A lot of people can be pretty grumpy first thing in the morning, before coffee and breakfast have warmed the soul and brightened the day. Even in Hawaii, I was that guy. It was my first day on Maui, it was early, and my stomach was announcing to the world that I had been neglecting it for quite some time. I stumbled into Foodland and was greeted by a happy Hawaiian face that urged me to “try the Spam musubi, brah. So good it broke da mouf!” Truer words may never have been spoken.
Maui, and Hawaii in general, has a reputation for good eats, what they call ono grinds. From drive up BBQ on the Road to Hana to sit-down elegance at Mama’s Fish House to the farmer’s market stands all over the island: fresh, quality ingredients and a unique blend of cultural influences make almost every bite memorable. At some point on any (or every?) trip to Hawaii, you’re likely to have a Shave Ice and traditional luau fair like poke, lau lau, Kalua Pork, and Lomi Lomi Salmon, but there are other ono grinds that are uniquely Hawaiian and should not be missed. Among them, here’s what we recommend:
You may be aware that Spam has been elevated to near gourmet status in Hawaii, and you’ll find it everywhere, from family picnics to high-end restaurants. And king (in our book, at least) of Spam cuisine is Spam Musubi. Essentially sushi rice, Spam, Nori and a bit of soy sauce, and BAM! Your tastebuds have entered nirvana. This could be the quintessential Hawaiian food…but there are so many unique and heavenly tastes that it’s nearly impossible to choose one to reign over all. It is the first thing we go looking for after landing, or make at home for a luau feeling. In Hawaii, you can find it almost everywhere, including Foodland, 7-11 and just about every cafe and restaurant.
Also known as a Plate Lunch, it’s another quintessentially Hawaiian meal. The history of the Mixed Plate goes back to immigrant plantation workers who would bring food from their homelands for lunch, and share with their co-workers. Today, the Mixed Plate generally comprises two scoops of white rice, a generous helping of mac & cheese, and a meat portion such as teriyaki beef, shoyu chicken or Korean BBQ. We love Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina for the food and the beachfront location where, as the New York Times put it, paper plates meet million dollar views.
Honolulu Cookie Company
Because one must have cookies. Though the name says Honolulu, there are locations all around the islands making it easy to pop in and stock up on what may be the best shortbread cookies ever. These are no ordinary shortbreads, mind you! Flavors like Macadamia, Coconut, Kona Coffee, Pineapple, Mango and Lilikoi make these little delights uniquely Hawaiian. Warning: once you go into the store and sample one or two, it can be very challenging to get back out without a sizable (but delicious!) purchase.
While you can find these throughout the islands, we are partial to the relaxed atmosphere of Lahaina town on Maui, where you can find all of the above right on Front Street. You can park around Market and Front Streets to enjoy the parks, museums and shops there, which include Honolulu Cookie Company. Aloha Mixed Plate is further north, next to Old Lahaina Luau and across from the Cannery Mall.