From Hippie Town To Backyard BBQ’s & Island Chic: The Road To Hana
Sept 22, 2012 - After 5 days in Paia, it was time to leave. (Sigh) There’s plenty love about this little town - its hippies with their dreadlocks, multi-strand beads and stay-happy smiles, laid back locals who refuse to rush for anyone, cafe restaurants that serve a plethora of organic cuisine from pizzas to curries that close by 8:30 pm. This is life as it should be; simple, uncomplicated, nourishing.
But leaving Paia, however, has its advantages. It means that Peter and I get to do one of our favorite things: a mega-food-shop at Mana Foods before heading out to Hana. Priding ourselves on being amateur foodies, and loving to cook with all things fresh and organic, Mana Foods, for us, is like dying and going to culinary heaven. A dreary, windowless, corrugated iron structure that sits solemnly on Baldwin Avenue, you wouldn’t look twice at Mana Foods from the outside. Its value lies inside it’s narrow wooden swing doors.
Known as the best organic/natural foods market on Maui, if not in Hawaii, Mana’s grocery department offers a mindbogling array of organic, natural, international and gourmet foods, as well as Fair Trade coffees and teas. Their produce department focuses on island grown and organic products, which includes exotic fruit, herbs and spices. Mana even has it’s own bakery that caters to wheat free and vegan customers, with specialty breads and pastries baked fresh daily. For the carnivores, Mana’s butchers provides fresh grass fed island beef, local seafood, organic chicken and gourmet meats, while the dairy section offers the largest selection of specialty cheeses on the island. And as for all your health care needs, there is a separate section that sells health supplements, Chinese herbs, homeopathic remedies and all types of luscious lotions and potions for the skin and hair.
Armed with our list, which Peter and I painstakingly put together after working out our Hana menu for 5 nights, we got to work with the trolley, isle by isle. Echinacea (I’d been sneezing the night before), rice, cereals, bread. Spices, dijon mustard, Worcestershire Sauce, capers, olives. Yoghurts, cheeses, hummus, juices and bottled water. Meat, chicken, smoked salmon (we’d buy our fresh fish in Hana). Fruit, vegies, herbs, onion and garlic. Forty five minutes and two hundred dollars later, we were stuffing perishables in insulated bags and were on our way to Hana.
The Road To Hana:
Often referred to as ‘The Place That Time Forgot’,Hana is located at the eastern end of the island of Maui and is one of the most isolated communities in the state. It is reached mainly via the Hana Highway, a long, winding highway that is 52 miles (84 km) from Maui’s Kahului Airport. While the distance doesn’t seem too long, add an additional half and hour to forty five minutes to the driving time. With a major part of the road literally carved into the side of the mountain, the road to Hana features hairpin twists and turns that are so sharp that you forget to breathe until the coast is clear. But however treacherous the drive to Hana is, it is equally spectacular: acres of bamboo forests, tropical foliage, canopies that stretch over the road, and waterfalls cascading down the mountain side at every turn. The view of its rugged coastline is so jaw-droppingly dramatic and awe inspiring, it’s far safer to pull over to the side of the road and gawk to your heart’s content to driving off the side of the cliff. Needless to say, one needs to take the road to Hana slowly.
From Paia, the drive to Hana would take us the better part of two hours, although it can take up to 3 and 4 hours, depending on how often you’d like to stop along the narrow, winding Hana Highway.
Lunch Options At Hana:
Arriving on the outskirts of Hana by 12:30, our stomachs were rumbling. A bit tricky in these necks of the woods; Hana isn’t exactly known for its cafes, restaurants and eateries. In fact, it has no buildings, no shopping centers, no movie theaters, no clubs, and no McDonalds - thank God!
Approaching a cluster of shacks to our left, we spotted a ‘renovated’ school bus re-painted in brightly colored naive island motifs - cute! Approaching the handwritten menu on the wall, it looked like fresh stir fries were on offer. Our type of cuisine. Things were looking good so far .... until we got up close and heard the chef yelling to everyone and no one in particular. He was getting “stressed out”, he said, as there were too many people and he wasn’t coping with the “crowd”.
“What crowd?”, we thought. Two couple were waiting for their food and a party of four were lining up to give their orders. Unwilling to test the handiwork of a neurotic chef, this was our cue for a hasty departure.
Five minutes into our drive, I suggested, “What about that Thai eatery at Hana Bay?”,
“Just thinking the same thing.”, Peter said.
This sweet little eatery, located along the road that leads to Hana Bay, is little more than a shack with random tables and chairs positioned over a dirt floor. The “kitchen” is nothing more than a portable stove top at the entrance of the restaurant. The food, however, is seriously good, seriously plentiful, and seriously inexpensive. And as we drove past it, it also looked seriously closed.
Hmmm..... There’s a price to pay for being in paradise; you can’t always get what you want, when you want it.
“What about that pub across the road from Hasegawa’s Store.”, I suggested, referring to Hana Ranch Restaurant across the road from the hundred-year-old grocery store in Hana. Serving burgers, pizzas, and other calorie-rich artery-clogging fares, Hana Ranch was the only option left, although decidedly unappetizing.
“What about Brudda Hutts?”, Peter piped up.
“Peter, it’s nearly one o’clock. They would have sold out of everything by now.”
“Let’s just give it a shot.”
Brudda Hutts serves up the best ribs and grilled chicken in Hana, bar none. But don’t bother looking for a free standing cafe. This little eatery is located in someone’s backyard, literally. Spotting the signage to the side of the road on our left, we drove through the gates and parked along the front yard, alongside the other cars.
Walking up to the eating area, we spotted three Hawaiian ‘bros’ that were built like tanks, seated together around one of the communal tables under the awning, eyeing us suspiciously. They visibly relaxed and acknowledged us when we said an unthreatening “hi”. Giving our order of ribs and grilled chicken to the lady behind the counter on the re-painted school bus that doubled as the kitchen - they love their renovated school buses in rural Hawaii - we grabbed a seat at another communal table and waited for our order.
After a while, one of the guys picked up his guitar and began strumming to the tune of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, singing in Hawaiian. His voice was incredibly beautiful, almost angelic and, dare I say, feminine. We were amazed that such sublime sounds could emanate from a man that resembled an NFL quarterback.
In no time, the front yard of the home was filling up - small tour buses had started to arrive. Obviously, the word had gotten out that this was “THE” place for ribs in Hana. Hearing the shout that our order was ready, we counted our blessings that we’d arrived when we did.
Grabbing our styrofoam boxes and plastic cutlery - things are done simply here - we sat ourselves down as relished the smoky flavors of the ribs as the meat fell off the bone. The chicken was tender, delicious, and basted with the same marinade as the ribs. All dishes are served with white rice and a pasta salad.
As more bodies filled the seats around us, we fell into easy conversation with strangers, savoring the mouthwatering food in front of us, listening to the melodious sounds of our 130-kilo Tiny Tim. Dogs and kids ran around the garden and occasionally stopped by our feet for a pat and the hope of something to eat (the dogs, not the kids).
We chuckled how an establishment like this would never get to first base in Sydney. Breaking every rule in the book, the “Food & Beverage” authorities would shut it down in a heartbeat. And yet in Hana, it was perfectly acceptable and part and parcel of the local culture. Feeling sated and blessed to have experienced this, we said our goodbyes and continued on our way to our cottage, The guest houses at Malanai.