As long as I’ve lived on Maui and have been working with visitors for, I am always surprised when people refuse to even sample edibles because they are unfamiliar (my own brother in law swears he cannot eat mangoes but has never even tried one!) … allow yourself to have a little sense of adventure and you just may find a new favorite treat.
Luau Fare: You are coming or have come all the way to Hawaii. Now is the time to taste some of the traditional Hawaiian foods offered at luaus. Some of the most common dishes include kalua pork (traditionally a whole pig cooked in an underground oven), chicken long rice (long rice will make you think of fat, clear noodles), squid luau, poi, laulau and lomi lomi salmon (lomi means to knead or rub; salmon is rubbed with seasonings during preparation), an authentic Hawaiian meal is a wonderful introduction to the true tastes of the islands.
SPAM Musubi: While I had not seen SPAM since I was a child, I quickly found it was everywhere in Hawaii! Having breakfast at McDonald’s (or anywhere, really)? Your options will include SPAM. All convenience stores will have this most unusal combination of rice, fried Spam and dried seaweed. Locals eat it as a snack, keiki (children) have it in their lunch and it is an option in all plate lunch (we’ll get to these) shops.
Manapua: (mah nah pu ah) These delightfully soft buns are another staple of local cuisine. Order them filled with char siu (Chinese pork), shredded meats, beans or almost anything else you might be in the mood for. The big question about this easy to eat delight is steamed or baked? Most locals have a preference and are quick to let you know, if asked!
Loco Moco: This was one I had to try just to say I had … it is delicious and just the right thing after a morning on the water, making it a fave of surfers. Take a scoop of rice, a hamburger steak, fried egg all covered in brown gravy. Don’t worry, you can hit the beach again after a nap!
Shave Ice: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … we take our shave ice seriously in the islands! If you want to blend in, do not ever refer to it as a snow cone or call it “shaved” ice … it is neither. Imagine the fluffiest ice, finely shaven and topped with traditional syrup flavors like strawberry, banana and cotton candy or more exotic lilikoi, coconut and guava (to name but a few), this frozen delight is a party in your mouth. Add ice cream to make it especially decadent!
Plate Lunch: Also known as a “Bento” (Japanese for boxed lunch). A typical plate lunch consists of white rice, macaroni salad (served with ice cream type scoops, you may be asked if you want “1 scoop rice or 2”) and a protein(generally some kind of fish, fried chicken, teriyaki beef and even some of the luau fare, like kalua pork). Not really the healthiest of foods but very much worth it for a treat on vacation and it won’t break the bank!
Malasadas: As a melting pot of many cultures, Hawaii is a wonderful place to tempt your taste buds! From those with Portugese come these wonderful “Deep-fried balls of heaven”. Get them filled or not, coated in sugar and eat while hot!
Poke: (Po kay) With a wealth of fresh, raw seafood, poke options are abundant and can be found everywhere. Various types of fish and even octopus are marinated in the sauce of your choosing. The most popular variety is ahi (yellowfin tuna) poke and the traditional preparation includes slivered Maui onions, a little seaweed and, of course, Shoyu. Chili pepper water is also added to taste.
Saimin: (Sigh min) Wheter it is a slightly chilly winter day, you’ve been in the water all morning or you want a little “something”, there’s something comforting about this local dish. Imagine a piping hot bowl of noodles and broth topped with a variety of items, from fish cakes to simple scallions. This dish came from a variety of Asian noodle dishes, lovingly merging elements of Japanese, Chinese and Filipino cultures to create a wonderfully unique local dish.