As I mentioned last week, I was vacationing in beautiful Maui, Hawaii. I just returned, exhausted after a long series of flights to get back to ‘the mainland’. However, I had a wonderful time and was inspired by the fantastic food, breathtaking scenery and wonderful people of Hawaii.
We stayed in the southwest area of Maui called Wailea, which is home to many of the luxury resorts on the island including The Four Seasons, The Fairmont, The Grand Wailea and Marriott. All of the hotels are oceanfront with beach access and a winding footpath connects the properties allowing you to enjoy stunning vistas en route. Maui is a very family friendly destination and many fellow guests at our hotel were traveling with their kekei (kids). There are activities on the island to suit almost everyone including hiking, bird watching, scuba diving, golf, snorkeling, surfing and whale watching. Of course, if you’re in need of pure rest and relaxation, there are excellent pools, beaches and spas that will suit your needs perfectly.
The cuisine of Hawaii is inspired by what grows locally as well as the influence of settlers and visitors throughout its history. Fish and fresh fruit are featured prominently on menus and chefs take their cues from other local products such as coconuts, macadamia nuts, sugarcane, breadfruit, taro,beef, pork, coffee and onions. Dishes often have an Asian flavor but there are also Portuguese influences and oddly enough, Spam (the canned ham product) is wildly popular with Hawaiians. We had many great meals so I’ll just touch on some of the more interesting highlights.
Anxious to try some of the local fish, we dined our first evening at Nick’s Fishmarket at our hotel. I started with a New England-style (creamy) fish chowder prepared with various local whitefish and topped with a small, crispy crab cake. My husband Allan began with some Pacific oysters, accompanied by a truffle mignonette. For my main course, I chose freshly caught hamachi which came with a light pineapple ponzu sauce, hearts of palm, soba noodles and local Hana fern shoots, which are similar to fiddleheads. Allan opted for the scallops with gnocchi, mushrooms and asparagus. Everything was ono (delicious), although the gnocchi were slightly undercooked. For dessert, we had a show-stopping strawberry dish that was as entertaining as it was tasty: Flaming Strawberries with Grand Marnier. Our server lit the alcohol and poured the flaming alcohol over strawberries that had been artfully plated with chocolate sauce so it looked like a beautiful flower. It was a great way to end the meal.
The next morning, we ate at the hotel again before starting our day’s activities. There is a great buffet featuring everything from plain bacon and eggs to macadamia nut sticky buns and granola with coconut. However, we decided to order a la carte and discovered a delicious dish that was a unique twist on an old favourite: Eggs Benedict with Tuna and Wasabi Hollandaise Sauce. Admittedly, it sounds a little strange but it was absolutely fantastic. The English muffin was baked with poi (a staple Hawaiian starch made from taro root), giving it a bit of a sour flavour and an unusual purplish tinge. The tuna was tender and topped with a buttery hollandaise with only a hint of wasabi so it wasn’t overpowering. It was the most interesting breakfast dish I’ve had in a while.
Eating at the hotel, while tasty, was also incredibly expensive so we opted to have ‘cheap and cheerful’ lunches whenever possible (note that ‘cheap’ is a relative term on Maui – even ‘downscale’ places tend to be more expensive than you might expect). Driving is really the only way to get around the island so we rented a convertible and hit the road. We drove to Lahaina to explore and stopped for lunch at the waterfront Cheeseburger in Paradise, a fun, casual place with knick-knacks on the walls, live music and friendly servers. I had the guacamole cheeseburger, a large juicy burger topped with a generous amount of mashed avocado, while Allan had the sliders topped with mushrooms, cheese and jalapenos. We split a side of fries, which were thick cut and lightly seasoned. Accompanied by a cold beer, what more do you need in a lunch? Another day we went to Maui Tacos in Kihei and got their mahi mahi fish tacos served in a fresh corn tortilla and took them across the street to enjoy on the beach. While I’m no taco expert, for a casual, tasty and affordable lunch, it fit the bill nicely.
One of the highlights of our trip was driving the Road to Hana on the north coast of Maui. The highway stretching from Paia to Hana is only 68 miles (109 km) but is famously twisty and narrow. There are approximately 600 curves and 54 bridges, most of which can only accommodate traffic in one direction, meaning you have to be very alert for on-coming traffic.
However, the drive is well worth it: the views of both the ocean and rain forest are stunning. It really is about the journey as opposed to the destination so it’s a good idea to take the day to enjoy the various sights along the way. Our first stop was at a fruit stand just past Paia. Fresh pineapple,coconuts, avocados, banana bread and mango bread were available so we picked up a fresh mini loaf of the banana bread. We noticed people eating avocados with a spoon so we enquired about it and soon the owner handed us each half of a fresh, pitted avocado sprinkled with nutritional yeast, salt and pepper. Sounds weird but it was incredible. The creamy flesh paired beautifully with the slightly salty umami of the nutritional yeast. It was the second unusual but delicious breakfast I had that week.
Shortly past the fruit stand we stopped at Twin Falls. A hiking trail through a tropical farm leads the way to a remarkable swimming hole at the base of the falls. To get to it, you have to wade through a rocky and rather treacherous pool of water but it’s worth the journey. We swam in the cool, refreshing water and Allan swung from a rope into the falling water. We enjoyed a pineapple smoothie after our swim, sold out of a van at the farm’s entrance. The trees at the farm were heavy with bananas, limes and other tropical fruit so everything is fresh and local. Our swim at the falls was a definite highlight of our trip.
After a couple of hours and several stops to enjoy the views, we arrived at Hana. While there are restaurants in the area, we were in damp bathing suits and muddy flip-flops so we sought out something a little more casual. We headed to the beach and got a plate lunch from Tutu’s. Our guide book said to skip it but our lunch was delicious. Juicy, tender teriyaki roast pork was accompanied by two mounds of sticky rice and a side of macaroni salad. It was easily enough for both of us so it was a good deal to boot. It was the perfect thing to fill us up before our long but beautiful journey back through the twisty road.
A few other places we ate:
Spago at The Four Seasons – Wolfgang Puck’s famous L.A. restaurant has a Maui outpost that features local products on the menu. We enjoyed ahi sashimi, Hong Kong style salmon and a tasty crusted monchong and finished by sharing a layered fruit parfait with strawberries, coconut cream and pineapple. The only disappointment was a dish of rice that was overcooked to the point of mush.
Po– This restaurant features traditional Hawaiian ‘plantation cuisine’. We opted for the 3-course Taste of Hawaii menu for $39 each, which is a great deal by Maui standards. Stand out dishes included the paniolo (cowboy) rib eye, glass noodles and banana lumpia for dessert.
Luau – The best luau on Maui is reputedly The Old Lahaina Luau. Unfortunately, it needs to be booked well in advance so we were unable to get a table. However, the Marriott Hotel in Wailea also hosts a luau four days a week and even though it may be ‘touristy’, it’s well worth going to one. Traditional Hawaiian dishes included kalua pig, shoyu chicken, mahi mahi, poi, teriyaki beef and salads. Tropical drinks such as mai tais and non-alcoholic pineapple juice were available at the open bar. As the dancers told the stories of Hawaii, the sun was setting in the background. It was a beautiful spectacle.
Other Recommended Restaurants
Unfortunately, our time was limited and despite the island’s small size, getting around can take a long time so we didn’t make it to all the places we wanted to go. Here are a couple of places that are highly recommended on Maui:
Hali’imaile General Store – By all accounts, this restaurant is one of the best on Maui. Unfortunately, they weren’t open for lunch on the day we had planned to go but they are open for dinner each day.
Mama’s Fish House – We’ll definitely be making time to go to Mama’s on our next visit. Luckily their website features some recipes so I can re-create some of their dishes at home.
The up side to missing some of these places is that it gives us an excuse to return. I also purchased a couple of cookbooks at the Old Lahaina Book Emporium, a wonderful shop featuring used and new books. Taste of Maui by the Maui Culinary Academy and a collection of recipes by locals called Best of Our Favorite Recipes 1946-1996 will inspire me to make my own Hawaiian-style dishes to tide me over until my next visit. Until then…
Mahalo (thank you) and Aloha!