Must-Eat Foods in Hawaii

Besides the obvious natural beauty of Hawaii, the state is also known for its unique and delicious local food. This article points out some of the foods that you must try on your next vacation!

  • Hawaiian cuisine
    • Poi – mashed taro root
      • Poi is a Hawaiian word for the primary Polynesian staple food made from the corm of the taro plant
      • Produced by mashing the cooked corm (baked or steamed) until it is a highly viscous fluid
      • Poi consistency ranges from liquid to dough-like
      • Often flavorless by itself
      • Often doused with chili water for flavor
    • Poke – cubed raw, fresh, sashimi grade ahi fish seasoned with seaweed and Hawaiian salt
      • Seasonings made of seaweed, kukui nut and sea salt Hawaiian poke
      • Since first contact with Western and Asian cultures, scallions, chili peppers and soy sauce have become common additions
      • Different from sashimi, because the former is usually rough-cut and piled onto a plate and can be made with less expensive pieces of fish
      • During the early 1970s, poke became an appetizer to have with beer or to bring to a party
    • Kalua pig – pulled pork with marinated steamed cabbage
    • Lomi salmon – sushi-grade salmon cubed and combined with tomatoes, Maui onions and chili pepper
    • Lau lau – steamed fish and pork wrapped in taro leaves and a ti leaf; may also include chicken, chicken-only or pork-only
  • Plate lunch – usually served during lunch, plate lunches consists of an entree of meat or seafood, two scoops of rice and macaroni salad
    • Comfort food
    • Quintessential part of the cuisine of Hawaii
    • Roughly analogous to a Southern US meat-and-threes plate
    • Many plate lunch outlets also sell “mini-plates,” which come with the same entrees in smaller portions
  • Shave ice
    • Ice-based dessert made by shaving a block of ice
    • Resembles a snow cone
    • Although it is made with shaved ice, it is called “shave ice,” not “shaved ice”
    • Shaving produces a very fine ice that appears snow-like
    • Flavored syrups are added
    • Traditionally served in a conical paper or plastic cup with multiple flavors and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and/or azuki bean paste at the bottom of the cup
    • Sweetened condensed milk drizzled over the top is sometimes called a “snow cap”
  • Malasadas
    • Portuguese donut deep fried and coated with sugar
    • First made by inhabitants of the Madeira Islands
    • Traditional malasadas contain neither holes nor fillings
    • Some varieties of malasadas are filled with flavored cream or other fillings
  • Spam musubi
    • A slice of spam is put on top of a fist-sized block of sushi rice
    • It is wrapped together by nori
    • The spam is pan-fried and coated in a sweet, salty soy sauce glaze
  • Manapua
    • Steamed or baked bun usually filled with char siu
  • Crack seed
    • A category of snacks that originated in China
    • Basically preserved fruits that have been cracked or split with the seed or kernel partially exposed as a flavor enhancement
    • The snack arrived to Hawaii with Cantonese immigrants in the 19th century, when they were brought to work in the plantations
    • The flavors are varied
    • Ranges from extremely sweet and salty to sour flavors
    • Flavors can include rock salt plum, honey mango, licorice peach or any kind of combination of fruits, flavors and type of preservatives used
  • Mochi
    • Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice, waxy rice, sweet rice or otherwise called mochi rice (not to be confused with gluten)
    • The rice is pounded into paste and molded into the desired shape
  • Loco Moco – hamburger patties served with gravy and topped with two eggs
  • Saimin – noodle soup dish with various toppings
  • Chicken long rice – chicken cooked with chicken broth, ginger, green onions and long rice

The list above could go on and on, but these are just a few food items that you should try to sample in Hawaii. You’ll likely encounter these dishes at the local convenience store and in restaurants all over the islands.