I love street food because it reminds you where you are, and is one of the tastiest ways I can think of to eat and interpret the world.
Kalua refers to the traditional Hawaiian cooking method of steaming food, often a whole pig, in an imu, or in-ground cooking pit. Manapua refers to the oversized Chinese bao buns that became popular in Hawaii at the turn of the 20th century. Vendors would sell them out of food carts throughout Chinatown.
To recreate kalua meats at home, without digging an imu, a clever trick is to use a slow cooker and simply season meat with sea salt and liquid smoke. In a nod to my favorite food truck, Melt Honolulu, and one of my favorite grilled sandwiches from them, the Duck Confit Melt, I decided to make kalua duck. To give the meat even more flavor, I added a combination of vinegars, thinking of the tang of adobo. I added chipotle for some heat, and then, once the meat is cooked, to balance the flavors of the filling, fresh cilantro and apricot preserves go into each bun.
To complement the duck I wanted to make the bun subtly sweet, so swapped out the milk from my other manapua bun recipe (on this site) for coconut milk. To simplify things, I mixed all of the bun ingredients in one bowl. I think this dough is much easier to work with and the resulting bun has a soft, fragrant interior. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!