Maui, a tropical paradise of beaches, jungles, mountains and plenty of sunshine, does not need to attract me through promises of flavors, but it certainly doesn’t fall short on that front, either. I just spent a week and a half with Mrs. Spectator basking in the wonders of Maui, and in this post I’ll try to summarize some of them.
Maui offers concentrated pleasures but is unpretentious, and allows one to surrender to the moment (and the sun), very naturally. When it comes to flavors, on a place like Maui one cannot ignore the role of context: after all, most of the produce on Maui can be found elsewhere (perhaps at higher prices) through the well-oiled machines of import/export. The point is that a Maui avocado purchased at a California supermarket just doesn’t taste the same as the ripe-picked avocado eaten under the shade of the tree on which it had grown – and the same applies to guavas, falling on you as you hike through lush tropical scenery, repeatedly demonstrating gravity as Newton’s apple did. Mrs. Spectator adds that cracking macadamia nuts on the spot can be compared to experiencing art on the original wall on which is was painted. As this blog constantly stresses, flavor experiences are holistic in nature.
Some flavor experiences are still not exportable even in their context-free form. The famous road to Hana provided us with at least two of those: oatmeal-macadamia-chocolate-chip homemade cookies sold at an unconspicuous roadstand, and Coconut Glen’s coconut-based icecream, which must be the best icecream in the world, as judged by an unbiased panel of two. Their complex yet delicate and balanced flavors made our purchase decision very hard, starting with the simple but delicious coconut with coconut candy and lilikoi (passionfruit) flavors, through banana-rum to the more complex pineapple-panang-curry, durian and chocolate-chili. A gong allows customers to pledge loyalty to the best icecream in the world, and needless to say, we gonged twice.
Speaking of lilikoi, this is the winner of the tropical fruit for us, and this says a lot coming from two omnivores who can put even fruitarians to shame when it comes to exotic fruit. Yellow, orange, purple, smooth-skinned or wrinkled (preferably wrinkled), their flavors vary along at least three axes of sweet vs tart, simple vs complex and a third axis we can best describe as “tropicality” as it is somewhat similar to a flavor property shared by other tropical fruit such as longan, rambutan, and even papaya.
One can spend an eternity gorging and glorifying the golden smell of pineapples, the tender smoothness of small apple bananas, or the unique sweetness of strawberry papayas, but for the true fruit-adventurous readers, Maui offers other, off-the-bitten-path delights. Eggfruit can be described as a sweet hybrid of avocados and hard-boiled egg yolks. Breadfruit, despite getting its name from the bland taste of its unripe version when cooked, can surprisingly taste and feel like tropical vanilla pudding when ripe, and can improve many ordinary smoothies with its creamy consistency and sweet yet interesting flavor. Butterscotch fruit is like caramel toffee which grows on trees. Once again, mother nature is one step ahead of man’s culinary inventions.
Wild guavas rained on us while hiking Iao Valley. Our gatherer instincts could not leave those precious tart gifts to rot on the ground and we came back, on the eve of our flight back, with around 50 yellow balls (and some smaller, soft, red gems otherwise known as strawberry guavas) in our bags. Having eaten a similar amount throughout the day (collecting vitamin C for the entire year), we looked for more original uses. Four guavas joined an apple banana and some milk and ice to make a heavenly smoothie, probably thanks, in part, to the high pectin levels present in guavas, but the real gem was the homemade jam we lovingly made of the rest.
After hours of cutting, spicing, mixing and cooking our jam, countless efforts to restore the stove to its original unsticky state and careful packing in several containers, our treasure was violently robbed from us at the airport as we had about a million times the allowed 3oz of gel-consistency substances allowed on board. I had to taste our baby goodbye into the trashcan next to soulless airport security employees; it was the best jam I ever tasted.
Of course, we had many more experiences of local flavor besides these fruit: avocados, macadamia nuts and coconuts, local fish (well-known mahi-mahi, fresh sashimi-grade ahi and fatty cream-colored walu), and locally-grown pineapple wine made in the island’s only winery (but don’t bother visiting if you expect Napa or Bordeaux), but one of the pleasant surprises was actually in the Maui Brewing Co brewpub in Kahana.
We ordered 1oz samples of 11 beers: Mrs. Spectator picked them and I tried to identify them (blind in the epistemic sense) on the menu while we both munched on some edamame and grilled shrimps. All beers were quite easy to identify by their names and one-line descriptions. Santa’s Little Helper (7.0% ABV), Island Hopper Red (6.0% ABV) and Westside ESB (5.6% ABV) were quite hoppy but I was not too impressed. The Smoked Hemp was very bitter and the smokey finish wasn’t enough to make it interesting. Bikini Blonde (5.2%) was too watery and weak for my tastes and the Mango Weizen (6.6%) only slightly better but lacked any noticeable mango flavors to bring it above average. The Hot Blonde (5.2%) felt more like drinking cold weakly-carbonated tabasco than a beer. I did enjoy the KGB Imperial Stout (9.6% ABV) and its strong dark chocolate flavors and the sweet, floral, feminine and balanced Hibiscus Trippel (7.5% ABV). The best of all was the famous Coconut Porter (5.7%), an excellent beer with slightly sweet and rich coconut flavors. This one is well-worth the extra effort required to find it outside of Hawaii.
On the airplane, 30 minutes before landing on the mainland, we’re saying goodbye from Maui, drinking lukewarm tea from paper cups, snacking on mediocre chocolate-macadamia candy fabricated in Mexico for Hawaiian airlines, holding on to our sunny memories where our guava jam can still be found.