Street food vending in the street was a common trade in the marketplace towns of China and still is. In Hawaii, food peddlers sold a variety of delectable items especially
their famous char siu bao. The peddlers would stack their foodstuffs in large aluminum 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. They were called the "Manapua Man". Every little kid would come running with coins like the ice cream
trucks of modern day to buy their fill. 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 manapua man today can be found in a cargo vans run by independant business owners parked at beaches, small neighborhoods, near the business districts and other places
around the island. For many, eating a manapua can be nostalgic, bringing childhood memories of making a trip to the manapua man’s truck.
Over the years, the manapua’s size and filling changed. The late Bat Moi Kam Mau, former owner of Char Hung Sut in Chinatown, was well known for her local-style manapua. She
created the “big Hawaiian-size” manapuas that the island people love to eat. The once small manapua, was now super-sized by the locals. Not craving sweet pork? No problem.
Today you can find manapua with different savory fillings such as vegetables, curry, sweet bean, chicken, lup cheong (chinese sweet sausage), sweet potato, laulau, kalua pork,
and many more. Baked and steamed, there is a wide variety of manapua that you can choose from.
If you go to the dim sum restaurants abroad you will see little char siu bao in little bamboo steamers along with the usual dim sum selections. But only in Hawaii the char
siu bao or manapua is huge. Manapua is so popular in Hawaii that it is sold at 7-11 convenience stores islandwide.
Best Places To Get Some
Manapua can be found in chinese dim sum restaurants but Hawaii locals buy them in bulk to take to gatherings or on trips to the mainland, picnics, or even to sports events.
The best places to buy them are at Char Hung Sut, Libby's Manapua Shop, Royal Kitchen, Chun Wah Kam, Aiea Manapua and Snacks, and Island Manapua Factory. All have their delicious versions of manapuas and have their fans. For me if I want big bready and lean filling I'd go to Char Hung Sut or Libby's. If I want baked manapua I'd go to Royal Kitchen since it's their specialty. Chun Wah Kam and Island Manapua compete with their many varieties and othe dim sum specialties such as pork hash (siomai) and chow mein (fried noodles) etc. To me the best manapua for the bun to meat filling ratio is Island Manapua Factory hands down. Theirs are light and fluffy with lots of meat filling. Make sure your get them hot and steaming!
To local hawaii people seeing a pink or white colored box is a tell tale sign that someone has brought manapua to the office or home and you know it's going to be ono!!
So let's eat some manapua it's kaukau time!!