What to Eat in Hawaii, Food and Drink, Dishes
Hawaii, a beautiful archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, is a melting pot of various culinary influences. The state’s unique food culture is a reflection of its rich history, diverse population, and abundant natural resources. The Hawaiian Islands are home to an array of mouth-watering dishes that will satisfy even the most discerning of palates. From traditional Hawaiian fare to contemporary fusion cuisine, Hawaii offers a culinary adventure like no other.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore some of the must-try dishes and drinks that showcase the essence of Hawaiian gastronomy. So, get ready to embark on a food lover’s journey through the islands and savor the flavors of paradise.
Pronounced as “po-kay,” poke is a Hawaiian staple that has gained international fame in recent years. This dish typically consists of cubed, raw fish (usually tuna) marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, and other seasonings. Over the years, various adaptations have emerged, with chefs incorporating ingredients such as avocado, mango, and jalapeno to create unique flavor profiles. Poke can be enjoyed on its own or over a bed of rice as a poke bowl.
Kalua pig, a traditional Hawaiian dish, is slow-cooked in an underground oven known as an imu. The pig is seasoned with sea salt, wrapped in ti leaves, and then cooked for hours in the imu, resulting in tender, smoky, and flavorful meat. While traditionally reserved for special occasions and luaus, kalua pig can now be found at many restaurants and food trucks throughout the islands.
Loco moco is a hearty and satisfying dish that originated in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii. It consists of a bed of white rice, topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and smothered in brown gravy. Loco moco is a popular comfort food in Hawaii, perfect for a filling breakfast or a late-night meal.
Saimin is a Hawaiian noodle soup with Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino roots. The dish features wheat egg noodles served in a savory broth, typically garnished with green onions, kamaboko (a type of fish cake), and char siu (Chinese barbecued pork). Saimin can be found at many local restaurants, food trucks, and even fast-food chains in Hawaii.
Laulau is a traditional Hawaiian dish that involves wrapping a protein (usually pork, chicken, or fish) in taro leaves and steaming it until tender. The dish is often served with a side of rice and macaroni salad. The combination of the rich, flavorful meat and the slightly bitter taro leaves creates a delicious and satisfying meal.
A plate lunch is a quintessential Hawaiian meal that offers a taste of the islands’ diverse culinary influences. A typical plate lunch consists of two scoops of white rice, macaroni salad, and a choice of protein, such as kalua pig, teriyaki beef, or fried chicken. This filling and affordable meal can be found at local eateries, food trucks, and even grocery stores.
Malasadas are Portuguese-style doughnuts that were introduced to Hawaii by immigrants in the late 19th century. These deep-fried, sugar-coated pastries have become a beloved treat in Hawaii, often enjoyed during breakfast or as a sweet snack. Malasadas can be found at bakeries and food trucks, with some establishments even offering unique flavors, such as lilikoi (passion fruit) or haupia (coconut pudding).
Haupia is a traditional Hawaiian dessert made from coconut milk, sugar, and a starch thickener, such as cornstarch or arrowroot. The mixture is cooked until it thickens and then poured into a mold to set. Once firm, haupia is cut into squares and served chilled. This mildly sweet and creamy dessert can be found at luaus, restaurants, and local bakeries. Haupia is also used as a filling or topping for other desserts, like chocolate haupia pie and malasadas.
Shave ice is a popular Hawaiian treat that is a must-try on any trip to the islands. This refreshing dessert consists of finely shaved ice, topped with flavored syrups, such as pineapple, guava, or mango. The key to a perfect shave ice is its fine, snow-like texture that quickly absorbs the syrup, creating a delightful, icy treat. You can find shave ice at roadside stands, food trucks, and specialty shops across the islands. Some shave ice vendors also offer unique toppings, like mochi balls, azuki beans, or a scoop of ice cream.
Spam musubi is a popular Hawaiian snack that showcases the islands’ love for canned meat. This dish consists of a slice of grilled Spam, placed on a bed of rice, and wrapped in nori (seaweed). The combination of salty, savory Spam and the slightly sweet, sticky rice creates a satisfying and portable snack that can be found at convenience stores, grocery stores, and food trucks throughout Hawaii.
Poi, a traditional Hawaiian staple, is made from the starchy, underground stem of the taro plant. The taro is cooked and mashed until it forms a smooth, thick paste. Poi has a slightly sour taste and is often served as a side dish, paired with savory meats like kalua pig or laulau. Poi is also used in some desserts, like poi mochi and kulolo, a sweet taro pudding.
Manapua is a Hawaiian take on the Chinese steamed bun, known as bao. The word “manapua” is derived from the Hawaiian words “mea ono pua’a,” which translates to “delicious pork thing.” Traditional manapua is filled with a sweet and savory char siu pork filling, but you can also find variations with chicken, vegetables, or even sweet fillings like coconut or sweet potato. Manapua can be found at local bakeries, food trucks, and some grocery stores.
The Mai Tai is a classic tropical cocktail that is widely associated with Hawaii, even though it was created in California. This delicious drink is a blend of light and dark rums, orange curaçao, orgeat syrup, lime juice, and simple syrup. It’s typically garnished with a sprig of fresh mint and a slice of pineapple or lime. Enjoy a Mai Tai beachside or at one of Hawaii’s many bars and restaurants.
POG, an acronym for passion fruit, orange, and guava, is a popular Hawaiian fruit juice blend. This refreshing, tropical drink is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. POG can be found at grocery stores, cafes, and restaurants throughout the islands. The combination of tangy passion fruit, sweet orange, and aromatic guava creates a delightful flavor profile that is perfect for sipping on a warm Hawaiian day.
Hawaii is the only U.S. state that produces coffee commercially, with Kona coffee being its most famous variety. Grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai volcanoes on the Big Island, Kona coffee is known for its smooth, rich flavor and low acidity. The unique combination of volcanic soil, tropical climate, and high elevation create the perfect environment for coffee cultivation.
Coffee enthusiasts should not miss the opportunity to try a cup of Kona coffee while visiting Hawaii. Many coffee shops and restaurants across the islands serve Kona coffee, and some even offer coffee tastings or tours of coffee farms in the Kona region. You can also purchase Kona coffee beans to bring home as a souvenir, but be sure to look for the “100% Kona Coffee” label to ensure you’re getting the genuine product.
Hawaii’s craft beer scene has been steadily growing, with a variety of local breweries producing unique and flavorful beers that reflect the islands’ culture and ingredients. Some popular Hawaiian breweries include Kona Brewing Company, Maui Brewing Company, and Waikiki Brewing Company. These breweries offer a range of beer styles, such as pale ales, IPAs, and porters, often infused with local ingredients like pineapple, coconut, or coffee.
Be sure to sample some local brews while visiting Hawaii, either at a brewery, bar, or restaurant. Many breweries also offer tours and tastings, providing an opportunity to learn about the brewing process and the local beer scene.
In addition to the classic Mai Tai, Hawaii is home to a variety of tropical cocktails that are perfect for sipping while enjoying the island’s stunning scenery. Some popular Hawaiian cocktails include the Blue Hawaii, Lava Flow, and Chi Chi. These drinks typically feature a combination of fruit juices, liqueurs, and rum, often garnished with fresh fruit or a cocktail umbrella.
Many bars and restaurants in Hawaii offer a range of these colorful and refreshing cocktails, making it easy to find the perfect drink to suit your taste.
Hawaii’s diverse and flavorful culinary offerings are a testament to its rich cultural history and abundant natural resources. From traditional Hawaiian dishes to contemporary fusion cuisine, the islands’ food and drink scene offers something for everyone. Be sure to indulge in these delicious dishes and beverages while exploring the beautiful Hawaiian Islands, and let your taste buds embark on a culinary adventure they won’t soon forget.