Finding The Real Hawaii One Bite At A Time

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Quickly, name the first thing that comes to your mind when I say, “Hawaiian food.” I thought so, probably pineapples, roast pig luau — all those stereotypical Hawaiian things, right? I don’t blame you. I’m definitely not a resorter, and won’t be any time soon, but those touristy eats are the same things that pop into my mind. Though not any more since I caught wind of the SF Chronicle’s article on Maui eats often overlooked by tourists.

Maui has two distinctive cuisines: tourist and local. As this is the case with nearly all destinations we get to, there seems to be a great disparity between the two here. Let’s take a peek passed the grilled mahi mahi and coconut prawns for a second and get to the “Ono Grinds” (that’s Hawaiian slang for “good food”).

The “Tour da Food” trek  — the culinary tour described in the article — began with a food coma-inducing spin through Hawaiian history. Immigrant workers from all over the Pacific need endless energy stores for full days in the cane fields. The day starts with a breakfast of Loco Moco: a mountain of rice topped with hamburger patties and eggs, all smothered in gravy. Then the Hawaiian plate lunch: some sort of protein — like a Kalua pig — Filipino adobo, Japanese teriyaki beef, or Korean Kalbi, with a scoop of macaroni salad and two scoops of rice. Top that off with some misoyaki butterfish from the local market, then some handmade shaved ice, and you have all you need to put in a day’s work in the fields.

The tour then headed into the Upcountry, away from all those high rise resorts sitting beachside, to the many small farming villages perched on the side of Maui’s Haleakala volcano. There you can munch on coconut muffins while sipping on coffee grown and roasted literally feet away from where you sit. At the markets grab an avocado the size of a grapefruit, fresh basil pulled from the garden only minutes before, and a Maui onion that is said to sweet enough you can eat it like an apple.

Did I get to the fish tacos, yet? Need I?

In the end, Friedman puts it best. “As gorgeous as the resorts are, if people only eat in those restaurants, they’re missing Hawaii.”

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