Maui chefs and foodies are proudly rediscovering and repurposing the so-called “canoe” plants brought by boat to Hawaii by early Polynesian settlers about 1,700 years ago. There are about 25 of these tropical crops but here’s a shortlist of five, along with their Hawaiian names and where to taste them on Maui.
Sugarcane (ko). Tylun Pang, executive chef of Fairmont Kea Lani, pays homage to the plantation era and the blend of food cultures at the hotel’s Ko restaurant. For an afternoon treat, hit Ko Bar. Along with a platter of pupus (appetizers), order a signature Ko Plantation cocktail, made with Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum (distilled from local sugarcane) ginger, fresh pineapple, cilantro, fresh lime and sugarcane. http:// korestaurant.com
Sweet potato (uala): Packed with nutrients, the purple variety of this tuber is popular. Healthy never tasted so delicious in Chef Sheldon Simeon’s mauve-coloured Ube Ice Cream at Migrant Maui, the signature restaurant at the Wailea Beach Marriott (http://www.migrantmaui.com).
Apple bananas (mai’a). These stubby little bananas are shorter than the Cavendish variety we typically find in Canada, and have a refreshing, apple-like tartness to them. They’re great to eat as is but even dreamier in a bananacream pie at Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop (http://www.leodas. com).
Taro (kalo): Bobby Pahia, a former agriculture researcher with the University of Hawaii and now a taro farmer with Hoahola Farms, says native Hawaiians consider the nutritious staple to be sacred. The whole plant— leaves, stalk and tuber—is edible. Try it in its traditional forms, including the laulau dish, in which pork is wrapped in taro leaves and steamed, at the Old Lahaina Lu’au (http://www.oldlahainaluau.com). For a more contemporary take, try a vegan Maui Taro Burger (http://www.hawaiitaro. com); the patties are sold at Whole Foods, Mana Foods and other grocery stores in Hawaii.
Breadfruit (‘ulu). Once a staple but almost forgotten as wheat and rice pushed it aside, the spiky, bowling-ball-size breadfruit is undergoing a renaissance as food activists view it as a way to feed the needy, reforest the islands and restore Hawaiian culture. John Cadman of Pono Pies makes cheesecake-like pies and cupcakes using sweet, ripe breadfruit that are dairy-, wheat-, gluten- and sugar-free. The passion-fruit flavour is pure Maui. Sold at island festivals, Mana Foods in Paia and Maui Coffee Roasters in Kahului. (http://www. ponopies.com)