Before the 1990s, the Hawaiian Islands had a reputation as a culinary backwater — the land of SPAM and pineapple. And, let’s face it, even today few mainlanders head to Maui for the food. The popular island vacation destination is a playground for water-sport thrill seekers, nature lovers, honeymooners, and stressed-out haoles seeking serious beach time and fruity cocktails with tiny umbrellas.
But that may be changing as Maui chefs look beyond local standards like poi and poke for edible inspiration. In recent years, a new culinary culture — one with homegrown roots — has emerged on the island and now residents and visitors alike are digging into dishes that wouldn’t be out of place on menus in the Bay Area and beyond. The plates coming out of restaurant kitchens, though, reflect Hawaii’s rich cultural traditions, exude a clear sense of place, and embrace Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Polynesian, Korean, traditional Hawaiian, and, yes, European flavors and techniques.