Four years. That's a long time right? Well, that's how long it had been that I had been back to the island where I was born and raised.
I had moved to Maui for some time after leaving Japan and after about a year and half I knew I had to be in a metropolitan city. London was my original aim but I have no regrets that I chose to come to New York City. Last week marked four years that I've lived in this invigorating, challenging, breathtaking and exciting city that I now call home. However, the only draw to visit Maui were stunning sights, tropical fruit, some grinds (a word for food that the locals use) and a few friends.
The restaurant I currently work at stands out for many reasons but one additional perk is that it closes for a week and half at the end of summer (extremely unusual for a restaurant in NYC) to make renovations/clean and also give their employees extended time off. Initially I had planned to travel to Europe but my mother persuaded me to visit Maui. It was also a chance to spend time with our family dog, who unlike my mother, cannot visit me in NYC.
They say absence makes the hard grow fonder. However I think in the case of going back to where I grew up, it was the return that made my heart grow. Even though I've memorized the roads and sights, there is a magical and healing quality to the island of Maui.
First stop after arriving was the supermarket to get poke (pronounced po-kay). If you aren't familiar, poke is a Hawaiian dish made with raw fish, usually ahi tuna, with seasonings such as soy sauce, green onions and sesame oil. A popular dish since the 1970s, it has now adapted to include wasabi, fish eggs, seaweed, kimchi (pickled cabbage) or Maui onions. In more recent times it has gained popularity in places such as Los Angeles. Several poke places have popped up in NYC lately as well. The best type of poke you can get is if someone you know catches fish or octopus and you can make it fresh yourself. But since I'm no fisherman, I stopped at Foodland where they have at least 8-10 types of poke. The gentleman at the seafood counter let me try a few kinds and I ended choosing the ones my mother and I tried. It costs about $12/pound depending on which poke it is. This is a great deal because just a poke bowl alone can cost you $14-15 in NYC (my recommendation here in the city is Simple NYC). The four poke I bought were ahi and lime (Hawaiian seaweed), ahi, wasabi and soy sauce, ahi with fried onion and imitation crab and ahi with kimchi. My was this a divine homecoming! Nothing tastes quite the same. You can garnish rice with poke and other toppings but it isn't quite like eating poke on its own at home or on the beach with friends.
If you don't know, coffee is something that I consider something I love as well as my only vice. From a technical aspect I may be an amateur. Although I've worked as barista before, I haven't yet got into purchasing my ideal espresso machine or started roasted my own beans. In terms of taste though, I'm very particular. Body, acidity and strength all matter. Honestly I don't even need caffeine. Those who've met me can attest to this. I simply just love the taste of it, how it makes me feel while I make it or hold a mug of it. This is all dependent on how it tastes of course. A bad cup of coffee could seriously bum me out. Watered-down or burnt coffee? Non, merci!
I'm about to make a fairly shocking statement. Since moving to NYC four years ago, I've only recently starting finding coffee shops that impress me. In comparison to California, Japan and Hawaii (three places I've lived), NYC can barely compete. The first coffee shop that stood out was Buunni Coffee in Washington Heights. I lived down the street when I first arrived in NYC and it's beautiful. I digress, this is a post about Maui right? I worked at a coffee shop in Pa'ia which no longer exists and all the regulars seemed to have found other places to frequent. One coffee shop I love is Wailuku Coffee Company. Situated on Main Street in historical Wailuku. It serves delicious coffee as well as tasty pastries they bake in-house. On a stop before driving to the Westside I bought a blueberry lemon thyme scone. Absolute perfection. The space itself is open and has a great vibe. A delightful coffee shop that's now open is Sip Me. Nestled in the quaint Upcountry town of Makawao, this coffee shop is the perfect place to meet with friends, work on your computer and relax.
If you're short on time or just want to know my suggestions for sightseeing on Maui here they are: North Shore, Kahakuloa and Ulupalakua. The North Shore includes Pa'ia, Haiku and Makawao tend to get a lot of coverage but I think Kahakuloa and Keokea/Ulupalakua sometimes get overlooked.
Kahakuloa translates from Hawaiian to "tall master". As you drive past Lahaina, Ka'anapali and Napili on the West side you'll drive along the winding roads with the deep, blue Pacific on one side and lush, green hills on the other. It's a tiny town that remains virtually unchanged since I visited as a child. My main reason for visiting this time around was to get some of Julie's delectable banana bread. At the end of the town sits Julie's, a cute roadside stand selling banana bread, Lilikoi (passion fruit) jam and other snacks. This bread sells quickly and is perfectly moist. I bought two loaves to make sure I had enough to have in NYC. Another place I have fond memories of is Lorraine's shaved ice. Shaved ice, also known as snow cones is a classic and refreshing treat. Flavors like lilikoi and li hing maui (salted plum) are my favorite. The view from Lorraine's is fantastic too. You can sit and enjoy your shaved ice while looking out at the ocean. Sadly she was not open the morning I went.
Ulupalakua rests above most of Maui and overlooks the South side of the island. There's a winery (surprising right?) and ranch. Just before is Keokea which was settled by Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century. A notable figure is Sun-Yat Sen who lived there in 1911. You can still see the Chinese influence in the town. Grandma's Coffee House is a mainstay of Keokea so definitely stop in there. The drive to Ulupalakua is wonderfully pleasant with the bright green pastures on each side of the road. In Ulupalakua you'll find Maui's second largest ranch, Ulupalakua Ranch. This is family-run business that also owns the winery. A word to describe this area is idyllic.
Lastly I bring to you the North Shore of Maui. An eclectic mix of hippie, surf, country and cowboy. Pa'ia originally began as a town to house sugar plantation workers. Today is a bit of a bustling beachside town with various boutiques, restaurants, surf shops and my absolute favorite natural food store. A few suggestions are coffee at Pa'ia Bay Coffee, shopping at Imrie or Biasa Rose and eating at the new Thai restaurant, Thai Spice, or Pa'ia Fishmarket and relaxing at Pa'ia Bay or Ho'okipa Beach. Haiku is further up the North shore where you'll pass surf windsurfers and surfers at Ho'okipa and visit the Pauwela Cannery or Haiku Marketplace to eat at Colleen's or Nuka and enjoy the lush, tropical nature that surrounds you. If you go up the mountain a little further you'll arrive in Makawao. Makawao is the paniolo or cowboy town which has been a horseback riding place since the late 19th century. Quaint and picturesque it remains to be one of my favorite places on Maui. Grab some donuts at Komoda Bakery (get here really early though!), shop till you drop at Pink By Nature or browse the paintings of local artists at the galleries.
Here you have it. My semi-condensed tips for enjoying the beauty of Maui and eating well while you're there. It was clear that by the end of my vacation I seriously needed to visit more often. As they say on Maui, "Mauinokaoi" or Maui is the best. It truly is a beautiful and special place.