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Hawaii Food Guide

The 10 Best Hawaiian Foods To Try

Updated April 2024 ⋅ Written by Vanessa Howard ⋅ Edited by Laura Schulthies

Hawaii Food: The Best Hawaiian Traditional Dishes
Hawaii Food: The Best Hawaiian Traditional Dishes

Welcome to Hawaii

The unique culture of Hawaii lends itself perfectly to delicious food. Hawaiian food and desserts are a delightful mixture of culinary influences from different ethnic groups that came to the islands, including Polynesian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, and American. From the freshest seafood caught in local waters to rich and savory Hawaiian traditional dishes, Hawaii’s cuisine is a delightful fusion of flavors and cultures that reflects the unique history and geography of this enchanting archipelago. So, prepare to savor the essence of aloha as we delve into the delectable world of Hawaiian cuisine. Read on for the 10 best Hawaiian foods to try on your next visit.

The unique culture of Hawaii lends itself perfectly to delicious food. Hawaiian food and desserts are a delightful mixture of culinary influences from different ethnic groups that came to the islands, including Polynesian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, and American. From the freshest seafood caught in local waters to rich and savory Hawaiian traditional dishes, Hawaii’s cuisine is a delightful fusion of flavors and cultures that reflects the unique history and geography of this enchanting archipelago. So, prepare to savor the essence of aloha as we delve into the delectable world of Hawaiian cuisine. Read on for the 10 best Hawaiian foods to try on your next visit.

The Best Hawaiian Foods

Hawaii Food: The Best Hawaiian Traditional Dishes
Hawaii Food: The Best Hawaiian Traditional Dishes

Poke

Poke isn’t just a dish in Hawaii, it’s part of the Hawaiian way of life. You can easily find this chunk, raw-fish salad throughout the Hawaiian Islands. The seafood used in poke is incredibly fresh, and there are a dizzying array of varieties. Depending on your spice preference, you can get different sauces for your poke, but we highly recommend trying some spicy ahi poke. A poke bowl is one of the most popular options if you’re heading to the beach and need a quick meal. The dish is typically served over white or brown rice.

Hawaii Foods Guide
Hawaii Foods Guide

Loco Moco

You can’t beat a classic, and Loco Moco is a Hawaiian classic. This Hawaiian comfort food is found on menus across the islands. You will find a version of Loco Moco everywhere, from hole-in-the-wall eateries to five-star restaurants. A typical Loco Moco is a fresh hamburger patty, topped with fried eggs with rich, brown gravy, on a bed of white rice. The dish is often eaten for breakfast, but you can get it at any time of day. To fully experience the flavor, break the eggs first and get a little of everything in each bite.

Hawaii Foods Guide
Hawaii Foods Guide

Spam Musubi

Spam Musubi is the pinnacle of portable snacks. Based on the classic Japanese snack musubi, this is rice balls wrapped in seaweed and stuffed with powerfully flavored ingredients. In Hawaii’s version, you will find a slab of grilled Spam glazed with soy sauce and sugar to sweeten it up. The slices of Spam are crisped around the edges, and the rice is formed with a musubi maker. The rice mellows the strong flavor of Spam perfectly, and the dish isn’t refrigerated. The dish is typically sold wrapped in plastic, making it a great portable snack while exploring the Hawaiian Islands. You can find Spam Musubi at nearly every convenience store, lunch counter, and grocery store.

Hawaii Foods Guide
Hawaii Foods Guide

Malasada

Originating in Portugal, these sugary, no-hole doughnuts have stayed true to their roots. Malasadas were initially saved for Fat Tuesday celebrations, but these days, they are an everyday sweet treat. The traditional Malasada is yeasted, deep-fried dough rolled in sugar, either round or occasionally square. However, you will never find a hole in the center, after all, this isn’t a donut. The best Malasadas manage to be both chewy and light simultaneously. They are served warm with a fluffy interior and a crisp outside. You will find that nearly every place specializing in Malasadas does cream and fruit-filled versions, make sure to try one!

Hawaii Foods Guide
Hawaii Foods Guide

Shave Ice

This delicious, sweet Hawaiian treat is an interpretation of a snow cone. However, the light, fluffy, shaved ice flakes absorb flavoring better than crushed ice. You can choose from fun, local syrup flavors ranging from island fruits like lilikoi, pineapple, and guava to trendy flavors such as Thai tea or coconut, you won’t be disappointed. Shave ice offers add-ons that go underneath the ice as well as toppings. Local favorite toppings include mochi (a chewy, sweet rice dumpling) or the tart li hing mui powder (a ground-up pickled plum).

Hawaii Foods Guide
Hawaii Foods Guide

Kalua Pig (Pork)

Kalua is a traditional type of cooking in Hawaiian culture. It’s a process that involves cooking in an underground oven called an imu. For Kalua Pig, the whole pig, seasoned only with Hawaiian sea salt, is placed inside the large underground pit. This classic Hawaiian dish is smoky, tender pork that is slow-cooked with cabbage. The meat is tender, juicy, smokey, flavorful, and a Hawaiian classic. Kalua Pork is usually spooned over a bed of savory sticky white rice and enjoyed with friends. Foods cooked in the kalua style are considered a delicacy and are typically served at luaus because the preparation is time consuming.

Hawaii Foods Guide
Hawaii Foods Guide

Saimin

If you are looking for pure Hawaiian comfort food, you will love Saimin. Even if you are unfamiliar with the dish, you will enjoy sipping spoonfuls of dashi broth spiked with pops of vibrant colors and fantastic flavors from the fresh green onions. The Hawaiian version of Saimin is chock full of regional touches, beginning with the subtly salty seafood base and finishing with fresh noodles sourced locally. Saimin is an iteration of ramen. However, the broth is thinner, and the flavors are mild and salty. It’s the perfect comfort food to enjoy after a long day of exploring in Hawaii.

Hawaii Foods Guide
Hawaii Foods Guide

Poi

Poi is specific to Hawaii and is not found anywhere else in the world. This makes the dish important to the islands’ people and the preservation of their culture. Poi is a nutritious, starchy dish made from the taro plant. It becomes a thick, sticky paste that is purple in color. It is often served alongside Kalua Pork at major Hawaiian events. This healthy dish is known to lower cholesterol and is a great source of calcium and vitamin B. The Polynesians brought the taro plant to the Hawaiian Islands around the year 450, and it is one of the oldest crops in Hawaii. Poi has become a sacred part of Hawaiian life due to its association with the story of Haloa, the very first Hawaiian. Haloa was born of the sky and the earth and came to the islands as a kalo or taro plant.

Hawaii Foods Guide
Hawaii Foods Guide

Garlic Shrimp

Food trucks on Oahu’s North Shore are known for this fantastic Hawaiian dish. Coastal lowlands filled with shrimp farms and surfers searching for cheap, delicious food combine to create the perfect environment for Garlic Shrimp. As mentioned in our Honolulu Restaurant Guide, Giovanni’s food truck is the original, but the butter-laden crustacean food trucks dot parking lots up and down the North Shore. You’ll find generous portions of plump, curled shrimp sauteed with an extreme amount of finely diced garlic in a thick buttery sauce that spills over a scoop of rice, creating the perfect savory combination. There are now garlic shrimp spots throughout the Hawaiian Islands. However, Giovanni’s retains its top reputation, along with neighboring Romy’s, for having the best garlic shrimp on the Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaii Foods Guide
Hawaii Foods Guide

Manapua

Manapua is a delicious pork-filled bun. It’s a near relative to the Chinese bao or steamed pork bun. The Hawaiian edition is a much larger portion, but the delightful sweet pork filling and steamed bun haven’t changed much since they came over with Cantonese immigrants in the 19th century. The Hawaiian Islands’ local take on traditional bao can either be baked or steamed. Manapua is available at most of Hawaii’s Chinese restaurants. It comes in various flavors, including traditional Char Siu, Kalua Pork, Curry Chicken, Portuguese Sausage, and Vegetarian. There are even sweet Manapua flavors, including the must-try Black Sugar, Coconut, or Okinawan Sweet Potato.

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