Aloha, Hawaii!

A visit to the island of Maui is perfect for those looking for a tropical paradise with an American touch – and a great cup of coffee.

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, takes Mr NQN on a trip to Hawaii, where they experience the great service and over-sized portions that the US dining experience is famed for before touring a coffee farm and sampling the goods.

I hand over a $5 bill at the airport shop and the woman behind the counter smiles at me broadly, hands me the change and my bottle of water and with much enthusiasm, tells me "Well may god bless you today!” before serving the next customer.

I had forgotten how interesting America can be and Mr NQN and I are visiting the tropical U.S. state of Hawaii for the first time. Starting in Maui, there were the signs: the chickens underneath the rental cars, the cars with their enormous wheels that jut out from the sides, a sign for Mr Pineapple and a Guns and Ammo shop that we were in part topical paradise, part U.S. of A.

I had already researched where to go for dinner for the evening of our arrival. Scouring my friend Carolyn’s blog for Maui’s best places to eat, I had made a classic rookie mistake-forgetting how generous the serves are in America. We’re at Leoda’s, a local’s favourite on Oloewalu Village Road. Leoda is a woman who used to bake pies and open up her house to everyone.

Pictures of a Leoda, (not the original one but one of the owner’s mothers) and Mrs Fuji, their 100 year old landlady, line the walls. The food is comfort food, Hawaiian style. Think hoagies, enormous burgers sandwiches with fabulously fresh, wholesome, house baked bread (even their hot dog buns are baked there) and the sweetest high piled pies your fantasies could ever conjure up. The team including Top Chef contestant Sheldon Simeon, learned how to make bread at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbour, Michigan.
I had also forgotten how good service is in America. So much so that I think Mr NQN is a bit taken aback at how helpful they are here. The poor dear, he isn’t quite used to the enthusiasm. At Leoda’s, you choose from the blackboard menu and pay and then take a seat in the home style beach house dining room.

leoda's kitchen maui country farm tour

Choosing is hard, there are some covetable options and in the end we go for a sandwich each, a side to share and a last minute addition, a salad. They’ve sold out tonight of the sweet pies except for some sweet hand pies so we make a mental note to come back another day at 10am when the display case is full. We start with a home brewed tea, unsweetened and medium strength. We both expected this to be sweet but it’s probably a good thing that it isn’t, especially if you order a sweet pie at the same time.

Leoda’s uses local, fresh produce and there’s a chalkboard with details of their local suppliers on the right. We’re sold on the veggie burger made with their garden’s own taro.

They have sold out of hamburger buns so they ask us what sort of bread we’d like. As with all things American, there are so many choices that we just end up picking the one that they recommend, a soft white wheat bread. The veggie patty is softer and they warn us of that but having made veggie patties at home, I know that some of the tastiest and softest vegetable burger patties are this way. The bread is wonderfully soft but still sturdy and spread with basil pesto. The taro veggie burger sits on top and then it is finished with garlic aioli, Maui sweet onions, tomato and lettuce. It’s devilishly good and I’m glad that we ordered it.

The hapa hoagie roll is soft and squishy and holds a generous amount of soft, seasoned roasted pork, spread with ham drippings (mmm, yes!), a layer of sauteed broccoli rabe and a slice of melted provolone. The real gangbuster ingredient is the garlic, so much so that it’s like garlic bread mated with a sub sandwich and produced a most beauteous offspring.

This was a side dish and I figured that for that price, it would come out as a small portion. But it was as big as an entree in Australia with seven or eight pieces of macaroni and cheese, crumbed and deep fried until golden, served with a house made marinara sauce. Crunchy on the outside and creamy and soft on the inside, this is what you turn to when the world has done its worst and you need a hug. Or a coronary

I thought about this salad for a while before deciding to order it and figured we could take it away if need be. It’s a butter leaf salad with celery leaves, radish and mint and topped with paper thin, delicate crisps of deep fried brussel sprout leaves. And how do the fried brussel sprout leaves taste? They remind me of those moreish kale chips. The killer accompaniment is the burnt orange dressing which is a bit sweet and sour.

Plans are made to come back another day for pies. And to share just one pie, the banana cream pie. A few days later, we stop by and put some pies on hold. I’m pleased to see that the much raved about banana cream pie is there and for good measure, I also take a chocolate mac nut pie on their recommendation but in a smaller size. Just because…

mamas fish house paia maui

Hawaii is known for its Kona coffee but on Maui, there are four types of coffee beans that are grown: Maui Mokka – which is only grown here and in Yemen, Typica, Red Catuai – said to be the cabernet of coffee and Yellow Caturra, a spicy flavoured bean. And at MauiGrown’s 500 acre estate on the West Maui Mountains, they grow all four.

Tastings of the coffee are available at their store on Lahainaluna Road. We try each of the four blends and they taste vastly different from each other. There are also interesting added value items like coffee jam and coffee jelly-the former is a mix of espresso coffee, sugar and pectin.

There are 32 coffee farms on Maui and eight coffee businesses. We head towards the mountains to reach Piliani Kope farm where Northern Californian grocery chain owner Greg and his wife Susy changed their lives to be able to live in Maui. He is a cancer survivor that took stock of his life and found a way to produce coffee and live on Maui using wild coffee trees.

In 2004, they bought a piece of land and were hiking in nearby Launiupoko Gulch when they came across some wild coffee trees. Coffee was considered an invasive crop so they were given permission to remove as much of the heirloom Kanaka Kope trees as they wanted so they planted them in their coffee orchard.

The coffee trees are stumped at knee height so that they grow more side branches instead of their natural vertical inclination. The ground is planted with a clover crop which provides nitrogen to the soil and they also plant companion or complementary trees like papaya, Hawaiian chilli pepper (which is quite spicy), ice cream fruit and most intriguingly cacao trees. I’ve never seen a fresh cacao pod from a tree and Gary splits one open and we try the cacao pods which have the distinct smell of well… chocolate of course!

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