Bali Hai May Call You

Find a dream world in a cocktail glass at Mama’s Fish House.

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Story by Becky Speere | Photography by Shanoaleigh Marson

The bright, bold flavors of locally harvested fruit—lime, guava, pineapple, liliko‘i and more—are central to the cocktails at Mama’s Fish House.

Sipping an icy cold cocktail at Mama’s Fish House, I’m filled with a sense of romance and nostalgia. The concoction—made with local Tahitian limes, light rum, curaçao, and fresh sugarcane—transports me to the islands of the South Pacific, where I imagine myself on the deck of a sailboat feeling the sun’s warm rays on my skin. The sound of the rustling fronds in the coconut trees fronting Mama’s becomes, in my mind, the waves lapping against the side of my imaginary vessel. And fantastical as it may be, my reverie does call to mind an actual scene from the history of Mama’s. The story of how Mama’s founders Doris and Floyd Christenson moved to Maui is a classic Island tale. In 1960 Doris and Floyd set out on a four-year South Pacific sailing adventure with their two-and-a-half-year-old son, Keith; their daughter Karen was born during their time at sea. In 1964 the family settled on Maui, well before the island had became one of the world’s most famed destinations. In 1973, driven by their strong work ethic and a commitment to highlight the efforts of Hawai‘i’s fishermen, ranchers, and farmers, they opened Mama’s in Pā‘ia. In the years since, the institution has become a cornerstone of the Maui restaurant scene and so acclaimed that in 2018 it earned a semifinalist nomination for the most Outstanding Restaurant in America from the James Beard Foundation.

When Floyd and Doris watched spectacular sunsets south of the equator, the Bali Hai was the happy hour cocktail that they enjoyed—and the Bali Hai is the name of the cocktail I’m now drinking at their restaurant over half a century later. In the twenty-first century, at Mama’s, the refreshing, bright and floral Tahitian lime juice is shaken with ice, but Karen Christenson—Mama’s vice president and daughter of Floyd and Doris—confides, “You know, there wasn’t any ice during those South Pacific days.”

“The drink was so good that it didn’t need ice!” I shoot back. I’ll admit that other cocktails at Mama’s—there are over a dozen to chose from—have joined my list of favorites: the strawberry guava fizz, the mai tai roa ae (translated to “the very best”), and a pink margarita with pomegranate liqueur. But sipping my Bali Hai, I am in the moment and hearing the song Rodgers and Hammerstein penned for the musical South Pacific:

Bali Hai may call you,
Any night, any day,
In your heart, you’ll hear it call you:
“Come away, come away.”

Mama’s Fish House, 799 Poho Place, Pā‘ia, (808) 579-8488. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. No reservations are needed at either of the two bars at Mama’s but they’re popular… so if you’re going, get there early. mamasfishhouse.com

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