According to WikiHow (and they know everything) two of the best ways to expand your mind is to travel and try new food. Travel to Maui and you’ve already accomplished one, and if you try a new food while you are here that’s two, which should make up for any of the other mind-numbing pursuits you might engage in while on vacation such as doing nothing while drinking mai tais.
Think about it; if you are what you eat, there’s another strong argument for trying the local foods if you’d like to get slip more quickly into the rhythm of the islands. Before you can twirl fire like that guy you saw in the Luau you’re gonna have to eat some poi.
We took a poll recently and our panel of experts voted on the top six (or seven) food items to try while in Maui – the results were nearly unanimous. In no particular order, here are the things we encourage you to try, and why, while on island.
Spam Musubi – A prime example of “don’t knock it ‘til you try it,” I’d have never believed it either until one fateful day when I was starving, having endured a pre-dawn tee time. I’d have eaten anything by the ninth hole and with little else available I picked up a saran wrapped slab of rice and fried meat wrapped in seaweed known as Spam Musibi, which is like Spam sushi, and contrary to what I expected, is quite delicious. You can find these little gems at mini markets, the Honolua Store, on golf course beverage carts and just about anywhere that local fast food is sold.
Poke – A distinctly Hawaii method of preparing and serving raw fish, poke has multiple variations but the most popular is spicy ahi poke with seaweed. The best of the best is sold by the pound at Foodland, according to popular polls. You can also find salmon and octopus poke but if you’re a poke (poe-kay) novice start with the basic ahi version. It’s everywhere including buffet tables, luau’s, restaurant menus (usually served as “poke tacos”) and at the grocery store deli and fish counter. DK Kodama has the best recipe in his cookbook, Sushi Chronicles.
Sashimi – The best slices of the highest grade ahi and other fresh caught ocean fish make the best sashimi. Essentially, sashimi is sliced fish served raw so it has to be fresh, carefully handled and not destroyed by the introduction of other flavors except soy and wasabi if you must. Many top restaurants deck it out with sweet mirin, peanuts, cucumber and serve it as Carpaccio, which is awesome, too. Then there’s Sashimi pizza at Hali`imaile…ummm.
Malasada – These fried dough treats – think donuts without the holes – were brought to the islands by the Portuguese and are so delicious you must make the effort to find them while you are on Maui. The problem with malasadas is that they are only stupendous while piping hot from the fryer so they have a very short shelf life. You’ll have to trek to Homemade Bakery in Wailuku or Komodo’s in Makawao to net the real thing as they are meant to be served. In Oahu, Leonard’s is the king pin of Malasadas.
Manapua and Mochi – Two entirely different creatures but I’m lumping them together because they are both white on the outside and stuffed with goodies on the inside. One is flour dough, a sort of dim sum bun that can be filled with savory or sweet filling.
Mochi, on the other hand, is rice flour, painstakingly pounded into dough and at its best wrapped around ice cream or other creamy filling. The best dough is very soft and slightly gooey making a perfect foil for the ice cream inside. Find these at the grocers next to the Ben and Jerry’s, at convenience stores and various food stands. Top producers like Bubbies and Mochi Cream are in Oahu and ship to neighbor islands and the mainland. One word of caution; once you try these you will be hooked for life.
Shave Ice – It’s ironic that the icy treat known as Snow Cones on the mainland is more ground ice with syrup and here in Hawaii where it’s known as Shave Ice, the treat more resembles finely fallen snow that’s been captured and doused with a variety of homemade syrups which is why it’s so much more popular here than on the mainland – because it really seems like a snow ice. Perhaps because Shave Ice is the closest Hawaiians typically get to snow they have infused it with a certain reverence and symbolism… or on the other hand, maybe it’s simply because it’s sweet and refreshing that Shave Ice is extremely popular.
Poi or Taro Chips – As different as potato chips and mashed potatoes, Poi is the pounded liquefied version of the taro root which was the main source of sustenance for ancient Hawaiians while Taro Chips are tasty fun food. Packed with nutrition, vitamins, protein and carbohydrate, poi is worth trying if you see it on the luau buffet. Chances are, if you haven’t grown up with poi, you won’t take to it as well as you will to Taro Chips which are delicate, paper thin, baked or fried slices of the root suited perfectly to pairing with ahi poke and tartare. You’ll find both in the grocery and specialty stores all over Maui and Taro Chips appear on the menu of many fine restaurants.
Try a few of these recommendations while on island and not only will you expand your mind, you just may come away with some interesting new food favorites.