Hawaii Vacation: The Food

Seth and Ann Marie at Mama's Fish House in Maui

Finally! The post you've all been waiting for. Yeah, it's nice to look at pictures of a Hawaiian vacation, but what we all really want to see is the food.

So here it is without further ado — what I ate on my Hawaiian vacation.

Traditional Food in Hawaii

We made an effort to try many of the traditional foods in Hawaii. Hawaiians are very proud of their cultural heritage, which I love and admire.

Unfortunately, many traditional Hawaiian food preparation methods and ingredients are being replaced by modern industrial foods and processes. Just like everywhere else, shortcuts are employed and traditional food takes a hit. I'll share with you what we ate, what we loved, and what we didn't love so much.

Hawaiian Laulau Pork

Hawaiian Laulau Pork is slow-cooked pork wrapped in Luau, or taro leaf. Seth and I both really wanted to try it, so we went out of our way to eat this at a place called Da Kitchen. I had read online that Da Kitchen had traditional Hawaiian food.

Unfortunately, Da Kitchen has fallen prey to many of the shortcuts modern Hawaiians use to prepare their food. Mainly in their use of MSG. MSG is very common in Asia, and there are many Japanese people and cultural cross-over in Hawaii.

Traditionally, the Japanese cooked everything with a fish broth called dashi stock, made from scratch from skipjack tuna, also known as bonito. They used this as a base for sauces and drank it at every meal. It's extremely rich in minerals, particularly iodine (because the heads of the tuna are included, which contain the thyroid glands — where the iodine is stored). This broth also incorporated seaweed, which not only provided more minerals (and more iodine), but also a lot more flavor.

Nowadays, Japanese food, including the broth, is laden with MSG. MSG, short for monosodium glutamate, was introduced to the world in 1907 when it was isolated in a laboratory by Kikunae Ikeda. MSG is a short-cut to flavor. It's cheap and convenient, which is why people like to use it. It's also an excitotoxin.

According to Wikipedia:

Excitotoxicity is the pathological process by which nerve cells are damaged and killed by glutamate and similar substances. Excitotoxicity may be involved in spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury and neurodegenerative diseases of the central nervous system (CNS) such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson's disease, alcoholism or alcohol withdrawal and Huntington's disease. Other common conditions that cause excessive glutamate concentrations around neurons are hypoglycemia and status epilepticus.

It goes on:

The negative effects of glutamate were first observed in 1954 by T. Hayashi, a Japanese scientist who noted that direct application of glutamate to the CNS caused seizure activity, though this report went unnoticed for several years. The toxicity of glutamate was then observed by D. R. Lucas and J. P. Newhouse in 1957, when the feeding of monosodium glutamate to newborn mice destroyed the neurons in the inner layers of the retina. Later, in 1969, John Olney discovered the phenomenon was not restricted to the retina, but occurred throughout the brain, and coined the term excitotoxicity. He also assessed that cell death was restricted to postsynaptic neurons, that glutamate agonists were as neurotoxic as their efficiency to activate glutamate receptors, and that glutamate antagonists could stop the neurotoxicity.

Yikes! See why I don't trust modern industrial food? Seizures and cell death, and destroyed retinas — but other than that, no problem!

I had a bad feeling about the MSG after my first bite of pork at Da Kitchen, but I soldiered on. I wish I had listened to my instincts and not taken another bite. Both Seth and I ended up with a wicked headache and felt dizzy and fatigued about a half hour after the meal.

When I first told Seth about my headache and dizziness, I was afraid he was going to say, “Can you please stop complaining about the food?” It's not easy living with a traditional foodie since we're always reading labels and nitpicking.

But he didn't complain. He said, “MSG? Is that what that is? I have the same symptoms!” (Now whenever we order Japanese delivery, he makes sure to tell them we want NO MSG.)

I also saw huge canisters of hydrogenated vegetable shortening sitting out at Da Kitchen. Can you say trans fat? With all the palm trees on the islands, more traditional fats would be palm oil, coconut oil and of course, lard — since pork is one of the staple foods in Hawaii. Hydrogenated vegetable oil? Not so much. But this is what is used for frying in most restaurants all over our country. Why should Hawaii be any different?

Hawaiian Poi

Poi is a kind of purplish pudding, made of fermented taro root. Traditionally, they cooked, mashed and fermented the taro root, and served it as a fermented garnish. Like sour cream or guacamole in Latin America.

According to Wikipedia:

The bowl of poi was considered so important and a sacred part of daily Hawaiian life that whenever a bowl of poi was uncovered at the family dinner table, it was believed that the spirit of Hāloa, the ancestor of the Hawaiian people, was present. This is because Hawaiians believed that the taro plant, or kalo, was the original ancestor of the Hawaiian people. Because of that, all conflict among family members had to come to an immediate halt.

We tried this, also at Da Kitchen. I do not know if it was prepared traditionally, or if more modern methods were used. I did read on Wikipedia that you can buy a bag of ready-mix poi at the grocery store, and the bag says it has been “pressure-heated”. That can't be good.

Nonetheless, I'm pretty sure it is still fermented (At least I hope? Anyone know?). I read that you can still get poi at every luau. It's very traditional and revered.

However, most visitors to Hawaii turn up their noses at the idea of eating poi. It is slightly sour, so a lot of people are turned off right away.

I thought it was just OK — nothing special. Of course, I was not impressed with any of the food at Da Kitchen, so I can't really use that poi as a legitimate example of what it should taste like.

And as I always say (like a broken record), it's important to try a new food at least 7-10 times before you decide you don't like it.

From the NY Times:

”Poi is definitely an acquired taste,” says Miriam Tottori, a second-generation islander of Japanese descent who works at the Honolulu Poi Company, one of several concerns that manufacture the product for sale at supermarkets in plastic bags or glass jars (the metal can, once plentiful on Honolulu grocery shelves, seems to have disappeared). ”It's like I had to acquire a taste for pizza,” she said, adding, ”I love pizza now.”

So I'll wait and see if I like poi — after 6-9 more tastings. Maybe one day I will love it like I love pizza.

Hawaiian Poke

Poke (pronounced “POH-keh”) is a very traditional food in Hawaii, and it remains pretty true to form to this day. It's essentially a raw fish appetizer — cubed raw fish marinated in salt and soy sauce and various other ingredients. The traditional poke is made with ahi (yellowfin tuna) but now you can find all kinds of variations including shrimp, octopus and mussels.

Poke was our very favorite traditional food in Hawaii. The last day we were there, on our way to the airport, we stopped at the Foodland market. Their poke bar is unbelievable! I snapped some pictures:

Hawaiian Poke Bar in Maui Grocery Store

Hawaiian Poke Bar in Maui Grocery Store

This is what we ate in the car — the traditional Hawaiian version of “fast food” — ahi and mussel poke:

Fast Food: Poke & Mussels

Coconut Candy

Coconut is everywhere in Hawaii, of course. One of my favorite things I had was a little bag of candy I picked up at the local market. It was a coconut candy, made with chips of coconut dried and sweetened with a little sugar. Heavenly! Yeah, it was refined sugar, but there were no other additives. I wonder if I could make this at home with a more natural sweetener in my dehydrator?

Traditional Japanese Breakfast

japanese-breakfast

The first morning in Hawaii, I ordered a traditional Japanese breakfast at our hotel, the Four Seasons Maui. I had this breakfast the last time I was in Hawaii — 15 years ago. (Far too long to be away from Hawaii — must go more often!) I loved it so much the first time I had it, I've craved it ever since.

I know it may sound odd to Westerners, eating fish and rice for breakfast, but the Japanese breakfast is delicious and very nourishing. Miso soup, fish (I had salmon), rice, fresh fruit, pickles, and a soft-boiled egg. Plus some green tea. It was the perfect amount of food — just right before a day of lounging in the sun by the pool.

I did drink the miso soup and I didn't notice any ill effects so maybe it didn't contain any MSG — or if it, did they didn't use a lot of it. Not like at Da Kitchen.

Some of Our Favorite Meals

Mama's Fish House

Mama's Fish House

Out of all the meals we had on Maui, Mama's Fish House was far and away our favorite. Everything we ate was unbelievably delicious.

One of the best things about it is all of the fish is local. The waiter said there was one fish that was not local to Maui — flown in from Oahu. This is not true of most restaurants in Hawaii. You have to ask what fish they have that's local. Normally they'll say a few are local, but most are flown in from places like Japan.

Here's the view of the beach, just steps away from the restaurant:

The View at Mama's Fish House

The beach is beautiful there on the North Shore of Maui. This photo does not do it justice. If you go to Mama's Fish House (and if you go to Maui, you simply must go) get there a little early so you can enjoy the sunset on the beach before you eat. Of course, you'll also enjoy the beach while you eat, since all the tables have an amazing view.

Opakapaka Marinated in Coconut Milk and Lime

For a starter, I ordered Opakapaka Marinated in Coconut Milk and Lime. This was my favorite thing I ate the entire trip. The fish was raw and marinated — like a ceviche. There was something about the combo of lime and coconut milk that just blew me away. It reminded me of that song, “You take the lime and the coconut and drink it all up.”

Bouillabaisse at Mama's Fish Hosue

Seth ordered the Bouillabaisse for his entree. I tasted it — so good! Words cannot express.

Hali'imaile General Store

Haliimaile General Store

We went to the Hali'imaile General Store, Chef Bev Gannon's restaurant, for lunch, just before we set out on our drive on the Road to Hana.

Mai Tai

Yes, we had Mai Tais at lunch. Well, Seth did anyway. I had white wine which I enjoyed very much. I actually tasted a pineapple wine (not at the Hali'imaile General Store — I got some at the local market and I drank it in the hotel room), Maui Blanc, from the Tedeschi Vineyards located on Maui. It was delicious!

Appetizer at Haliimaile General Store

This was our appetizer — the Sashimi Napoleon. Definitely the best thing we had there, although everything we tried was fabulous. Here's the recipe.

Macadamia Nut Pie at Haliimaile General Store

For dessert, we had the Macadamia Nut Pie. It was good. A little rich for my taste, though — so sweet! But I did like all the nuts. Macadamia nuts are so rich in good fats.

But, I must say, I wasn't very interested in eating dessert very often on Maui. I was just too full from seafood. I have never had such an abundance of fresh, delicious seafood as I did in Maui. I really didn't want much of anything else.

I hope you enjoyed vicariously eating in Hawaii. I'm going to learn how to make poke at home. I promise to post the recipe.

Find Me Online

Ann Marie Michaels

I have 25 years of experience in digital and online media & marketing. I started my career in Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, working at some of the world’s top ad agencies. In 2007, after my first child was born, I started this little food blog which I grew to over 250K monthly unique website visitors and over 350K social media followers. For nearly 15 years, I've helped my audience of mostly moms and women 25-65 cook for their families and live a healthier lifestyle.

 The year after I started the blog, I founded a blog network in the health & wellness space called Village Green Network. I started the company on my coffee table and bootstrapped the business to over $1.3 million in annual revenue within 5 years. During that time, I helped a number of our bloggers become six figure earners. After being censored on almost every social media platform for telling the After being censored on almost every social media platform from Facebook and Instagram to Pinterest and Twitter, and being deplatformed on Google, I am now deployed as a digital soldier, writing almost exclusively about politics on my blog Cheeseslave.com. Because who can think about food when we are fighting the second revolutionary war and third world war? Don't worry, there will be more recipes one day. After the war is over.

25 thoughts on “Hawaii Vacation: The Food

  1. AnnMarie,

    Thanks for the food recap! I would have been in heaven with all of this fresh seafood! I really would love to try that Opakapaka Marinated in Coconut Milk and Lime, looks amazing especially in that coconut. You had mentioned the msg, how are they with their animals as far as hormones, antibiotics and sustainability issues? Thanks for sharing!!
    .-= Diana@Spain in Iowa´s last blog ..Monday’s with Mami – Chicharos Con Chorizo =-.

  2. I haven’t been to Maui in a few years, but I have fond memories of allof the places you mentioned. The best food was at Hali’imaile General Store, for sure. Mama’s was good, but prices reflected the setting more than the food.

    Did you get to eat at Spago? I remember that meal being pretty tasty as well.

    It really is a shame about Da Kitchen’s use of industrial food additives. I remember loving their fried fish sandwich. But I also remember being annoyed that they served the food in styrofoam.

    Another thing I remember about modern Hawaiian food is the love of starch. Lunch is often served with a heaping portion of both white rice and potato-mac salad.

    Thanks for bringing back the culinary memories!
    .-= Liz´s last blog ..cupcakes & clothes for haiti =-.

  3. AnnMarie, you really look great. Your eyes and skin are so vibrant. I have really noticed the change in all your photos over the last many months. It shows how traditional foods really make a difference. Thanks for all your hard work you put into your blog.

  4. Thanks for this much anticipated post! I just love how you add so much educational information in relation to your topic. Just so informative and interesting! When we honeymooned in Maui we experienced the traditional foods at the Old Lahaina Luau which was fabulous, but now I wonder how authentic it was? It seemed that way at least, but who knows. And we ate at Mamas fish house too! Yum, that was my favorite. Our meal at Spago was good too. I want to go back to Maui now!!!

  5. I grew up in Hawaii and am a result of the Japanese cultural cross over as my great grandmother came to Hawaii from Japan before Pearl Harbor and before Hawaii became a State. I grew up on Traditional made from scratch Japanese food as well as all the fermented foods that the Japanese eat. I also grew up around Poi and it’s one of those things you learn to love. Many of the food places there now are very “processed” and go the “quick” route, using a lot of Hawaiian salt and MSG in them. I think slowly they are learning to get rid of the MSG as a bad addition that they can do without and still create a delicious meal. If you go to Japan, in recent years many of their foods (in the cities) at least are becoming “quick” as well. Not the made from scratch as they used to be following the “American” way. Sad but true. Seeing all your photos has made me terribly home sick. It is a beautiful place though. We have family on Maui as well!
    Aloha, Kim

  6. It all looks so yummy! Jon and I eat fish for breakfast at least once per week. This morning we had flounder roe I bought last March and froze to enjoy out of season. That reminds me that we’re only a few weeks away from shad roe season. Oh, joy! I’ve never been to Hawaii but it looks like a great place to get away. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
    .-= Cathy Payne´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  7. Yes; it is better than flounder and other roes that are cooked. I like mine lightly seared. You’re right; it is probably and east coast thing.
    I won’t get comment luv until Jon reinstates our hacked website. πŸ™
    He’s working hard on getting us back up. Any links you had to our site have been lost.
    .-= Cathy Payne´s last blog ..ONL035 – Feng Shui – Interview with Melody LeBaron =-.

  8. I enjoyed the vicarious visit as I haven’t been able to go for years. Good for you, seeking out traditional food. I notice there are three local chapters of the Weston A. Price Foundation in Hawai’i, on the Big Island, Kauai, and Oahu. Alas, not Maui at this time. Members might be a resource for recommendations for a trip in the future.

    Just fyi, Japanese fish stock is dashi, not daishi. Stock can also be made from seaweed, specifically kombu I think, but the dried katsuobushi flakes are the most typical way to make it. You can buy instant dashi mix nowadays, and it probably contains MSG.
    .-= Jeanmarie´s last blog ..Why Is Everyone Talking Paleo and Primal? =-.

  9. Thanks for sharing! you should have put a warning up, do not read if hungry! but I guess that goes without saying for alot of your posts..

    I find it challenging on holidays now, because for us, eating real food is such an important part of our lives! It can make or break a holiday. When I visited Fiji a few years back I remember taking note of how westernised everything was, particularly I took note of the modern food-like groceries that the locals were bringing back on the ferry to their simple but lovely huts on the beach, (found myself analysing their bone structure and teeth! but hey that’s what I do, and anyway tell me I’m not the only one LOL) and (not to mention the whole Fiji Water thing, but I digress) It makes me so sad! It’s sad you can’t visit an island, yet STILL have to analyse whether it’s entirely stuff. And sad looking at the bigger picture. (Now don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful time!) I relished in the traditional food, it was absolutely beautiful! but not as prominent as I would have hoped and aware some of it likely, would not be made from completely real ingredients.

    Whether it be over the ocean, or down the road, it’s everywhere πŸ™ every nationality is fast becoming modernised and disconnected with what they are eating. But you know that..maybe I needed to vent!

    And on a happier note, I’m tempted to book a direct flight just for that lime coconutty goodness! YUM!

  10. What gorgeous pictures!

    I knew that MSG was bad, but I had no idea it was *that* bad. Yikes. We’ll be asking our restaurants from now on if they cook with it. I originally stopped feeding my son Goldfish crackers because of the unhealthy vegetable oils, but I had also heard that they sneak MSG into them under different names.

    As for the hydrogenated vegetable oils that are everywhere now, they must just be so much easier for restaurants to obtain and use. Probably a lot cheaper, too. It’s really funny, but the more I limit my consumption of vegetable oils, the stronger they taste to me when I do eat them. I never used to notice a taste before, except maybe for really strong, yummy olive oil…

  11. Yah I agree with Kelly the Macadamia Nut Pie is right up my alley. πŸ™‚ Although I’m not a huge seafood person I did love Ahi so I suppose I could force myself to enjoy a trip to Hawaii. πŸ˜‰ Not to mention all the coconut milk dishes. yummy yum yum – great now you’ve awakened the tummy beast.
    .-= Chris @ Natural Health Goodies´s last blog ..How to Make Coconut Milk for Delightfully Delicious Desserts (and Drinking Too!) =-.

  12. That sashimi napoleon looks incredible, as does the coconut lime ceviche, and the poke. I wouldn’t mind the Japanese breakfast either – but yes please hold the MSG. My husband and I were just talking about it yesterday – it seems one of our fav restaurants might be using MSG in their homefries. The last two times we have eaten them, we get soooo tired afterwards. They probably don’t even realize that “spices” and “natural flavors” translates to MSG!
    .-= Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen´s last blog ..Brunello Aperitivo =-.

  13. cheeseslave-

    I commented on your other Maui post as well, since we just went there in October, but I had to comment again on the food-looks amazing and makes me want to go back! I had read about Mama’s Fish House, but we never made it there, unfortunately! Probably our best meal in Maui was at the Lahaina Grill (probably our most expensive as well!!), but one of the things I really loved about it was that they really used a ton of local food, and it was so fresh and delicious! The service there was far and away beyond most places we’ve been to as well.

    Anyway, so fun to read about your trip!!

  14. We just moved to Da Big Island a year ago, and one of our biggest struggles has been food. I thought it would be a great place for our diet – wrong! The diet here is sugar, white starch, MSG, spam, and crap. The diabetes rate is astounding.

    Fish isn’t much cheaper (but is fresher). Raw milk is illegal (therefore harder to come by and way more expensive than pot – and more frowned upon). Traditional pig? Ha! Try Costco CAFO pig. We’re gonna have to learn to hunt if we want pig. Same for chicken and turkey. We basically never eat chicken anymore – lots of chickens and turkeys running feral, but try finding sustainable, local poultry. Local pastured eggs are wicked expensive. Again, sheep and goats everywhere, but they’re just for show – not for dairy or meat!

    The only bright spot is beef – eating rapidly growing grass year round. And cheap (relatively), since it’s plentiful – at least on the big island. But you have to go to one particular store on the island to get it, otherwise it’s CAFO beef in the stores.

    There is basically no local economy for food, and not much traditionally prepared food. We like laulau, but unless we’re going to make it from scratch, I don’t trust it. Poke is great, but you have to be careful – most of it is shoyu poke (good ole MSG soy sauce). Traditional fermented poi is easy to come by on this island, it’s even sold at Costco. We don’t like it much, but it is easy to sneak into all kinds of things. It takes on the flavor of whatever you put it in, so it goes in smoothies, pancake batter, mashed potatoes, etc, pretty easily.

    We never eat out. What’s considered ono grinds (good food) is scary.

    The local organic/sustainable produce movement is pretty good, though, and fresh year-round. You have to know where and when to find it, and many vendors are willing to tell you their goods are not sprayed, etc… but the produce boxes behind their stalls tell a different story. The other thing to watch out for – it’s easy to get stuck on eating too much fruit, therefore too much sugar and carbs. And we’ve learned to eat a whole new spectrum of fruits and veggies. Peaches and apples don’t enter our vocab any more, but boy is longan good!

    I would love to start a real food movement here… there is a WAPF chapter, supposedly, but I don’t think it’s at all active. Most people who are concerned about food here tend to be raw foodists, but even they are hard to find. Some way to educate the locals about food is needed, and desperately! Plus a campaign for REAL milk. Maybe once we’re settled… I don’t know though… for a family of 5, our budget for food is exceeding $1200 a month, and I’ve cut it down as much as possible (well, we’re trying to eat less carbs, which means replacing with more meat – there’s only so many leafy greens a kid will eat – more meat = more money!). Food is sooo expensive here to start with, and then if you want real food on top of that, you pay thru the nose. Most families work 2-4 jobs as it is…

    It’s sad, because Hawaii is touted as the healthiest state. I look around me at what everybody eats and (honestly) how everybody looks, and if this food and this overwhelming morbid obesity is healthy… what is the rest of America like?

    All right, thanks for letting me rant! At least you had an obviously awesome vacation! Next time come visit me on the big island!

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