Hawaiian Food Questions Answered: Explaining Hawaii’s Native Dishes
Hawaii is known for many things: the relaxing atmosphere, lengthy white sand beaches, and some of the finest dining opportunities in the world. But like any other destination, the culinary scene is shaped by the ingredients immediately available – and the creativity of the chefs who make them notable. To help guide you through some of the local offerings on the Big Island, we’ve assembled this guide of the most popular dishes you’ll find on your Hawaiian vacation.
One of the most popular and affordable treats in Hawaii is also one of the tastiest – poke! A fish salad or bowl of raw fish (usually tuna), mixed with maui onions, Inamona (a salty condiment), algae, soy sauce, green onions, and other ingredients. The best part? Most poke shacks have plenty to choose from, allowing guests to load up what they’d like burrito joint-style.
Known as the island’s best cure for a hangover or a respite for a food-deprived surfer, the loco moco is the perfect blend between a traditional American breakfast and a salty Asian-inspired lunch. Combining sunny-side-up eggs, Portuguese sausage or Spam, rice, onions, and gravy, it’s a delicious – if not intimidating – meal. There are plenty of variations on the loco moco and locals have strong opinions on what makes the best recipe. We’d recommend some investigation on your part during your stay.
Lau lau, according to Hawaiian tradition, isn’t so much a dish or specific meal – it’s a style of cooking with roots in ancient Hawaiian culture. Wrapped in taro leaves, a common lau lau dish consists of pork or Spam, salted fish, and sweet potato steamed in an underground oven. Today, most lau lau meals are cooked in a pressure cooker or baked, but everyone on the island has their own preferences and styles for the best lau lau.
A truly convergent dish, saimin is a noodle soup inspired by a blend of immigrant cultures throughout the islands. Combining Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Filipino, and Hawaiian tendencies, saimin consists of white egg noodles, hot dashi (cooking stock), green onions, Japanese fish cake, Spam, Chinese pork, Portuguese sausage, and seaweed, it’s a delicious culmination of everything that makes Hawaii such an important and interesting cultural hub.
Formed from the stem of a taro plant, poi is a traditional Polynesian food staple present in deserts and treats throughout the Hawaiian culinary world. The taro is mashed, baked or steamed, with water added until the intended consistency is achieved. It can be mixed with sugar, fresh fruit, cream, and other sweeteners. It’s also dairy-free by nature, making for an important milk substitute in Hawaiian culture.
An immensely popular snack and lunch item in Hawaii, this grilled Spam and rice sandwich is served with soy sauce and wrapped in Japanese-style nori. Easily found in convenience and grocery stores throughout the state, specialty musubi recipes may add scrambled egg, hot dogs, fried shrimp, chicken, pork, Portuguese sausage, and many more variations on the Hawaiian classic.