Last week was spring break, and we found ourselves on Maui for the first time in four years. Prior to going, I tried to do some research on local food, since food prices are notoriously high in Hawaii, most of the goods being shipped (ridiculously) from the Mainland. Could no food be grown in paradise? Who (besides my mother-in-law) wants to go on vacation and eat the exact same food they eat at home? Many vacationers in our resort had the Costco strategy and lugged loads of sodas and plastic-packaged apples and such up the elevators, but I wasn't in Hawaii to drink soda and fill the landfill with plastic that enclosed fruits I'd eaten all winter. No, Hawaii for us is all about POG:
Lots of POG, starting on the flight over and not ending until the flight home. Yes, we can get it here, but the ambiance is half of the experience, so we make it a rule only to drink it in Hawaii.
The first night there, some friends grilled up a local fish which I hope never hits the big time and gets overfished into rarity or nonexistence. This would be monchong, or "sickle pomfret." Firm in texture, mild and unfishy in flavor, white in color. We had it in an Asian, soy-based marinade, and then ordered it at Kimo's in Lahaina a few nights later, that time grilled with a citrus sauce. Oh yum. Forget mahi mahi and opakapaka and other rhyming Hawaiian also-rans. It's all about the monchong.
And while we're breaking up with foods, skip the non-tropical fruits when you're in the tropics. Even the checker at Safeway told me how she grew her own mangoes on a little tree she bought from flipping Home Depot. We had Maui Gold pineapples and papaya and mangos, and when we weren't eating the fruits themselves, we enjoyed treats like lilikoi (passion fruit) cheesecake and guava cake from bakeries, and mango shaved ice from Olowalu Shaved Ice's little cart by the Hyatt on Ka'anapali. The proprietor told us it was "just like biting into a fresh mango" because they used actually mango juice for their syrup, and he was right.
Speaking of goodies using local ingredients, Ono Gelato in Lahaina had delicious Pina Colada flavor, as well as the usual fruit suspects and fun flavors like "Sandy Beach" with graham cracker crumbs. Two more honorable mentions: if you find yourself in Kihei, don't miss Sugar Beach Bakery, with their tasty little pies and the oh-wow-to-die-for Chocolate-Banana-Macadamia-Nut-Coconut muffin. I foolishly only bought one, and there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth when it had to be divvied up among five. And as you're driving over from the airport to Ka'anapali, don't miss Leoda's Pie Kitchen along the highway. Great food from local ingredients and so tasty. My next roasted brussels sprouts will be soy-glazed because those were heavenly. And my coconut cream pie? Let's just say, I had to scowl people away when they begged for second tastes. Leoda's happens to be alongside a fruit stand, which sadly closed by the time we were done with dinner. Basically, it was a farmers market every day! Maui did have other farmers markets, but they weren't in places very convenient for tourists, so I never made it to one.
Finally, if you're hungry in Hawaii for food and entertainment, I recommend the Old Lahaina Luau. Over the years I've been to the Marriott luau, the Westin luau and this one, and this one wins hands-down. No waiting in a long line to get in, the greatest food variety (and included drinks), all-you-can-eat and -drink, and a great show. Yes, they had kahlua pig, but they also had some new favorites: Pohole Salad of fern shoots, Maui onions, and tomatoes; Taro Leaf Stew, of which I loved the leaf part was less crazy about the chunk of taro; and Chicken Long Rice, which was glass noodles, chicken, ginger, and onions in broth.
There is plenty of local food to be found, I'm happy to report, and a groundswell movement to provide more and more of it because it's awesome and because it brings those sky-high costs down a little. (Can you imagine local, artisanal food being competitively priced? That's Hawaii for ya.)
Visitors to Ka'anapali all know about the Hula Grill, and we did a lunch there,
but down in the underbelly of Whaler's Village you will now find Joey's Kitchen. Extremely reasonably priced (for Hawaii) and dedicated to using local ingredients. I had wonderful pork ramen, the girls got generous chicken katsu, and the boy a chicken quesadilla, which doesn't scream "Hawaii," but he ate all of it.
Bookmark this for your next trip to paradise, and if you have no plans to go, well, remember that the Market opens in a month!