A Maui vacation is not complete without tasting some of the unique foods of the Hawaiian islands.
Most of the following foods listed are not specific to Maui with the exception of the Maui onion and the Maui Gold pineapple. They can be found on most of the Hawaiian Islands, but you should try them while on Maui. They are not listed in any special order.
Shave Ice – This is not called “shaved ice” as it is in other places. Many are familiar with the classic snow cone, which consists of crushed ice and some syrupy goo squirted on top. On initial inspection, shave ice looks a lot like a snow cone, but the similarities end at the icy appearance. Shave ice is a popular Hawaiian treat that consists of finely shaved ice—much finer than that found in a snow cone. Because the ice is much finer, the flavored syrup tends to reside between these fine ice crystals rather than settling at the bottom of the cup. Flavors for shave ice are typically Hawaiian in nature—pineapple, guava, and coconut—although you can still get the standard fare of strawberry, bubble gum, etc. For an added treat, get a scoop of ice cream in the bottom of your cup or cone. A great place to try shave ice is Ululani’s Shave Ice in Lahaina, Kuhului, or Kihei.
Kalua Pork – Kalua means “to cook in an underground oven.” The most common place to get your Kalua pork would be at a luau, but you can find it around the island at different restaurants. Cooked right, it is very tender and very tasty. Great places to get Kalua pork are Local Food (222 Papalaua Street, Suite 202) and Lahaina Coolers (180 Dickenson Street), both in Lahaina.
Spam – Really, Spam? In Hawaii? Yes, Spam is a Hawaiian favorite and you probably won’t have to look far to find it. I found it in many different permutations in the grocery stores, and I found it cut up finely in a bowl of saimin that I ate in Lihue on Kauai. On one trip to Oahu, I ate at McDonald’s and saw several different options to order Spam and rice. The first time my son ate Spam was in Kauai. He loved it and I told him that it was sold only in Hawaii. I was busted a few years later when he spotted it in the local grocery store back home. One of the best ways to consume Spam in Hawaii is Spam musubi. Spam musubi is composed of a slice of grilled Spam on top of a block of sticky rice, wrapped with nori (dried seaweed)
Macadamia Nut Pancakes – This is the basis for the great Hawaiian breakfast. You can get them served with bananas or pineapple and some coconut syrup. The most popular spot on Maui for breakfast would be Gazebo restaurant (5315 Lower Honoapiilani Road in Lahaina). Try the banana macadamia nut or the white chocolate macadamia nut pancakes. Be aware that even if you show up before they open, you will find yourself waiting in line. It is a very popular place.
POG – “POG” stands for passion fruit, orange, and guava juice. It is served everywhere. I got a carton of it once when flying from Maui to Kauai on Hawaiian Airlines. It’s probably not the most amazing drink you will ever consume, but it is good and very Hawaiian. If you don’t stumble upon it in your normal travels, you can pick it up in any grocery store.
Ono – Also called “wahoo,” it is a mild-flavored fish that is related to the king mackerel and does not taste “too fishy.” Ono is served in most Hawaiian seafood restaurants. For a great ono fish taco, visit Maui Taco, found all over the island.
Hawaiian Sweet Bread – Just the sound of this very soft, very sweet bread makes my mouth water. It is like Wonder bread, only 100 times sweeter. My wife, who won’t let the kids eat Wonder bread, approves of this. My family can devour a loaf in minutes.
Maui Onion – The Maui onion is a sweet onion grown on the island of Maui. It is juicier than most onions and does not have the bitter taste or strong odor of the common onion. I have occasionally seen young locals eating them like you might see someone else eat a crisp apple. You can find the Maui onion served up a number of ways on different restaurant menus. I usually cook up an omelet or two with Spam and Maui onions when I visit the island.
An easy way to get introduced to the Maui onion is to purchase a bag of Maui onion potato chips, available in most grocery stores on Maui.
Maui Gold Pineapple – If you like pineapple, you should try the Maui Gold pineapple. They are sweeter and lower in acidity than the typical pineapple and are easy to find at the local grocery stores like Safeway, Foodland, and Star Market. If you decide you want to take one home, you can buy them in the airport—which is your best bet for travel as they will be packed and agriculturally inspected.