The 91st Maui Fair kicks off tomorrow and so does my annual four-day stint in the Mana'o Radio BBQ pork booth. Four hot, sweaty, exhausting days of pulling - and pushing - pork. Since I'm the Mana'o mommy, I work every shift in our booth, from 5 Thursday afternoon until 11 Sunday night.
I'm getting too old for this. I say that every year. But I don't really mean it. After all, the Maui Fair is a Timeless Tradition, and the food court is as traditional as the Ferris wheel or the fair parade.
The Maui Fair is the only one in the state with a food court completely stocked by nonprofit and community organizations. For many, Mana'o Radio included, it's the biggest fundraiser of the year. The moneymaking potential is so high, there's a lengthy wait list for one of the coveted slots. Once a group gets a concession booth, it's theirs until they give it up.
The food concession chairpersons (Ryan Shibano, Duane Kim, Ryan Ishikawa and Gary Wasano) oversee the operation of more than 40 booths, each offering a different dish. When a group relinquishes its space, the new concessionaire can choose to continue serving whatever the old one sold, or they can try something completely different, as long as it's not already on the menu. That's why you can always count on seeing new, trendy edibles along with the classics. Some groups cook their food right there at the fair; others are fortunate to have commercial enterprises partner with them. Mana'o Radio is blessed to have the culinary support of Majic Carson's Kama'aina catering.
When it comes to fair food, I'm a traditionalist, although I do try to sample all of the new offerings. After eight years in the pork booth, I've established a routine that satisfies both the sentimental fool and the junk food junkie in me.
The first thing I eat (after a BBQ pork sandwich, of course) is St. Anthony's corn on the cob and a steak and rice plate from the Maui United Soccer Club booth. I think the Kiwanis Club used to do the steak and rice at the old Kahului Fairgrounds. Now they sell malassadas and coffee, which I get every Saturday and Sunday morning, as soon as the fair opens. I don't remember who had the corn on the cob in the old days, but I'm fairly certain it wasn't St. Anthony's, because I still associate them with those wonderfully sticky red candy apples that you can't get anymore. And wasn't it the St. Anthony Xavier Club who originated the Flying Saucer?
Ah, the Flying Saucers. It wouldn't be a Maui Fair without Flying Saucers, now served up by the Maui Veterans Association. The recipe seems to have changed a bit over the years, and they aren't as perfectly round as I remember them being, but I still love them. Fortunately, I have a clear view of their booth from mine, so I can see when the perpetual line gets down to a reasonable length.
Pronto Pups are another Maui Fair staple. I worked that booth once in the early 1970s, when the Baldwin High Speech Club had the concession. Back then, you couldn't get corn dogs any other time of year, so it was a top seller. I have to admit, slinging pork cooked by someone else is a lot easier than frying battered hot dogs. So I tip my hat to the Boy Scouts for carrying on the tradition. I know they're the same thing, but Pronto Pups always taste better than corn dogs.
Thursday and Friday evenings, I check out the new stuff. This year, I'm looking forward to trying the Rotary Club's samosas and naan, as well as Women Helping Women's panko crusted fish with aioli sauce.
Saturday's dinner has to be the pastele plate made by the Maui Puerto Rican Club; on Sunday, I'll have either the Hawaiian plate from Covenant Power Church or the Baldwin High JROTC's kiawe grilled BBQ chicken. Throughout the weekend, I'll have my fill of noodles: pansit from the Christ the King Filipino Catholic Club, the Kahului Kiwanis' dry mein, Wailuku Hongwanji Mission's chow fun, even spaghetti and meatballs by the Maui Contractors Women's Auxiliary. And somehow I'll find room for luau stew from Kamehameha Schools Maui and Pookela Church's orange chicken.
Those are just the requisites. I'll probably get something from every one of the food booths by the time this fair closes. I'm sorry I couldn't mention each one by name here, but there's a complete list in the Maui Fair supplement in last Sunday's Maui News.
No, I haven't gotten too old for this, not yet. But maybe I am getting too fat. Oh well, it's a Timeless Tradition, after all.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.