Hawaiian cuisine is all about multicultural food fusion. Polynesians brought pork, chicken and various vegetables, including coconut and taro. Europeans introduced beef and a whole host of crops. Pineapple is South American. Macadamia nuts, Australian. Plantation workers from the Philippines, China, Korea, Portugal and Japan really blew up the menu with technique, ingredients and flavor. Spam, macaroni, mayonnaise, hot dogs and hamburgers were adopted from American supplies during World War II. Japanese bento boxes spawned pre-packed meals eaten by plantation workers, resulting in the quintessentially Hawaiian “plate lunch”—a protein entree served with scoops of white rice and macaroni salad—now served at Maui Jane’s Hawaiian BBQ.
The rice at Maui Jane’s is pretty basic, dusted with a bit of mild seasoning. Plates come with a choice of macaroni salad or Hawaiian salad, the latter a mild cabbage slaw. The cabbage was crisp with perhaps a hint of salt and rice vinegar, and the macaroni—though simple—actually had decent flavor.
We started with small bites. Coconut-crusted calamari sticks ($4.95) were crunchy, tender and tasty dipped in tartar sauce. Cousin to the egg roll, Filipino lumpia ($3.95) were crisp with an adequate filling and OK sweet and sour sauce. Unfortunately, the teriyaki-grilled Spam musubi ($2.75) was a letdown. Rather than a slab of salty, processed pork strapped with nori to rice a la nigiri, a brick of rice was completely wrapped in seaweed, with a thin slice of Spam tucked in. I could barely taste the meat or teriyaki.
A seafood combo ($10.95) of fried ono fish, shrimp and calamari was fair. The shrimp and the white fish were a bit dry, but the coconut coating and dipping sauces helped. A barbecue combo of chicken, beef and pork short rib ($10.95) was quite good. The Hawaiian barbecue sauce—think teriyaki—did the trick. The chicken wasn’t dry. The beef was tender, and the Korean-style ribs—cut into strips lengthwise across the bones—were very good.
Saimin is a noodle soup with Japanese and Chinese roots. We chose to try the plain saimin ($6.50) with scallion, kamaboko (sliced, cured, surimi, like sushi krab sticks) and char siu (Cantonese roasted pork). There wasn’t much meat—with neither a standout—and only a smattering of scallion. The broth was instant ramen grade.
Hawaiian hot dogs ($8.95 for two) featured bright red franks, pineapple slaw, Hawaiian barbecue sauce, Korean kimchi sauce, cabbage, and french-fried onion on a King Hawaiian bun. In 1949, Hawaiian sausagier “Redondo” produced paprika red-dyed wieners, though no one knows why. They became popular, and competitors adopted the practice; red dogs are now Hawaiian. They taste like, well, hot dogs.
Likely the most Polynesian item on the menu, lau lau ($13.95, large) is pork shoulder wrapped in edible taro leaves, then wrapped in sturdy ti plant leaves to steam or roast. The pork was juicy, and the greens were earthy and satisfying. Last was a double plate of loco moco ($9.95). Two hamburger patties atop a bed of rice were doused in brown gravy and finished with a pair of sunny-side-up eggs. The burgers—though thin and overcooked—were just the size to host a couple of perfectly runny eggs. The gravy was a bit salty, but mixed with egg, burger and rice made for a pleasant bite. “It’s Salisbury steak and eggs,” said my daughter. Right she was. Ω