The Cuisine of Maui
Maui, the second largest Hawaiian island and among the best places to find a festive luau, is one ideal location for the hungry and thirsty traveler. If you are to visit the island today, you will easily find a wide range of gourmet restaurants offering the best of authentic Hawaiian and fusion cuisine. While traditional fares like grilled beef or pork, poi, and lomi salmon have retained their popularity, other well established cuisines in the island include Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and French. This is no longer surprising since the cuisine of Hawaii is a blend of American, Chinese, Polynesian, Filipino, and Korean cooking.
Maui is home to traditional open-sea restaurants and quaint gourmet places where you can sample the best of world-renowned cuisines, interpreted the Hawaiian way. Whether you are craving for freshly grilled sea food and salad greens or the fancier crab lumpia and tequila shrimp, Maui eateries very rarely disappoint. In fact, many world-class chefs have already put up their own restaurants in Maui. It is common to find French, Mexican, and Thai bistros in this exciting Hawaiian island.
You can also enjoy dinner cruises in Maui, where you may order a tropical gourmet dinner, complete with choice wines and an accompaniment of original Hawaiian music. Beachfront restaurants dot the island, located in Lahaina, Paia, Kihei, and Kahului. Continental, French, Italian, and Japanese cuisine are all served in various chic bistros and open-air restaurants of this island.
Traditional food choices in Maui cuisine
Since Maui is one of the strategically-located islands all over Hawaii, it is also the most sought-after venue for luaus, traditional Hawaiian dances, and even wedding parties. During these traditional festivities, you can expect to sample authentic fares, such as plate lunches consisting of poi or ground taro, beef, pork or chicken, rice, and potato salad. Here are some of the more authentic fares typically found in most traditional parties and dance festivals in Maui.
Kalua roast pork
Any luau won’t be complete without the Kalua roast pork. A whole pig is normally roasted on an imu pit, a traditional underground oven, lined with stones. In some variations of the dish, pork butt may be used, which is wrapped in banana leaves and then oven roasted. Many restaurants and beach resorts in Maui serve the Kalua roast pork, along with other luau delicacies.
Poi, a staple in Hawaiian cuisine, is actually ground taro. Along with the Kalua roast pork, poi is commonly served during luaus. This staple has a paste-like consistency and often delicately sweet in flavor. It is served in luaus or in traditional plate lunches, along with grilled beef or pork and rice.
In any luau, the ahi poke serves as an excellent appetizer. It is made using fresh and raw ahi tuna. The island of Maui is well known for fresh yellow fin tuna, dolphin fish, and red snapper. Ahi poke is made by combining diced ahi, onions, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Oyster sauce and chilli flakes may be added for that sweet spicy bite.
Maui style mahi-mahi
Mahi-mahi, known as dolphin fish, is a classic favorite among the locals in Hawaii and in Maui. Traditionally served in luaus, Maui style mahi-mahi is often sauteed in garlic and butter on a hot skillet. Once cooked, a marinade of honey, lemon juice, and sesame seeds is poured over the cooked fish.
Mouth-watering Maui desserts
Maui is also home to some of the best traditional Hawaiian sweets. Most of the desserts served in Maui restaurants feature tropical ingredients such as macadamia nuts, caramelized fruits and sugar, coconut, bananas, chocolate, and fruits such as Hawaiian passion fruit, mango, berries, guava, tangerine, and lychee.
Available in a range of fruity flavors, shaved ice is a traditional Hawaiian fare, which is perfect during hot summer days on the island. You can find shops serving shaved ice in simple flavors, while some restaurants serve shaved ice with fruits such as banana and berries, sprinkled with granola or drizzled with honey.
From Hula pies and tropical cheesecakes topped with macadamia nuts to coconut creme brulees, satisfying your sweet tooth is easy with these gourmet treats available at many Maui restaurants.
A taste of Maui fun
Maui is known to be a superb Hawaiian location for both traditional gatherings and contemporary parties and events. The locals enjoy mixing traditional cocktail drinks, often coconut-based and blended in with rum. The Blue Hawaiian is one cocktail staple in Maui, which is a refreshing blend of pineapple juice, rum, and Blue Curacao liqueur. The Lava Flow is another coconut-based drink, which is popular with the locals and tourists alike, where strawberries are blended along with the coconut rum and creme of coconut.
If you're worried that these coconut-based drinks will pile on the calories, refreshing alternatives include the Maui Mai Tai and Mojito. The Maui version of the Mai Tai blends in mint leaves and rum, while the Mojito is made using rum, fresh lime, pomegranate juice, and orange Curacao.
Non-alcohol lovers will appreciate the fresh smoothies and blends available from different bars and restaurants all over the island. Be it a pina colada smoothie, passion fruit smoothie, or peach mango blends, there's always something for any thirsty traveler in Maui.
What makes Maui cuisine unique
Maui is well known today for its "Hawaiian Regional Cuisine," which combines the cooking techniques and ingredients from the Pacific Rim, West Coast, and Hawaii. Hawaiian cuisine has long been associated with the quintessential Kalua pig, poi, and many coconut-based delicacies. Today however, many restaurateurs and chefs have taken Hawaiian and Maui cuisine to a whole new level, incorporating both conventional ingredients and gourmet techniques into the mix.
Thus, you won’t be surprised to find the usual ahi or yellow fin tuna turned into a culinary masterpiece, seared with Maui onion and served with vanilla bean rice and dressed in apple cider butter vinaigrette. Mahi-mahi can be glazed with a sweet macadamia nut mixture, instead of the usual honey-lemon marinade. The delectable ono, widely known in Hawaii, can be grilled to perfection, and then dressed in fragrant lemon grass pesto and aromatic vanilla bean sauce. Any gastronomic expert will find the cuisine of Maui to be unique yet upbeat, with a few non-traditional ingredients folded in quite excellently.
Finding the best restaurants in Maui
With many restaurants stretching from Lahaina to Kihei, any traveler won't be disappointed with the diverse choices available in Maui. From fully flavored comfort food to the more adventurous gourmet creations, your dining options in Maui is far from limited. If you are looking for suggestions on the best restaurants in Maui, here is a short list of the top choices:
Gazebo Restaurant (Lahaina)
Lahaina is well known for its beach resorts and restaurants, with Gazebo Restaurant being one of the most recognized. It is a small, cozy restaurant facing the ocean, serving both Hawaiian and American food. Many travelers love the place because of its good food, hefty servings, friendly staff, and reasonable prices. Casual yet romantic, this place is great for couples, friends, and families.
Mama's Fish House
If you love seafood, Polynesian cuisine, or organic choices, Mama's Fish House in Paia is one excellent restaurant choice. It is perfect for corporate meetings and romantic rendezvous, especially with its classy interiors, beachfront location, and impressive menu. Although those on a tight budget may find the price rates a bit expensive, the good food and outstanding atmosphere more than makes up for the high expense.
Old Lahaina Luau
No visit to Maui is ever complete without attending an authentic luau. The Old Lahaina Luau gives you that experience, with the festivity located on the beach itself, complete with authentic Hawaiian food and presentations. The buffet features traditional island fares including Kula pork roast and poi.
Nick's Fish Market
Nick's Fish Market is a restaurant and a bar in one, where you can sample mouth-watering seafood fares, freshly picked salads, and tender meat roasts such as roasted chicken and rack of lamb. The ambiance is classic and subdued, and the restaurant staff is highly professional.
Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar
One of the best seafood restaurants in Maui is the Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar. You can sample authentic Japanese and Asian cuisine here, within a contemporary, minimalist interior. Noted as one of the eight best sushi restaurants all over America in 2001, this seafood and sushi bar continues to attract crowds in Maui. Sansei is located in Kihei and in Kapalua Resort, Maui.
Undoubtedly, the diverse and unique cuisine of Maui makes it one of the most exciting islands in Hawaii. From quintessential island favorites to fusion creations from gourmet experts, there is always a restaurant that suits your budget and your palate’s requirements. Enjoy a romantic dinner with friends at a cozy restaurant, take part in an authentic Hawaiian luau, or indulge in a luxurious dinner cruise. Your discriminating taste buds will definitely be on holiday when you’re in Maui.