Saturday, March 18, 2006

Little Mouthfuls of Maui

Husband and I recently spent some time in Maui. It was an acting gig for him; I just tagged along for the ride. After spending 5 days there, I can safely say that Maui is one delicious island.

I was prepared for the pineapples and the sugar cane, of course. But even the obvious surpassed my expectations. There is a type of pineapple called Hawaiian Gold, which is bred to be friendlier to your mouth than ordinary pineapple. This breed is only grown in Maui. The flesh is golden and tender, so you are not stuck with a mouthful of woody core that must be rudely spit out. The flavor is sweet and juicy, without the acidity of ordinary pineapple so there is no stinging, no feeling that your mouth is under attack and may break out in sores at any moment. Luckily, I learned that this breed of pineapple can be bought at Costco and enjoyed anywhere in the U.S. Just be sure that you are buying Hawaiian Gold, and not some other pineapple that is grown in Florida, California or South America.

We stayed in a luxury resort that had amazing restaurants, and tried some other lovely local restaurants as well. But the biggest treat was when Husband and I spent a Saturday morning on a waterfall hike through a small rainforest.

At the beginning of the hike, I was a bit impatient when our guide, Kahi, stopped to show us the local flora. We were only 5 minutes into the hike and he was already stopping?! I wanted to get on down to the waterfalls!

“This looks like a peppercorn, but the flavor is of pepper, salt and lemon. We use this primarily to cook fish. Since it has all of these flavors, we don’t use any other spices.” Kahi tore a few of these off of the bush and handed them out. “Here,” he said, “Try it.”

I looked at him dubiously. A typical New Yorker, I am not used to picking things off of bushes and popping them into my mouth. But, I figured I was safe in his hands (he was a professional, after all, right?) and did as I was told. When I made reservations for this hike the week before, I had no idea that it included a sampling of the tastes of the rainforest. Fat ‘n Happy little old me was thrilled. My new motto became “Screw the waterfalls, let’s see what we can eat!"

There was no end to the delights of the rainforest, we were told. Unfortunately, it was March and so not everything was in bloom. We saw the tree where the black avocados grow, but no fruit. We learned that ripe ones become heavy and fall to the forest floor. We looked down at our feet - more foliage. Sadly, we hiked on.

Soon Kahi was asking Husband for help picking a small, red fruit from some trees. (Husband is tall, unlike me.) Kahi handed out the strawberry guavas and I immediately bit into it. Like the peppercorn things, these fruit were loyal to no one flavor. They were a little bit sweet, a little bit tangy, with a pepper-like finish. They had seeds that had to be spit out, but other than that were completely edible. I adored them. Greedily, I ate many throughout the hike.

We saw a small blue flower that Hawaiians add to their salads. "What does this taste like?" Like an over-ambitious student, vying for extra credit, I cried out, "Mushrooms!"

Kahi pulled a fresh ginger root for us to gnaw on. He began speaking of its medicinal uses. I concentrated on its intense flavor tickling my, oh so happy tongue.

When we came upon a bunch of ferns, Kahi plucked a pod from the top. It was tiny, but had a great nutty flavor.

We saw the waterfalls, and they were beautiful. But, the day provided so much more. We learned not only of the edible plants in the rainforest, but of others that are essential for survival - a myriad of medicines, a natural flint, a plant that burns like a candle, a fruit that purifies water. The entire day was ripe with discovery and we, quite literally, ate it up.

As we hiked up the valley, leaving the waterfalls and the rainforest canopy behind, I held Husband's hand and sighed. We soon would be heading back to civilization and hamburgers or some equally mundane food (don't get me wrong, I love a good hamburger, but you have to admit, they aren't very adventurous or romantic...). Reading my mind, Husband pulled his hand from mine and stuck it in his pocket. When his hand re-emerged, it was holding one last strawberry guava that he had saved. With a wink, he handed it to me. Is that true love or what?

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