It is a chip whose flavor and texture can transport the most indifferent chip muncher to heights of gustatory bliss and depths of addiction. The label on the bag proclaims the contents to be ''The Original Maui Kitch'n Cook'd Potato Chips.'' That name should not be overlooked, because it is a chip so special that it is paid the ultimate compliment by its competitors: It is imitated in name and packaging. Beware ''Maui Style Potato Chips'' and ''Hawaiian Potato Chips.'' They mean well, but they are not the real thing. 
Maui Potato Chips, as they are colloquially known, are unusually large (four or five inches long), whisky-colored chips cut lengthwise from russet baking potatoes. They are much thicker than the average potato chip, almost an eighth of an inch, and, because of that, very crunchy. They have not been peeled before being deep fried; the darker remnant of the potato skin is clearly visible. They are not oily to the touch and do not leave a film of grease on the fingers of the nibbler. They are lightly salted. And, most important, they carry a distinctive taste of potato like a truly good french fry. 
Maui Potato Chips are sold only on the Hawaiian islands of Maui, Kauai and Oahu. They can be purchased in most variety stores or supermarkets, even drug stores. The price varies from store to store, but it is about $2 a bag. Visitors inevitably want to take some home to share with friends or relatives, or to break out a few months later in an effort to relive, in a kind of Proustian involuntary memory, a splendid Hawaiian moment. 
It is not uncommon to see departing travelers awkwardly maneuvering up an airplane stairway clutching several cellophane twin packs in their arms while trying to take home bouquets, leis or fragile orchid stems. They are visibly torn between protecting either the flowers or the chips. With one untimely squeeze, Maui Potato Chips can become Maui potato chip crumbs, and everyone is determined to avoid that. 
For all their flavor and texture, the manufacture of the chips is remarkably simple, raising the question of why the competition cannot duplicate them. Simplicity, it seems, is its own reward. (The factory does not encourage visitors, although they are not barred.) 
The potatoes are cut, cooked and packaged in one small building, a loftlike structure not far from Maui's main airport in Kahului. In one corner of the central room are crates of gargantuan russet potatoes imported from the mainland, and placed somewhat indiscriminately around the rest of the room are five vats, the size and shape of bathtubs, filled almost to overflowing with bubbling hot cotton-seed oil, which is changed daily. 
To one side of each vat is a slicing machine and to the other a spin dryer. Each cook feeds about 30 pounds of sliced potatoes into the vat at a time and stirs them in the hot oil for 10 to 15 minutes until the potatoes attain the right color, indicating the correct degree of doneness. 
They are then scooped up with a makeshift strainer and transferred from the oil to the dryer, where they are whirled for approximately two minutes to release excess grease by centrifugal force. When the spin cycle is completed, the slices are placed on heavy brown paper for further drying and a dusting of salt. 
Periodically, the cook lugs batches of dry potatoes over to the sorting table where other workers pick out smaller broken pieces. (These are destined for the island's pigs, lucky creatures indeed to have such a diet.) Finally, the selected big pieces are placed on a conveyor belt that feeds them into a packaging machine, the only really mechanized part of the operation. 
The plant turns out about 2,700 packages a day, enough to keep the owners, the Kobayashi family, happy and residents of and visitors to the island content, but leaving the rest of the 49 states deprived - with no indication that the future will bring any change. 
The Kobayashi family says it likes things they way they are. They bought the business in 1956, learning how to manufacture potato chips from the previous owners, and initially cooked and packaged them out of a small kitchen in a private home. Over the years, with much experimentation, they made improvements in the method and the product until they achieved the degree of excellence their customers have come to expect. They proudly list the ingredients on their label: Potatoes, cotton seed oil and salt (the absence of preservatives being implicit). 
Although, the company has been in its present site for 15 years, the Kobayashi family says it is considering moving in three years to a bigger plant so that it can supply more of the Hawaiian islands. But that's the extent of the company's current expansion plans. Many inqueries about becoming distributors on the mainland have come their way, but they have all been turned down, according to Joe Kobayashi, the sales manager. 
The one concession the family has made to the popularity of its chips is accepting mail orders, but even that is somewhat negative. The family refuses to send C.O.D. or to honor credit cards. Would-be customers are even told that orders are filled on an availability-only basis. HOW TO ORDER MAUI'S SPECIALTY 
Maui Kitch'n Cook'd Potato Chips may be ordered by mail directly from the factory. 
They will be shipped postpaid anywhere in the United States by Federal Express at these rates: 6 packages for $21.50; 12 packages, $38.50; 24 packages, $69. One package contains a total of seven ounces, distributed in two separately wrapped packages inside one larger cellophane bag. 
Send check or money order to Maui Potato Chip Inc., 295 Lalo Street, Kahului, Maui, Hawaii 96732, or call 808-877-3652. 
The chips survive the journey in excellent shape. - M. H.