Friday, September 18, 2009

Local Food Maui Style

So I would fly all the way over to Kauai for a bowl of Hamura's Saimin.   I can't wait to get back over to Hilo for some ox tail stew at Ken's House of Pancakes. But what about Maui?  What's good on Maui?   That's a funny question to ask, isn't it?   Isn't Maui supposed to be "no ka oi"?   Isn't Maui gonna have the same local food as the other islands?  Well, for a good while, my wife didn't think so.    

My wife used to work for a company that would send her over to Maui for work at the High Performance Computing Center, roughly about once a month.    She would fly over, go to work, go to the company apartment for the night, go back to work, repeat for a few days and fly back.   She didn't really get to explore the island, or have any real holo holo time there.   The only time she had to look around, was during lunch.  It just so happened one day she wanted a bento, so she asked her co-workers where to get a good bento and they didn't even know what a bento was!  Okay, so her co-workers were haoles from the mainland and didn't know where to find a good bento, but she herself drove around Kihei every lunch hour, and simply could not find any good local food.  So she was convinced, that Maui had become so haole that there were just no more local places to eat there.

Later on, I too had to go over to Maui to work.   But, luckily for me, while she was stuck down in Kihei, I was working in Kahului and Wailuku.    Even more luckily for me, I happened to be working for some of the most hardcore native Hawaiians you will ever find.  Not the uber radical Hawaiian sovereignty type people, but people who really cared about Hawaii, about the culture, and the aina.   People who would when I would get there in the morning, after taking the 5AM flight, would be chanting a sunrise chant in Hawaiian to greet the day.   That's true Hawaiian.   So I asked them all about the good places to eat on Maui, so that whenever I could drag my wife back to try experiencing Maui for fun not just for work, I would know where to take her.  They of course did not steer me wrong.

The first place they sent me, was a real Wailuku town favorite, Sam Sato's.   Sam Sato's is the kind of place where you find almost two dozen local people waiting outside at any given time, waiting for a table.  Luckily I could also just take stuff to go and head back to work.  They are famous for 2 things.  Firstly, is their "dry mein".  What the heck is dry mein?  I'll give you a hint, it's supposed to rhyme with saimin.   It's basically their take on gon lo mein with saimin noodles instead of Chinese noodles.   It's NOT the kind of fried saimin you get at carnivals and stuff.   It's saimin, served with the usual saimin toppings, drizzed with a little oil and seasonings, and served with a bowl of broth on the side for dipping in.   It's an interesting variation, but not everyone likes their saimin so dry.   The other thing they're famous for?   Manju.   Either filled with the traditional azuki bean, or their sweetened lima beans, they've got a great flaky texture.   If you're visiting Maui, and trying to figure out what kind of uniquely Maui omiyake to bring back (and don't want Krispy Kremes), then you can't go wrong with a box of Sam Sato's manju.

The other place that my friends sent me to, is perhaps the best local food place on Maui, and probably the one formost on everyone's lips.   The place?   Da Kitchen!   Da Kitchen is another one of those places where you continuously find a line of local people waiting to get in the door.  Even Zimmern visited the place at one point to eat spam.   They even have a small Kihei location, that my wife could've found, but she still would've been disappointed.   The food at the Kihei location isn't nearly as good as the Kahului restaurant.   The Kihei one is a lame, fast food, operation with a very limited menu, whereas the Kahului location is sit down, and in addition to their regular menu always has a variety of specials.   The dish that is probably their most unique is their fish tempura.   That's right, fish, not shrimp, tempura.   I'll admit, it was pretty good.   But what I really liked at Da Kitchen was their special combo 4.  

Special Combo 4 at Da Kitchen

The special combo 4 is a mammoth sized plate.   Atop the bed of rice that seems to cover the entire plate, are 2 pieces of spam, 2 pieces of teri chicken, a mound of kalua pork and a hamburger steak with onions.   This thing would've rivaled even something off of Masu's menu.  The chicken was okay, and spam is always spam, but what was really great was the hamburger steak and kalua pig.  The hamburger steak was thick and meaty, and not at all dry.  But the sauted onions just made it perfect.   If there was one thing Masu's did badly, it was their hamburger steak, which was always way too breaded.  This plate was so big, that I had to take it home, which unfortunately being on Maui, meant that I had to carry my leftovers on the plane, but that's okay.

The best thing about this plate though, was it made me feel right at home.  That this was still my Hawaii, just another facet to explore.  Having found real local food on Maui, not to mention the real local people, I feel perfectly comfortable, going back, for work or for play, and taking my wife along, not just to prove her wrong, but to let her enjoy Maui for a change.

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