It's Hawaiian for delicious. Isn't it a fun word?
Hubby and I just had our tenth anniversary, and we celebrated in ono style with a trip to Maui. During our short seven days there, we toured almost every part of the island and managed to consume more tropical fruit than we had had during the entirety our marriage.
In a macadamia nutshell, the food on Maui is pork, beef, and fresh fish—especially mahi-mahi and ahi tuna—with Asian flavors and lots of tropical fruit. Steamed rice and creamy but bland macaroni salad (possibly heavier on the mayo than the macaroni) seem to accompany every meal, including breakfast. A selection of noodle dishes appears on most menus. The fruity adult beverages are to die for. Oh, and Spam is ubiquitous, but we didn't feel the need to delve quite that deep into the culture.
Our first meal, at the local favorite Da Kitchen, was an enormous traditional Hawaiian "plate lunch" consisting of succulent and salty shredded kalua pig, pork lau lau, lomi-lomi salmon (more fun words!), brothy ginger-scented chicken long rice, and two scoops of rice.
We also tried a plate lunch with kalbi short ribs at Aloha Mixed Plate as we eavesdropped on the luau next door. By the way, I gather this sort of combination is referred to as a plate lunch even if it's eaten for dinner. We never did get around to tasting the poi, though we did see a number of taro ponds. As tasty as the plate lunches were, when you plan on spending the majority of your waking hours in a bathing suit, it seems prudent to partake in lighter fare…
And so, this was the first vacation the hubby and I actually spent more time on activities other than fooding.
We floated in the waves and snorkeled with the colorful fish and the graceful, curious sea turtles. We bird watched, and we were endlessly amused by the riot of birds in constant motion around the fragrant guava tree behind our hotel room. We explored the black sand beach.
And the surrounding cliffs, with their curious vegetation.
We drove the winding road through lush tropical jungle to Hana.
And marveled along the way at the beauty of the eucalyptus trees.
We pulled over to the side of the road to feel the texture of their rainbow bark.
To prove to ourselves they were for real.
We watched the expert surfers, wind surfers, and kite boarders from the beach (as we enjoyed an ahi poke picnic), but we thought the waves would be bigger.
We took in the views from above the clouds on the moon-like summit of Haleakala.
We daydreamed about the freedom of sailing the high seas.
We gazed at the sunset.
And we gazed…
And we gazed…
Still, being that we are who we are, we must seek out edible activities for our travels not to feel incomplete. Every farmers market—apparently a single roadside fruit stand constitutes a "farmers market" on Maui—warranted a visit, no matter how tiny or out of the way.
We picked up macadamia nuts still in the shell, yellow-skinned lilikoi—that's passion fruit and yet another fun-to-say Hawaiian word—for the bargain price of four for $1, mangoes sweeter than honey, and a juicy, just this side of cloying pineapple.
Three-bite, complexly flavored apple bananas were the norm.
In fact, I don't remember seeing a single "regular" banana while we were there. Coconuts were whacked open to order.
Cups of coconut water were free for the asking.
Addictive coconut chips, sold as coconut candy, were available in either sweet or spicy varieties at the quirky stand on the road to Hana.
The loaded coconut trees everywhere prompted my husband, with his ever inquisitive mind, to ask, "How many people die from coconut strikes each year?" There was also a small amount of foraging, as we passed wild guava and avocado trees in the jungle. Hubby wondered if they were growing wild or wildly growing. There was trespassing too as I tried to get a glimpse of the pineapple fields.
Apparently pineapple thieves are a big problem on Maui. Hubby yelled at me, insisting I obey the signs, but as you can see, I took my chances in order to watch the harvest.
One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to the isolated Ono Organic Farms. We were greeted by a lovely spread and the even lovelier news that it would be a private tour.
We did a tasting of all of the fruits that were in season, and we strolled the farm until a tropical deluge forced us back under the cover of the porch.
Between the farm itself and their roadside stand in Hana, we tasted fibrous mamey sapote, low acid pineapple, star fruit, star apple, white and strawberry guavas, both wild and sweet lilikoi, strawberry papaya, a new-to-me variety of juicy avocado, rambutan, longan, dragon fruit, pink and white pomelo, Apple banana (to our extreme disappointment, the Ice Cream bananas were not yet ripe), macadamia nuts, sour cucumber-shaped bilimbi, spicy Surinam cherries, peanut butter fruit, which tastes just like the name implies, and ripe coffee berries.
The guava was a revelation. We couldn't get enough of the lilikoi, but the star fruit was disappointing as I'd had better before.
I couldn't bring myself to like the papaya even though it was by far the best quality specimen I'd ever tasted.
Strangely, it smelled a lot like funky cheese to me.
On the tour, we saw many of the things we had experienced during the tasting and then some. We discovered that papayas grow in a very orderly columnar fashion and that, though they are easy to confuse from a distance, guava is a tree and lilikoi is a vine. Banana flowers and "hands" of bananas were quite sight.
Who knew sugar cane was so colorful?
We saw jackfruit (from which Juicy Fruit gum gets its flavor) as big as watermelons and softball-size breadfruit on the tree. If falling coconuts are a problem, imagine what a risk jackfruit and breadfruit strikes must be! We admired the broad, deeply veined leaves of a turmeric plant. Then our tour guide had us take a whiff of one particularly nondescript looking tree and guess what it was. I said cinnamon, and she exclaimed that I was the first ever to correctly identify it. I bet she says that to everyone because the aroma was unmistakable. We saw macadamia nuts and cashews growing and learned that macs must be dried in the sun before they can be extricated from their shells and cashews are poisonous unless heat-processed correctly. Most fascinating were the cacao pods, which mature from brown to pale blue-green to yellow and sprout directly from the trunk and branches of the tree.
Unfortunately I couldn't convince our tour guide to break into a cacao pod or even sell me one for less than $40—that's about $1 per seed, but we did get to try previously cleaned raw cacao seeds, which tasted remarkably like chocolate. It was fascinating, and if I ever find myself in Maui again, I'm going back to Ono.
In case you're wondering, the lighter fare that I spoke of we found at the small, out-of-the-way Star Noodle. The homemade ramen at this modern Asian-inspired restaurant hit the spot so well that we returned there for two more meals to sample the other offerings: tempura colossal prawns, steamed pork buns, sous vide rib-eye, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and kimchee puree, garlic noodles, malasadas, and the outrageously ono tropical fruit saketinis. The best part was that only locals and in-the-know tourists would ever find this place.
Also memorable and definitely worthy of mention were the guri guri, a frozen novelty in pineapple and strawberry flavors with a texture that's somewhere between that of sherbet and shaved ice, at Tasaka Guri Guri (70 E Kaahumanu Avenue, Kahului, 808-871-4513), the refreshing shaved ice with homemade fruit syrups—made right, not grainy and crunchy like a snow cone—at Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice, the truly ono tropical fruit sorbets at Ono Gelato, and the locally made furikake potato chips I picked up at TJ's Warehouse Outlet.
We returned home a little tanner, a little more relaxed, and a carved wood tiki salt and pepper shaker set heavier. And though we're suffering from tropical fruit withdrawal (going from four lilikoi to zero per day is a severe shock to the system), we are full of ono memories of our time in Maui and looking forward to the adventures the next ten years together will bring.