Manapua is essentially the Hawaiian version of Char siu bao, a Cantonese dish consisting of buns filled with barbecue pork.
Like some other traditional Hawaiian dishes, this one arrived on the shores of the islands along with immigrants in the 19th century when they came to work on sugar plantations. In this case, the immigrants came from China and brought with them this centuries-old dish. Naturally, over the years it has evolved to have its own unique character here in Hawaii.
Today, you can find this supremely satisfying dish all over the Hawaiian Islands. It has been described as a staple of the food scene.
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Honolulu’s Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery seems to be the spot most often recommended if you’re looking for authentic manapua on Oahu.
The manapua here comes in many varieties and often with amazingly intricate design. Just check their Instagram to see some examples for yourself.
It is also very conveniently located in Chinatown, not far from downtown Honolulu, at 1027 Maunakea Street. Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery is currently only offering takeout, but they are open every day from 7 am to 5 pm.
The Big Island
This is formally described as high-end Japanese/Pacific Rim fusion cuisine. Included on the appetizer menu is Kenichi manapua, creatively made with slow-cooked duck instead of the traditional pork.
There’s a reason why this restaurant comes up so often in conversations about world-class food on The Big Island, and this distinctive manapua dish is a big part of that reason. Kenichi Pacific is located in the Keauhou Shopping Center at 6831 Ali’i Drive, and they are open for both dine-in and takeout from 4:30 pm to 9 pm every day except Mondays.
Maui is home to a very popular spot for manapua and other Asian dishes called Star Noodle. Located in Lahaina, this restaurant gets five stars right off the bat for its scenic location and design. Much of the seating is outdoor, surrounded by tropical flora (and occasional fauna) right by the waters of the Lahaina Roadstead.
You’ll be quite happy here even before they serve you the food, which doesn’t only include super tasty manapua. Tons of mouthwatering foods are on the menu to satisfy just about every craving. To go along with, there is also quite an impressive drink menu, including wine, beer, sake, and numerous specialty cocktails.
Star Noodle is open 10:30 am to 10 pm every day of the week. Find them at 1285 Front Street - just look for the appealing outdoor patio on the shore!
In Lihue, you’ll find Daddy O’s - one of most beloved breakfast spots on the whole island. It isn’t just to-die-for pancakes and waffles on offer here, though - they also make very classic manapua.
Daddy O’s is open every day except Monday from 7 am until 1 pm. You’ll find them at 4303 Rice Street, in the Rice Shopping Center.
Another great destination for manapua is Hamura Saimin. Located at 2956 Kress Street, quite literally just a few paces away from Daddy O’s, this is the place to visit if you’re looking for authentic Asian cuisine vibes all the way. This place is actually pretty famous and super popular. The fantastic manapua constitutes only a portion of that which is to be raved about by the masses here - and they’ve been raving for generations. Hamura Saimin first opened all the way back in 1952! Today it is one of the oldest and most cherished of Kauai’s local businesses.
While you’re here (if you can somehow muster the internal space) you must also try their special saimin and lilikoi chiffon pie - the two specialty dishes for which the establishment is best known.
Hamura Saimin is open every day. Monday through Thursday, it’s 10 am to 10:30 pm. Fridays and Saturdays, it’s 10 am until midnight. On Sundays, it’s 10 am to 9:30 pm.
Manapua isn’t just a blatantly delectable food. It’s a unique piece of history. It’s deep connection to Chinese culture is one more testament to how globally significant and connected Hawaiian history and culture itself is. Tasting it while you visit is to participate, in your own momentary way, in this marvelous phenomenon; particularly so if you make the encouraged choice to do so at a prized local venue.
As always, eating local food at the local spots is a brilliant opportunity for connection. We always recommend venturing in this direction; few places are as rewarding as Hawaii when one does so.