Maui is a dream destination that is rarely able to leave a traveler indifferent. Breathtaking landscapes, some of the world’s best beaches, and of course, amazing farm-to-table cuisine. Unfortunately, unless you are familiar with Hawaiian cuisine, then barely anyone would have an immediate understanding of the main components of a typical Mauian plate. Even more so - what is top foods to try in Maui. It is why I have done a bit of research and given an overview of both. In this article, you will learn more about the product and the flavors that go into their traditional dish, some background information on the origins, and a list of ten delicious examples of foods that you need to try in Maui. But first, to realize this much-wanted trip, find out if you need a USA visa or not. So let’s start from the basics.
What should I know about Maui, and how does it connect to their cuisine?
Let’s start with the description of Maui in general. It is the second-largest Hawaii island, and therefore naturally features the most luscious vegetation and vast access to pristine waters (and seafood). The weather conditions are very favorable to grow a wide variety of foods. People living there have found ways to incorporate the wonderful produce in making filling and delicious dishes. However, another significant aspect that one should keep in mind when discussing their culinary scene is the historical background and the influences from other cultures that have strongly changed the face of the Hawaiian table. However, to understand what exactly I mean by that, let’s get to know the cuisine of Hawaii, and in turn Maui in particular, as well.
What is Maui cuisine like?
Okay, let’s start by clarifying some notions. You will ask if there is some particular difference between Maui food and Hawaiian cuisine in general. Let’s say - the basic building blocks are the same. The differences lie in minor regional details and names of the foods. The same dish in Maui may be called differently on other islands. Additionally, just like anywhere in the world, minor local tweaks of cultural dishes might be found easily. For example, even two neighboring households might have a slightly different approach for the same recipe. But that must be the beautiful part about food - it is often very personal, and most cuisines are a constant work in progress. However, the base of all food-related concepts lies in centuries if not millennia of peoples’ lives and historical events. It is why, before you get introduced to particular foods to try in Maui, it is extremely important to understand the complex historical and cultural background of Hawaii islands. Mostly, the indigenous plants and techniques were quite different before the first Europeans introduced particular novel seeds and animals to these remote places. With the connections to the rest of the world growing, the changes became inevitable and truly influenced both lives and the food scene, so to say. Over the centuries, the indigenous taro, fish, coconut, sweet potatoes, and yams were the most typical staples of Hawaiian cuisine. The first European and American missionaries and whalers introduced new ingredients like goats, boars, pineapple, pumpkins, and onions. After rapidly increasing the sugarcane industry, a stream of immigrants was brought there from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Portugal, and Puerto Rico to ensure production. These cultural influences have greatly impacted how Hawaiian cuisine looks nowadays, but maybe that is the best thing - it is as diverse as it gets! And finally, let’s see some dish examples. Here are the top 10 foods that you need to try in Maui!
1. Seafood and fresh fish
Besides actually being a natural staple, you would want to shoot yourself in the foot if you didn’t try some of the amazing fish and seafood served in Maui and Hawaii in general. Why? Because it is there, it is fresh, and locals have a great sense of respect towards cooking the ingredient in the best of traditions. For you, that means grilled shrimp, fresh or cured salmon in salad-type of dishes, crab and mahi-mahi in different versions of curry. And these are just some, go there, and you will find plenty more fish in the sea! (pun intended).
It is one of the dishes that has Portuguese roots. Deep-fried oval doughnut balls, dusted with sugar and cinnamon. Classically made without filling, nowadays malasadas have evolved and may feature anything you like. Vanilla cream, chocolate cream, some fruit jam...whatever your heart craves. Served fresh to order and found in many places, the dessert is truly addictive, so be careful if you have a serious case of a sweet tooth!
You will say that pork s available in most countries of the world, so why are we wasting time discussing it? I will say - don’t rush, my friend. Pork and Maui is a whole other story. Besides the traditional dish Lau Lau (shredded pork wrapped in a taro leaf) and other prominent variations, the most spectacular must-try option is the Kālua Pork. It is a luau preparation method and simply means pork that has been cooked in an underground oven. Believe me, and it is finger-licking delicious!
It is one of the most visible Asian influences in Hawaiian cuisine. Noodles like Somen, Ike Mazamen, and Saimin are at the heart of various dishes that will leave anyone indifferent barely. Just because there are so many variations that anyone will be able to find something for their liking. In plate lunches, in a salad or for example, with roasted pork belly and some veg. Good luck with choosing!
This dish with fish cured in a delicious sauce as its main element is probably one of the best-known Hawaiian dishes in the world. Just because of the rising popularity of fresh and healthy foods, it has become a common name in many countries. However, nothing compares to the options prepared in Maui! By the way, I wanted to warn you. In many places by poke, some might understand a buddha-bowl thingy with various ingredients. Here it can also be just the fish dressed with many sauces and a bit of veg.
6. Loco Moco
A filling and a cheap dish that emerged in the 50s has become one of the most common staples in any place on the island. It is an unsuspected combination of rice topped with a burger patty, fried egg, and rich gravy. Undeniably, one of the greatest comfort foods in the world!
I could not go without mentioning this absolute hero of Hawaiian cuisine. Some might argue that it is among the best things to try, but no one can deny that it is one of the top foods to try in Maui. It became popular after World War II as it was an easy and cheap way of providing protein for soldiers. Soon after, it took over the stoves of the locals because fishing was prohibited over there for a while. Among other shapes and techniques to prepare it, one of the most popular ways is eating it wrapped in rice and seaweed in Maui. This dish is called Spam Musubi.
Okay, I will not go into too much detail about pineapples as you are probably very familiar with this fruit. Just make sure to include at least one dish with local pineapple in your to-eat list because that is the true flavor of Maui.
9. Shave Ice (Hawaiian style)
I haven’t mentioned too many desserts here, and Maui is just such a tropical destination. Going there and not trying something that will help you cool off would be a sin. So...shave ice it is! A cone of shaved ice, topped with sweet local and classic flavors (papaya, strawberry, banana, and many others) and optional condensed milk or azuki bean. What else could you want on a hot summer day, right?
10. Lunch plate or mixed plate
And to end this list of mouthwatering dishes, let me explain an important Maui food concept. Basically, it is a plate with rice, some kind of protein, and side dishes. If there is just one type of meat or other protein, it is called a lunch plate, but if several, it is a mixed plate. You will find it everywhere and in all price ranges! Well, I hope that now you have a better impression of what is top foods to try in Maui! To paint a bigger picture, I tried to present some information about the main influences and the most typical ingredients. Then a list of the most prominent 10 dishes (or ingredients) to keep an eye for during your trip to Maui. To be honest, I have no clue if you are already planning details for an upcoming trip or just curious about the foods to try in Maui to learn more about their cuisine. Either way, I hope this information has given, if not useful information, then at least inspired you to look into the topic and flavors more. After all, the gastronomic world is so diverse and broad, and trying something new is just an exciting prospect even if you don’t have a plan to visit Maui anytime in the foreseeable future. Best of luck with all the explorations and, most importantly - bon appetit!