Kosher in Paradise – Where to Eat on Maui
“Mana Food” sounds Jewish, perhaps a reference to the manna from heaven that the Israelites ate in the desert. But on the island of Maui it’s a lovely health food supermarket in the town of Paia. The “Mana” here refers to a Hawaiian notion of spiritual power, one of many Hawaiian words and concepts that bear a striking resemblance to Hebrew and Jewish ideas, despite the small Jewish community on island, which numbers just 3000.
Hawaiian cuisine is most popularly known for its use of tropical fruits, such as pineapple, coconut, and papaya that are used to flavor everything from chicken to ice cream. Lesser known is the Hawaiian “breadfruit”, a versatile fruit rich in starch that tastes a bit like potatoes and can withstand adverse weather conditions and survive traveling long distances. Poi, a gooey almost soup like dish, which is made out of breadfruit or taro leaves, is also a staple of traditional Hawaiian cuisine. Though, today, Hawaiian food generally reflects a blending of cultures from the Asian and Polynesian influences. Local varieties of seafood are also very popular and usually presented in their Hawaiian names.
Seeking out kosher food on island (none of the locals ever say “in” Maui, but rather refer to their location as either “on island” or “off island”) comes with its challenges but delicious fare for the observant traveler is available if you know where to look. Rabbi David Glickman of The Jewish Congregation of Maui (JCM), a non-denominational egalitarian congregation located in Kihei, works closely with local supermarkets and eateries to provide kosher food, and the synagogue sells kosher wine, kosher chickens, and pre-ordered challah.
The Chabad house on Maui also provides pre-ordered kosher food and challah for Shabbat, as well as a mikva and other Jewish services. Although there are no kosher restaurants or bakeries on Maui, Costco, Times and Safeway supermarkets all carry kosher items. Mana Foods also has a wide variety of kosher items and even Krispy Kreme in Kahului is kosher. For people renting condos – the best way to see Maui, in my opinion – Rabbi Glickman offers to come over and kasher the oven and microwave. He also works with the five star hotels to provide gourmet kosher meals (double wrapped with new cutlery and dishes) upon request.
Best Kosher Meal on Maui: A specially-ordered kosher meal at the Five Palms in Wailea, an elegant beachside restaurant specializing in Hawaiian seafood owned by JCM board member Simon Vojdani. The restaurant kitchen has a kosher corner where Simon cuts the vegetables himself. While you enjoy your fish, you get to watch the phenomenal Maui sunset, only a few meters from the gorgeous coastline.
Best Vegetarian or Vegan Restaurant: Down to Earth, a quaint little healthfood restaurant in Kahului that offers Hawaiian vegan specialties such as taro burgers. They also offer cold salad bars, fresh juices and smoothies, a sandwich menu and a wide variety of egg-less desserts.
Best General Foodie Site: Mana Foods in Paia, a town that attracts many Israeli backpackers. A medium sized grocery store that is easier to navigate than Safeway and carries a higher proportion of OU-certified products, Mana Foods specializes in organic and health foods and has a wide selection of groceries, produce, and specialty items.
Best Falafel on Maui: at the Veg-Out Restaurant in Haiku. This earthy and wholesome little eatery – which is easy to miss – offers other Israeli dishes such as mufleta that are full of flavor and taste “authentically” Israeli.
Best cocktail on Maui: While most believe it to be the Mai-Tai, I discovered (thanks to a charming bartender at the Four Seasons named Clay) that the Maui Breezer is actually a superior local favorite. Made with vodka, pineapple and cranberry juice, this cocktail is a tad less sweet than the Mai Tai, and looks just as colorful.