I had been searching for floor tile across the street when I saw the brightly painted facade with a sign in the window: Breakfast - $2.99. Inside I found the owner lingering to talk story with patrons, many whom he seemed to know intimately.
Soon enough he sat down and told me his tale. Twenty years ago he relocated to Maui and opened his dream restaurant. When the landlord tried to raise the rent he went door to door soliciting the involvement of other tenants. Together they bought the property from the landlord. The Ding's now own property from Kahului to Kula but Papa gives credit for their success to Mama, introducing her as the backbone of his business and his life since it is her cooking and love that made it all possible.
I took my husband back to Mama Ding's just one week after my first visit. I wanted him to meet Papa and to taste the unique flavors served here. It was evident by the lunch hour rush that the specialties cut across many borders. Tourists along with locals of all backgrounds were happily enjoying Mama Ding's lunch plate specials - everything under $7.
Neither of us had had pasteles before so we ordered a mixed plate which included a small sampling of many dishes including gandule rice, pulled pork, salad, fried plantains and the coveted specialty and namesake.
After tasting the pasteles, I couldn't quite place the texture and flavor; something like a tamale, but not at all grainy. The waitress explained it is made from a labor intensive process whereby plantain (banana) is grated then pounded and rolled in the little sausage shapes with pork and vegetable fillings.
In all honesty, I'd reckon pasteles is an acquired taste but it is easy to see how people develop a longing for the sweet, salty, chewy dish, something that must be particularly appealing to children. For now, I'm more likely to revisit Mama Ding's primarily to talk story with the hospitable owners and to indulge in the absolutely delicious Eggs Bermuda or French toast made with homemade bread flavored with island fruits. For lunch, the chorizo burger really kicks the old meat in the bun habit up a notch while bacaloa salads and pork stew offer something entirely new.
Breakfast for a few dollars, lunch between $2-7, a location off the tourist track, mounds of atmosphere and congeniality are the many amenities that have kept Mama Ding's in business all these years without the benefit of tourist trade or advertising. That adds up to a formula that locals love and intrepid vacationers love learning about.
by smmmarti guide
August 3, 2004
From journal Maui Local Favorites