I was first introduced to this Chinese-inspired Hawaiian snack at Justice Duffy's house last Sunday. Today, Chief Justice Recktenwald brought in some manapua as a "thank you" to the staff for all their work at his swearing in ceremony the other day. Manapua derives from the Chinese "char siu bao," the barbecued pork-filled steamed dumplings you may have seen at places like "Wow Bao" or on a dim sum cart. The 19th century marked a historical period in Hawaii as thousands of immigrants from different countries came to the islands seeking work. Over 50,000 Chinese immigrants brought their customs, cultural activities and especially their ethnic foods. Essentially, in Hawaii, food peddlers sold a variety of delectable items especially their famous char siu bao. The peddlers would stack their foodstuffs in large cans and sling the cans by cords at each end of a pole. Hoisting the poles on their shoulders, they roamed the neighborhoods with their savory-filled buns. Char siu bao immediately became a favorite among the locals, and was given the name manapua, or mea ono pua'a ("mea ono" for cake or pastry, and "pua'a" for pork).
The picture to the right is what they look like. These are some of the most delicious pastries I've ever had. Way better than Cornish Pasties (not a misspelling) that were a staple in Southern England. They're soft and flaky with a "pulled-pork" center. BUT, if you're not into pulled pork at 9am (which doesn't make sense to ME personally, but hey, to each his own) then you can find manapua with different savory fillings such as vegetables, curry, sweet bean, chicken, lup cheong (chinese sweet sausage), sweet potato, lau lau and many more. So where would one find manapua? Well, if you've ever been to 7-Eleven and seen the pigs-in-a-blanket things baking in the glass, you'd find manapua in the 7-Elevens in Hawaii. Obviously that's not the only place to get them, but it gives a good context for (1) the obvious health aspects of the dish, but also (2) the type of snack it is. They usually come in a box of 12 (honestly, they are packaged a lot like a bakery would package 12 doughnuts. If you're ever in Hawaii, I recommend picking some up.