by David Christopher Lee
The story of Mama’s Fish House is tale of adventure, exploration and passion. Before Maui had become a tourist destination and there was only one inn in Lahaina priced at a meager $10 a night, a very young Floyd and Doris Christenson flew to Hawaii on the new TWA prop-jet because their friends had told them about the enchanting island of Maui.
They instantly fell in love with the raw nature and deserted beaches of Kaanapali and Wailea. A Tahitian family told them that there was still undiscovered paradise in Tahiti and the South Pacific and it was from then on that Floyd and Doris were determined to explore unknown old Polynesia–the island kingdoms that spanned from Easter Island to New Zealand to Hawaii.
In Newport Beach, they purchased a 38 foot two-masted ketch named “Marinero” (Spanish for sailor) and practiced sailing and navigation through islands off of Southern California. After living aboard the sailboat for over a year, they waived goodbye to the mainland with their 2.5 year old boy Keith and sailed to the Marquesan Islands, just 3,600 miles South.
The year was 1960 and navigation was very primitive. It was not easy to deal with the weather and the storms, however, survival was a must. After 36 days they arrived at the deep harbor of Tai O’Hai Bay. They explored Marquesa and befriended many natives and visited many islands. After three months, they sailed to Tahiti and learned a lot about Tahitian cuisine and French bistro fare.
After receiving so many letters from their friends in Lahaina, they learned that their friends were planning to develop Maui as the next major tourist destination. They sailed to the Lahaina harbor and never looked back because they had arrived at their home, Maui. 9 years later, they bought the property that is now Mama’s Fish House.
What once was a shack on the beach has turned into one of Hawaii’s most famous tourist attractions. The restaurant does an impressive 1000 covers a day and is visited by people from all over the world. Their goal is to keep the memory of Old Polynesia alive by providing the freshest fish and locally sourced produce.
Every day, their fishermen go out on small boats to catch a plethora of fish: multi-colored Mahi-mahi, tropical Ono and even reef-feeding bottom fish like Opakapaka and Uku caught at 2000 feet below. The restaurant is located in Paia, on a stunning coconut grove with a crescent shaped beach.
The environment is relaxing with Polynesia elements everywhere you look. Tiki statues, canoes, bamboo, palm trees and a Pacific Ocean view are things you will see while dining at Mama’s Fish House. The staff is dressed in colorful vintage Polynesian style gowns while wearing flowers in their hair. We knew that we had arrived to a very special place with an incredible story.
We started with the vintage cocktails.
- Mai Tai: In 1944, Trader Vic Bergeron created the Mai Tai Roa Ae.
- Scorpion: In 1948, Don the Beachcomber served the scorpion, a potent mix of four light and dark premium rums, fruit juices and falernum, topped with 151.
- Plantation Punch: In the 1900s, on sugar plantations, people drank plantation punch- a tall glass of pineapple, orange and lime juice with island rum.
For appetizers, we started with Mama’s Ceviche: kampachi, chili pepper, kula persimmon and Tahitian lime. Every bite was different with sweet, spicy, tangy and crunchy sensations. There were so many delicate flavors that were refreshing and light. The colorful presentation was artistic like a Jackson Pollock painting.
The grilled he’e is octopus that is broiled, grilled and topped with lime juice and Maui Olive Oil. It is paired with silky avocado to complement its mild, tender and smoky flavor. Mama’s Fish House is the only place where you can taste Maui Olive Oil because they bought the entire supply. The octopus is caught by Clifford Chow diving offshore from Kanaha.
The most impressive dish of our lunch was the Tristan Island lobster tails. Mama’s Fish House is one of the only places in the world where you can get these lobster tails because Tristan Island is the most remote place on earth (between South Africa and South America). The lobster has a tender sweet taste with a sensational texture.
The moelua is caught by Steven Kim Miyaki by bottom fishing at 500 ft. It is steamed with Hana ginger and sizzling peanut oil. The fish is cooked with a distinct Chinese flavor and has a stunning savory presentation.
The mahimahi is caught trolling along the shores of Mama’s by Andrew Hart. It is stuffed with deep sea red crab and baked in a Macadamia nut crust.
To top off our meal, the desserts do not disappoint. The Polynesia Black Pearl is made of Liliko’i chocolate mousse in a pastry seashell. The passion fruit creme complements the chocolate mousse flavor.
The Lilio’i Creme Brulee brings a Polynesia spin on the traditional creme brulee by adding passion fruit to the mix.
In addition to their restaurant, they have a set of 12 cottages which guests can stay in. These charming cottages (some beachfront) are located in a grove of palm trees. Kitchens are fully equipped with cookware and service ware for entertaining and a gourmet convenience store is within walking distance.
Maui’s organic and largest grocery store is nearby in the town of Paia…but if we were staying in these cottages, we would have to dine at Mama’s everyday!
The Mama’s Fish House is so special because basically everything you see and taste has it’s own story. As pioneers and some of the original settlers of Maui, Floyd and Doris have created an establishment with a big heart and family atmosphere. Ohana is the vibe that you see and everyone is trying to do their best. It shows with the quality of their food, their environment and you know that this is a place that you can call home.
For information on this historic restaurant click here: Mama’s Fish House.