While Maui is part of the United States, Hawaiian food is a complex and delicious blend of many cultures including the Philippines, Portugal, China, Korea and Polynesia. And while I have been busy shooting guns, snuba diving, playing the ukulele and riding mules, the most exciting part of Maui is undeniable.
I am here to eat.
Food is the foundation of a culture and while I love trying molecular gastronomy and seeing how food evolves, my favourite part of visiting an area is eating its traditional food. Unlike Mark who seemed to love all the traditional Hawaiian food he ate on other island, I did not like everything, but if you go to the Hawaiian islands you must try this food:
The most well-known and controversial food in Hawaiian cuisine, poi is a glutinous paste made from the taro plant, which is kind of like a yam. While I love taro, poi is slightly fermented and I cannot get over the sticky texture. If you tell a local you have not tried poi yet they all watch in anticipation because it’s not well liked.
If you want to sound like a local at breakfast order some POG – pineapple, orange, guava juice. It’s not always written on the menu but it is definitely available.
3. Kahlua pork
Now this is a dish that I would truly call magic. Slow roasted pork in an underground oven, if you go to a good luau there is a moment where they take the pig out, otherwise they may cheat it and take it from an oven. The tender meat is then shredded and is so moist and full of flavour.
If you like sushi you will love poke, which is essentially a raw fish salad. It’s simple but requires fresh fish, find out how to make poke at home here.
5. Organic fruit from Ono Farms
Chuck was born and raised on Maui and after a few years traveling the world he returned and bought up land to start organic farming. He has an amazing fruit tasting tour where you will eat fruit you have never seen. If you’re heading to Hana you must stay and speak with him.
A very traditional dish and found at most luaus, pork is wrapped in taro leaves and cooked until tender. I could take it or leave it and actually forgot to take a photo, but perhaps it’s because the taro leaves looked like spinach so I ate them – don’t make that mistake.
7. Lomi Lomi Salmon
Salmon mixed with tomatoes, Maui onions and chili pepper. I did not love it and I’m not sure why.
Portuguese donuts deep-fried and coated with sugar. I’m not a dessert fan but these Timbits are delicious.
A dish unique to Hawaii but inspired by Japanese, Chinese and Filipino dishes. This noodle dish was developed in the plantation era. The photo above is dry saimin, you can add the broth as you wish, from Sam Sato’s.
11. Any kind of fish you can get your hands on.
While the pork on Maui is delicious, I was overwhelmed by the quality of the seafood and ordered it every chance I could get. There was only one occasion where it was overcooked, and even the little diner in Lana’i understood that food didn’t have to be fancy if it was fresh.
12. Moloka’i Sweet Potato
A cross-breed between two other types of potatoes, in this case it happening by accident or serendipity depending on how you see it. The result is a delicious potato that makes incredible mashed potatoes like I had at Ko, or a vegetable fritatta from Napili Kai. If you see this on the menu order it!
And while it seems like all I did was eat there was so much I missed out on: spam musubi, shaved ice and I couldn’t bring myself to try loco moco, a heavy blend of rice, fried egg, burger patty and gravy!
Maui is a really special place, it’s far more than beaches and golf courses. There is an incredible culture that is so strong and the first place to look is the food.