We just got back from 10 days on the Hawaiian island of Maui. What a fabulous place. There is so much to explore on this tropical paradise and so many different eco-systems to experience. From beaches to jungle and ancient lava fields, Maui is the perfect vacation destination. While sunshine, swimming and snorkeling was our major focus, food was (of course) a key aspect of our trip. We tried as much as possible to seek out local and authentic cuisine that differed from ordinary N. American fare.
Having never been to Hawaii I wasn’t sure what to expect food wise and after reading that Hawaii is the world’s number one consumer of Spam, I was a little wary!
We figured out right away that the food in the large hotels and resorts is overpriced and sub-standard. You’ll easily pay $30 – $40 for a main course at a hotel and honestly you get a better meal at a chain like Earls, Cactus Club or Milestones in Vancouver for half the price. I would also strongly recommend avoiding Jimmy Buffett’s themed restaurant, ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’. Really what were we thinking? Yes the décor inside is funky and kitschy, but the hamburgers are awful. Frozen patty, no flavor, Sam had a better burger at the airport on our way home!
If you are prepared to venture out of the hotels and away from the mega tourist zones there are some excellent places to eat (I recommend renting a car if you really want to explore Maui).
Hawaiian cuisine is an interesting fusion of foods, from China, Korea and Japan as well as American influences (their love affair with Spam is a legacy of the US Military). Some quintessential Hawaiian dishes include shoyu chicken, kalua pork, kalbi ribs & laulau. Taro (a root vegetable) has also been a historical and traditional staple of Hawaii; it remains popular and is widely eaten today.
Being the 50th US State, Hawaii is obviously part of the USA. I must admit that I found it a bit odd travelling to an exotic destination that has Safeway, Starbucks, Costco and large strip malls. So we made it our mission to find all things Hawaiian as much as possible. We bought local Maui rib eye steaks and wonderful fresh Ahi tuna from ‘Foodland Farms’ in Lahaina, it just seemed wrong to go all that way to eat imported (and crappy) Safeway meat.
Rather than ramble on about the all food we ate, I’ve selected some of our most memorable culinary experiences, these are places I would recommend and would certainly go back to:
Located behind the Lahaina Cannery Mall at 1285 Front Street overlooking the harbor is the Aloha Mixed Grill. We ate here 3 times, once for lunch and twice for dinner. This inexpensive, outdoor restaurant is serving up authentic and extremely tasty Hawaiian dishes. Here we had ‘mixed plate’, which has become a Hawaiian tradition, it’s a result of the fusion of different cultures that have amalgamated to this part of the world. Mixed plate is typically a combination of 3 meats or fish with 2 scopes of rice and 1 scoop of macaroni salad. Popular choices include: shoyu chicken, kalbi ribs, mahi mahi, teriyaki beef or kalua pork.
We also sampled their crunchy coconut prawns, coated in tempura batter and coconut flakes, as well as handmade noodles with beef and black bean sauce. We found the quality of the food consistently good, everything was cooked to order and tasted really fresh. Check out their website, they have a page of recipes to try.
If you love fresh seafood then you’ll love the Paia Fish Market. Historically Paia was a major plantation town during the booming days of Maui’s sugar cane industry , these days it’s a charming beachfront community with many shops, restaurants and art galleries. The Paia Fish Market restaurant, located right in the center of town (you can’t miss it), specializes in fresh fish and seafood at very reasonable prices. I had the most delicious deep-fried calamari with fries. The calamari was juicy and not at all overcooked and rubbery which is quite an achievement. Sam enjoyed his succulent mahi mahi fish and chips. The restaurant was bustling and really busy which is always a reassuring sign. This is not a proper sit down type of affair, you order your own food and sit down at long bench tables. If you go be prepared to wait, I can assure you it’s worth it.
I’d read in Frommer’s Maui 2011 guide-book that if you only had one night on Maui this would be the place to dine. The chef here is a local Lahaina guy, who has won many accolades for his use of fresh, sustainable ingredients and innovative food. Located at the prestigious Kapalua Resort, overlooking the golf course and Pacific Ocean, the Pineapple Grill is a lovely venue and we enjoyed an excellent lunch here. We shared the kalbi flatiron steak skewers with peanut sauce; the meat was really tender and juicy and the peanut sauce the kind you need a spoon just to mop up all the sauce! For mains I had the Cajun spiced mahi mahi burger and Sam had (once again) panko crusted fish and chips. The quality of the food did not disappoint. Next time I’d go back for dinner, it’s more expensive but the menu looks very enticing.
There’s nothing I love better than buying fresh homemade food from vendors on the side of the road. The Makena BBQ stand, situated on Makena road, right before the turn off to Makena beach is my idea of heaven. When I saw the sign that read ‘kalua pork sliders’ I was already sold. We pulled over and shared an order of fabulous kalua pork sliders (slow cooked pork, on small buns). For $9.95 you get 2 pork sandwiches with pineapple BBQ sauce, mmm. They tasted absolutely amazing; I fell in love with Maui that day. We also sampled their fish tacos, again totally fresh and delish. One strange thing was the bread, it was dyed purple. It is common in Hawaii for taro be used to make bread, which gives it a purple colour, but this was just regular bread dyed purple!
Where we stayed, at the north end of Ka’anapali beach, had cooking facilities so rather than eating out every night Sam cooked here and there. Keen to avoid supermarkets we asked around for a fresh fish market and were directed to the Fish Market Maui, conveniently located minutes drive from our hotel in Honokowai. The market sells locally sourced fresh seafood. We bought big juicy scallops and mahi mahi fillets and cooked up a feast at the hotel. The fish market is also a café that specializes in fish burgers and tacos (which were very tasty and not expensive). We were so happy to find this place, I can’t stand buying fish from the supermarket.
A friend recommended Mama’s Fish House (thanks Liz) and I kept reading really good reviews about it. This is one of the most renowned seafood restaurants on Maui. While I grumbled about the over-priced crappy resort food, this place was well worth it. The main courses range from $30 – $60, we decided this would be our one big treat. It’s classical French cooking with a Polynesian twist. Located just past the town of Paia on a scenic coconut grove and white sand beach, Mamma’s Fish House is in a converted beach house. An idyllic setting for a restaurant. I had the most wonderful seared Ahi tuna with a pineapple tamarind sauce, followed by bouillabaisse with scallops, lobster, prawns and angel hair pasta. Sam loved his grilled octopus to start and for mains he enjoyed pan seared uku (a local white fish) with white wine and capers. While it was pricey, the fish had been caught fresh that morning (they even list the name of the specific fisherman on the menu) and the food was top notch, definitely a place I’d go back to.