This winter, my mother retired and after 31 years of living on Maui, moved back to Canada. Over Christmas and New Year’s I went to home to help her pack up her house, touch all of my favourite rocks and trees and bodies of water and eat my childhood foods one last time.
If you are a food tourist to Maui, may I humbly suggest that you do not go over the holidays. The best local foods are made and sold by local family businesses. Local businesses close for the holidays. They do not care that you have come from New York and you want to eat Tasaka Guri-Guri one last time…nor should they! Luckily, I stayed for a few days longer than the throngs of other tourists who had to make it back home for the first day of work in the New Year. When all of my favourite local places opened after the holidays, I was the first in line!
This is in no way a comprehensive list. I have not lived on Maui since the early 90’s so there are probably a lot of new places that I don’t know even about. So feel free to add to the list in the comments. Also, I should mention that no one has paid me to write this post, or mention any of these businesses. This is my personal list of my favourite Maui foods. If anyone knows how I could get paid to travel and write about food though, please let me know, because I totally want that job!
I WILL MISS…
LOCAL STYLE MAKI SUSHI (Miyako Sushi, Maui)
In Hawaii, sushi is available as a snack in most convenience stores, drug stores and gas stations. Before you get all upset about raw fish, know that the tuna is cooked and deliciously seasoned with shoyu and sugar. The local sushi that I miss the most was from Azeka place in Kihei. In addition to seasoned cooked tuna it had egg, pickled carrots and celery. Azeka Snack Shop, sadly, closed years ago. Luckily, Miyako Sushi is still going strong and distributing excellent Maki Deluxe Rolls to any convenience store and Longs Drug worth it’s salt on Maui. You can also order a large amount and pick it up from their store in Wailuku.
Miyaki’s sushi rice is sweeter than Azeka’s was and in addition to seasoned, cooked tuna, egg and pickled carrots they include red and green hana ebi (super delicious dry shrimp stuff). Miyako also makes cone sushi, which is a giant cone-shaped, sweeter version of inari sushi (rice wrapped in fried seasoned tofu) studded with bits of carrot. If you are hungry and on a budget and/ or don’t eat fish, the cone sushi is for you. I make local style maki sushi for myself sometimes in NYC, but having been raised by health conscious types, I have a hard time adding enough salt and sugar to make it taste right. You can find my recipe here.
CHI CHI MOCHI (Homemade Bakery, Maui)
In addition to sushi, most places carry delicious treats made from Mochi flour. These include Chocolate Mochi, Bibingka (Butter Mochi), Sweet Potato Mochi, Kinako Mochi (mochi dusted with toasted soy flour). My favourite is Chi Chi Mochi (coconut flavoured). I actually know how to make chocolate mochi, butter mochi and a very delicious Lemon Mochi, because these are all like a cake, just made with sweet rice flour. But chi chi, sweet potato and kinako are all made in a mysterious (to me) process which I think involves boiling the mochi and the wrestling with it while it’s all sticky and…well I’d rather just leave it to the experts honestly.
The experts are at Homemade Bakery. They have locations in Wailuku and Kahului, but who also distribute to grocery, convenience and drug stores all over the island. When you are buying it from a convenience store give it a gentle poke to make sure it’s very soft. If it is hard or tough, it is stale.
MALASADAS (Komoda Bakery, Makawao)
Malasadas are Portuguese fritters. I do not know why they are so good. They are just lumps of dough, fried and then rolled in sugar as far as I can tell. But they are the best fried lumps of dough you ever will taste. Komoda Bakery is located in the historic paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) town of Makawao on the slopes of Haleakala. If it is open, go check out he Makawao History Museum across the street. This town has a really interesting history and the museum is really cool. It’s by community volunteers including, until recently, my mother!
Komoda Bakery is a family owned business and they often close for holidays, so maybe give them a call to find out when they are open. They also often runs out of malasadas early in the day, so don’t just mosey up there in the afternoon and expect to get donuts. When I was little, my parents and I would take visiting relatives up to Haleakala crater to see the sunrise and then we would stop at Komoda on the way back down for malasadas. In highschool, my friends and I would grab a bag of them on our way up to the crater for a hike.
I am dedicated to the malasada, but I should mention that Komoda cream puffs have a loyal and fanatic following as well. Because of my difficulty with gluten, I have not been able to eat Malasadas for many years but that does not stop me from missing them. I always get some for my husband so that I can live vicariously through him. The closest thing to a gluten-free malasada that I make are Apple Ricotta Fritters.
SHAVE ICE (Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice, Maui)
Shave ice is kind of like a snow cone but much, much better. The ice is chunkier and crunchier and tropical fruit flavours kick the teeth out of strawberry in my humble opinion. I have fond childhood memories of eating shave ice, but when I was a kid, the syrups used to douse the ice were sugary, chemically and turned your mouth blue (or purple or red) with food dye. The quality of shave ice has gone waaaaaaaaaaaay up since I left home. It makes me angry actually that I only got to eat shave ice this good a few times. Ululani’s Shave Ice now has outposts all over Maui and it is easily spotted by the long line. Don’t be a wuss….just wait in the line. You will need the time to decide on your flavours and extras.
My personal favourite is liliko’i (made with real passionfruit) topped with mochi and li hing mui (dried plum) powder. I also like pickled mango (sweet, sour AND salty) syrup with haupia (coconut pudding) ice cream on the bottom, topped with shredded coconut. When you get to the window tell them the size you want first, then whatever you want on the bottom and THEN your flavours and toppings. These ladies have a lot of shave ice to make, don’t hold up the line by being confusing!
I know that poke is sometimes served in fancy health food restaurants on the mainland. I know. But there are a few special ingredients in Hawaiian Poke that just don’t make it that far. Poke is a dish made of cubed raw fish seasoned with sea salt, shoyu, sesame oil and a variety of other delicious things.
I like poke with limu (delicious crunchy red Hawaiian seaweed) and inamona (candlenut) and these are the are the ingredients that I don’t see on the mainland. Other kinds of poke include things like wasabi, sweet onion or scallions, chili pepper paste and fish row. I should probably take the time to figure out how to make a version that I like at home. On Maui, you can get poke from the grocery store (even Costco!).
LOMI LOMI SALMON
Lomi Lomi Salmon is made from onions, tomatoes and dry salted salmon which was introduced to the islands by whalers. (Please read the following passage in a whiny tone) Salted salmon is hard to find and I am probably going to have to learn how to make it if I ever want to eat lomi lomi salmon again. But I like to eat lomi lomi salmon with poi which I can’t even get on the mainland!
It’s not as though you exactly get to eat Lomi Lomi Salmon all the time in Hawaii either. It’s a luau dish, made in massive batches for major celebrations. Although, when I was home at Christmas they were selling it at Pukalani Superette! And while we are on the topic of Pukalani Superette, I should mention that they carry almost all of the foods that I list in this post (maki sushi, chi-chi mochi, poke, alaea sea salt) and many other delicious local foods that I did not list here. I hope that their business thrives forever and ever and ever.
COCONUT CANDY and other road side treats (along the road, East Maui)
Oh this stuff is so impossibly addictive. You buy a bunch of it to give to friends and then you just end up eating it all. It does not seem to matter how much you buy, it is never enough. If you are driving to twin falls or Hana or Kahakuloa, stop along the way at the little road side stands to buy coconut candy (sweet) and also coconut chips (salty). When they say you can get 4 bags for a discount, take that offer.
If, at the coconut candy stand, they are also selling banana bread, coconut and banana smoothies, smoked ‘Ulu (breadfruit) and/ or smoked fresh caught fish, eat all of that. You will be supporting an awesome micro economy while having the privilege of eating the delicious food that the land you are standing on produces.
ALAEA SEA SALT
Alaea salt is an important ingredient in Hawaiian cuisine and rituals. It gets its pink colour from iron rich red volcanic clay. It is rare on the mainland and expensive when you find it. Listen people, we food obsessed folks can spend a lot of money on fancy salt. This excellent, delicious, unique salt is not expensive in Hawaii, so buy some as a gift for your fancy foodie friend and buy another bag for yourself because this salt is tasty.
RAW HONEY (Alii Bee Company)
This honey is taken from wild bees. The man who collects it is a bee whisperer. He’s the guy you call if a swarm of bees has taken up residence on your porch. He relocates the swarm and collects their honey. On the top label you will find the area of the island that particular batch of honey came from. At Christmas I scored a few bottles from Olinda, area up on the mountain with a big grove of Eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus honey is very good in case you are wondering. The labels are drawn by the bee whisperers grandchildren. C’mon now. The honey is sometimes sold at the Upcountry Farmers Market and also at Kula Country Farms.
FISH TACOS/ HAPPY HOUR (and some additional thoughts on Kihei, Maui)
I spent my teenage years living in Kihei. I hated my town, like most teenagers do, but everyone scoffs at Kihei. It is on the dry side of the island, so it is not lush and green. It is painfully hot and often really dusty. It has beautiful beaches but they are positively crammed with affordable hotels and the Canadians who stay in them. It was an affordable area where working class people like my parents could manage to buy little not-glamourous houses in crowded neighborhoods. The term affordable when applied to Maui is misleading. Nowhere on Maui is affordable, not even the crowded little neighborhood that my parents each worked three jobs to keep us in.
My daddy loved Kihei not only because it is where he could (kind of ) afford a house, but also because he hated rain and loved the sun. When he passed away my mother moved upcountry into the cooler greener climate that suits her best. It is only from this distance that a swell of Kihei love and pride has grown within me. The beaches really are beautiful and now that I have lived in NYC for 20 years my standards for what makes a beach too crowded have shifted. Also, I am a big, lumpy, middle aged white person myself, so I fit in nicely with my fellow Canadians. They have built a nice walkway along the water to connect all of the beaches. One of my big complaints as a kid (with no car) was that in order to go anywhere in Kihei you has to walk along one of two roads that were dusty, had no shade and in many places had no safe sidewalk. Basically, these days I feel like the Upcountry and East Maui folks who look down their noses at Kihei are just being snobs. Kihei is awesome.
Okay lets talk about food in Kihei. Sadly, Azeka snack shop is gone. I’m sorry to keep bringing it up, but it is a big nostalgic culinary loss for me. These days, the best food are the fish tacos. At any given time in Kihei there is at least one place serving killer fish tacos. Sometimes there are two places battling it out. When I was last there in the first days of 2015 you could still get a good fish taco from the jaws truck near Makena Beach (you can’t beat that for ambiance) but the far superior fish taco was being served at Coconut’s Fish Cafe in Azeka 2 mall. So the seating looks out into a mall parking lot…stop being a snob and eat your perfect fish taco. The fish taco competition is fierce though, so if you are reading this more than a year after it’s publication I would do more up to date research on the fish taco situation in Kihei.
After your fish taco, go to any of the beautiful beaches in town (I like Kamaole 3 or Keawakapu). The waves are not too big at any of these beaches (unless there is a storm). If you like big waves and dislike crowds, drive past Kihei to Makena, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world as far as I’m concerned. Past Makena is La Perouse, a black lava flow where you can hike out to go snorkeling. Please, please, please if you go snorkeling, promise not to wear sunscreen and do not stand on the coral. Swim in a shirt to avoid sunburn and watch where you put your flippers! The future of the reef and the creatures that live there are simply more important than your comfort.
After the beach, go to the happy hour at the 5 Palms. It is in the Mana Kai hotel and overlooks Keawakapu, one of the one of the prettiest beaches. They serve half off pupus and sushi with the purchase of one drink from 5-7. Cheap food and drinks with your sunset anyone?
TASAKA GURI GURI (Kahului, Maui)
Tasaka Guri Guri is an addictive frozen treat. No one really knows exactly what is in it. I always thought that it was made from adzuki beans because they used to have sweet adzuki on the counter for you to scoop on top, but the internet tells me that it is fruit juice and condensed milk. Whatever. I don’t need to know. It comes in two flavours (strawberry and pineapple). I usually get a scoop of each. Mr. Tasaka passed away recently and I am sorry for his families loss. I hope that they will keep making his exact recipe for ever and ever. They are located in the Maui Mall in Kahului.
STAR NOODLE (Lahaina, Maui)
When we first moved to Hawaii we lived in Lahaina on the west side of the island. There I met my childhood dentist, Dr Dennis Ishimoto. I liked him so much that I continued to see him even when we moved to the other side of the island. Then I kept seeing him when I went to college in New York. I don’t go to the dentist as often as I should because, at the age of 40, I am still dedicated to my dentist in Lahaina. I will probably have to make other arrangements now that I have no family on the island. So sad. My mother and sometimes my husband drive me to Lahaina when I need to see the Dr. Ishimoto. Afterward we walk around for a bit until I get the feeling back into my lips and then we go to lunch.
All of the places that I used to go to are gone now, but my new favourite place is Star Noodle. My god their food is good. I have copied their Brussel Sprouts in Kim Chee Sauce for holiday dinners. Their Vietnamese crepe is the best I have ever tasted. I’ve never eaten anything there that I did not love. It is located in an industrial park on the outskirts of town, so you will think that you are getting lost on your way theire. There prices are also mysteriously good for a restaurant serving quality ingredients like this. Sometimes there is a wait, so make a reservation, go before you are really hungry or go for an early dinner.
ALOHA MIXED PLATE (Lahaina, Maui)
Here is another one that did not exist when I lived on Maui. I wish it had. This place is right on the beach next to the Old Hawaiian Luau. If you go early you can see the sunset. If you eat late you can hear the music from the luau. Both are lovely. They do really excellent renditions of all of the local plate lunch classics and they serve luau food. It used to be that in order to eat Luau food you would have to wait for the first birthday of a friend’s baby, or shell out a bunch of money to take your visiting relatives to the tourist Luau. Now you can just go to Aloha mixed plate.
Whenever I eat here I wish that I had extra stomachs. It is hard for me to choose between the Luau Plate, or the Korean style Kalbi Short Ribs (which remind me of the Azeka ribs that I miss so much), or the Mochi Battered Chicken. Last time my husband ordered the Furikaki French Fries and I scoffed inwardly. “Why waste your belly room on french fries?” I thought. But those fries are amazing! What to do? If I ever go back I will try to remember not to order a cocktail. Every time I go I see those pretty fruity cocktails and I get sucked only to remember that I had sweet fruity cocktails and they are a waste of my belly space.
ICHIBAN OKAZUYA (Wailuku, Maui)
I have saved my favourite place for last. This is a Japanese lunch counter with a little bit of outdoor seating. They serve up the very best home style Japanese lunches to the office workers and civil servants of Wailuku. My mother was the children’s librarian up the street for years, so we had a lot of Ichiban Okazuya together. I highly recommend the Chicken Katsu, which I can sadly no longer eat. It is the crispest most perfect Chicken Katsu in the whole wide world. I like to order the Ahi Tuna now.
For sides dishes nothing beats Ichiban’s Nishime. Maybe you are thinking “how good can vegetables stewed in dasi be?” The answer is really, really good. They also have the best chicken long rice (which confusingly contains no rice, but rather mung bean noodles). I like it because they do not skimp on the shiitake mushroom flavour. I also like their Gobo. Again you might be thinking “How good can burdock root be?” I’m telling you you, it can be really good.
I can certainly get good Japanese food in New York City, but here, Japanese food is very exotic and luxurious and expensive. I just want to eat my perfect Japanese food from a take out container on a bench in the parking lot of a Okazuya in Wailuku. That’s what I am going to miss.
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