If you’ve ever been to a Chinatown outside of Hawaii and tried to order a Manapua, you’d get a funny look and a quizzical expression. Manapua are uniquely local, and like most of the food we eat, was brought to Hawaii by immigrants.
Char Siu Bao (or meaty buns when translated from Chinese) were sold by food peddlers in the 19th Century. Hawaiians renamed them Mea Ono Pua’a, which means "tasty pork thing." In time, that changed to Manapua. You’ve probably seen its smaller cousin the char siu bao on a dim sum cart. The late owner of Char Hung Sut was the genius who supersized them into the large sized tasty buns we all know and love.
Today, Manapua come with a variety of fillings such as pork, chicken, lup cheong, Portuguese sausage, custard, and even sweet potato. They also come baked, steamed, deep fried or decorated with special logos or pictures. You can get them in Chinatown, your local 7-11, or from the Manapua man if you’re fortunate enough to live in an area that still has one. No matter your source, whether it comes in a pink box, a white box, or a paper wrapper, Manapua are a local staple.