Travelling to the Islands of Aloha? You should sample some of the local dishes to immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture. To that end, we have compiled a list of local food delights you can try during your holiday.
But first, let us tell you a little about Hawaiian cuisine.
Hawaii is known for its intermingling of various cultures, and nothing reflects this better than its cuisine. Merchants and missionaries from Portugal, Japan, China, the Philippine Islands, and Okinawa who migrated to the islands brought their own culinary secrets.
And what we see in Hawaiian cuisine is a combination of all these cultures.
Is Hawaiian food spicy?
There are some spicy dishes, but spicy food isn’t the norm in Hawaii. Most Hawaiian dishes are sweet.
Related: 6 Hawaiian Islands to Visit
Must-Try Hawaiian Classics
Here’s a compilation of must-try Hawaiian classics.
If you want to try just one dish during your time in Hawaii, it should be Hawaiian Plate. This is a plate of various Hawaiian food served with a scoop of rice. You can get this at restaurants, hotels, resorts, or even at a local’s house. Dried beef, chicken, and taro are the main components, and for dessert, you’ll get a bowl of coconut cream pudding!
This is the Hawaiian version of Chinese egg noodles, introduced to the islands during the plantation era.
The noodle soup comes embellished with kamaboko, green onions, spam, Portuguese sausage, and spam. You can find this anywhere in Hawaii, including McDonald’s outlets.
A signature Hawaiian dish, Lau Lau is steamed butterfish, pork, and vegetables wrapped in taro leaves. This is typically served with poi or rice.
Poke is an integral part of Hawaiian cuisine; in fact, it contains all the flavours and cultural elements inspired by immigration that took place over the years. Hawaiians like to enjoy this salad of raw fish at parties as well as at day outings on the beach.
There are different versions of Poke, but almost every version includes octopus. Depending on the recipe, you’ll be served an array of local ingredients, including garlic, onions, tofu, and soy sauce.
Taro Ko Farm Chips
These plum-flavoured sweet potato chips made with garlic salt and soybean oil are an absolute delight. Taro Ko Farm Chips can be found in Kauai in Hanapepe. It’s a small greenhouse that’s easy to miss, so drive slowly and keep an eye out for a quirky little building.
This is a popular comfort food made with taro leaves and beef brisket. Taro leaves are seasoned with sea salt and boiled until tender, which gives the dish its signature flavour. Some locals like to add onion, ginger, seaweed, and pepper, and you can enjoy this with a bowl of rice.
Hawaiian Acai Bowl
This is an extremely healthy breakfast item you should try in Hawaii. The main ingredient is acai berries, but the bowl comes layered with various other fruits, nuts, honey, and granola.
If you are craving a sugary snack, you should try coco puffs. Found in Honolulu, these coco puffs are flaky pastries filled with gooey chocolate. The frosting is what sets these apart from other baked items.
A cross between the croissant and the Portuguese malasada, Croissada should be another addition to your Hawaiian must-try food palette. This has the layered texture of a croissant and the generous sprinkling of white sugar you see in malasada.
For delicious mouthfuls of Croissada, you should visit The Aloha Centre, or Chinatown’s Let Them Eat Cupcakes in Honolulu.
A traditional recipe from Puerto Rica, Pasteles, is a delicious plantain masa with a filling of adobo and pork. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to make Pasteles, but it’s worth it.
Although the original recipe lays out pork and adobo as the main ingredients, the newer versions contain chicken, seafood, and currant. A bowl of rice with Pasteles makes a full meal.
A sumptuous pork pastry of Chinese origin, Manapua is suitable for every occasion, be it a night out with friends, a beach day, or a lazy day at home. This is a soft, delicious bun that comes with a generous filling of pork. You can find this at almost every bakery in Hawaii.
This is one of the modern Hawaiian dishes, and you can find many variations of it. However, a traditional Loco Moco is a dish of rice served with brown gravy, and fried eggs.
Related: Can you drink tap water in Hawaii?
Here’s a list of go-to dessert items whenever you want a bit of sugar rush:
Hawaiian Banana Nut Bread
This is one of the most popular dessert items in Hawaii, especially in Maui. You can find this chewy goodness almost anywhere. Coconut, crushed berries and pineapple are some of the local ingredients that lend to the heavenly flavour of Hawaiian banana bread.
Hawaiian Dream Cake
For the most authentic flavour, Hawaiians use pineapple juice to make Hawaiian dream cake. Every bite of this cake is unbelievably tender and moist, and the delicious crunch comes from toasted coconut.
Chocolate Haupia Cream Pie
This is a delicious pie crust filled with thickened coconut milk mixed with chocolate. The topping is made entirely of whipped cream.
Coconut Macadamia Nut Bars
Between the goodness of macadamia nuts and coconuts, coconut macadamia nut bars offer a concoction of tropical flavours. These are great accompaniments to your morning tea.
Hawaiian Pineapple Poke Cake
The main ingredient of Pineapple Poke Cake is crushed pineapples, and the delicious topping is made with whipped cream. It’s soggy and moist and has been around in the US since the 1970s. You can find this almost anywhere in Hawaii.
Hawaiian Cheesecake Bars
With a base of buttery shortbread and a topping of coconut, Hawaiian cheesecake bars are absolutely delicious. What makes it authentically Hawaiian is the addition of crushed pineapples.
There are two Guri Guri flavours: strawberry and pineapple. In addition to the fruits that give it a tropical twist, the Guri Guri recipe includes cream and condensed milk. This tastes like ice cream and has the texture of ice cream, but you don’t need an ice cream machine to make it.
A pudding with a frosting of coconut, Haupia Cake is a refreshing change from the typical cake recipe. The coconut frosting isn’t overly sweet, and some Hawaiians like to add a layer of tropical fruits like passion fruit and pineapple.
The Hawaiian version of fudge, Pot Kulolo is made of grated taro. This is baked for about two hours to achieve its chewy goodness. Also, Hawaiians like to alternate white sugar with brown sugar to make it more Hawaiian.
A favourite with kids as well as adults, Rainbow Jello has layers of different-coloured jellos with white layers in between them. The white layer is made of condensed milk.
This is a delicious salad of healthy tropical fruits. Grapes, pineapple, coconut, and mandarins are some of the fruits you find in Hawaiian Ambrosia. You can enjoy this as an after-meal dessert or a snack whenever you feel like it.
Shave ice is ice flavoured with syrup. You don’t call this shaved ice; in Hawaii, it’s shave ice, and on Big Island, people call it ice shave.
Recommended reading: Drinking age of Hawaii
Frequently Asked Questions About Hawaiian Food
What is Hawaii’s signature dish?
There are several, but Lau lau is considered the signature dish.
Do Hawaiians use chopsticks?
Yes. Chopsticks are commonly used in Hawaii.
Is the food in Hawaii expensive?
Yes. Like everything else, food in Hawaii is expensive.