Is it just me or is Indian food as rare on this island as a hot, 30-something bachelor with a job? As a native born Indian, who recently moved to Maui, I was determined to find the best spots for authentic Indian cuisine.
I was surprised to discover that in a place like Maui, where the sum of folks know
more about Indian deities, chants, and its ancient chakra system, than us native slackers, there wasn’t a wider selection of restaurants. There are in fact, only two – plus a hidden gem-of-a-chef, discovered along the way.
Most likely, you’ve heard of Monsoon India, an oceanfront restaurant that is as climactic as its name. As you walk in, the fluted background, friendly staff, and tiki-torched seaside take you through a flavorful menu of spicy curries, appetizers, soups, and desserts. The restaurant is always humming with an eclectic mix of people: corporate crowds, locals, tourists, enamored lovers, and families. Consequently, be prepared to wait a while for your food, unless you opt for the buffet.
Their culinary focus is north Indian cuisine – a favorite of most foodies. Characterized by rich sauces, hearty ghee (butter), tandoori, and a generous use of spices, north Indian food is like comfort food – without the side of guilt. When presented with a plate of my favorite dishes, my mind simmered with memories of grandma’s cooking.
I would recommend their: chicken tikka masala, moist pieces of boneless chicken marinated with bold spices and a creamy yogurt sauce, light and fluffy garlic naan, spinach-from-scratch, saag paneer, and smoky, onion-based, bhaigan barta (roasted eggplant).
They serve lunch and dinner buffets on Friday for $13.95 and $27.95 per person and Sunday brunch for $17.95 per person. It’s BYOB, despite the expansive bar near the entrance.
If you’re looking for something less pricey more spicy, try the take-out styled diner, Maui Masala. Also located on South Kihei Road, Maui Masala offers north Indian combo plates ranging from $8-$14, an ala carte menu, and a few appetizers. Open Wednesday through Monday, 11:30am – 2pm and 5:30pm – 8pm, this is a great place for lunch breaks or a grab-and-go dinner for sunset.
During my comestible journey, I was most excited to find Uma Dugied, Founder of Star Anise Catering and Uma’s Spice Mix, a special blend of spices imported from her family-run spice mill in Malaysia.
Uma specializes in healthy, south Indian cuisine. She uses primarily organic, local ingredients from the Farmer’s Market. She has a personal pulse on the community and caters to their specific needs. Her hot boxes, which are prepared on the morning of the markets (she doesn’t even dice her onions the night before) include: curry ahi tempura, coconut medley (veggies), chicken curry, garbanzo and mung beans, samosas (pastry potatoes and peas), cilantro and rosemary naan (bread), basmati rice with quinoa, and Kula greens.
As the custom follows, Uma invited me to her home to get an intimate sense for the way she prepares her food. Set on a bed of banana leaves were soft and flaky, buttery samosas, tender cubes of chicken curry assorted with garden potatoes, and my personal favorite, the ahi opo, sesame cut ahi opo coated in garbanzo batter and fried.
Her family, gleefully gathered around the lanai table, incense burning in the background, time-traveled me back to the motherland.
Her food is great for vegetarians, vegans, people that have wheat allergies, and those interested in fresh (not too spicy), wholesome Indian cuisine.
Uma’s food boxes can be found at the upcountry markets on Wednesday in Makawao, Friday in Hali’imaile and Saturday in Kula. She also teaches cooking classes to keikis with special needs and adults interested in Indian cuisine.