfy their late night cravings, or to see and be seen. You’re bound to run into someone you know on any given night. On my third or fourth trip to Hot Bread Lane, a film crew from Japan was taping people buying hot bread for a travel show on American destinations that I think was called “Go, Go, America!” They captured the satisfied looks in the eyes of the locals, and the excited expressions on the faces of other tourists, ones who looked like they had stumbled upon something unusual and adventurous.

I was glad to see a travel show showing this side of Molokai. Too often outsiders paint the small island as an undeveloped, underemployed island not worth visiting. In fact, when I was getting on the inter-island flight to Molokai from Maui, the person who checked me in asked me, “Why would you want to go there?”

It’s true that the town has suffered some hard times. Developers come in, and developers leave, but the population is more true to their Hawaiian roots than all the other islands combined, and if you want some real Hawaii, Molokai is the place to go.

Hot bread is just the beginning.

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