A Guide to Hawaii’s Most Iconic Food

Lomi-lomi salmon is a mouthwatering side dish
Lomi-lomi salmon is a mouthwatering side dish | © stu_spivack / WikiCommons
Marjorie Perlas

Contributing Writer

Hawaii’s location is a perfect setting for a fusion of different cultures. At the crossroads of Asian and Western cuisine, the various culinary blends invented in Hawaii are unique, flavorful, and always made with love.

We’ve already discussed Hawaiian beach snacks, but the culinary offerings of these islands in the Pacific are so much more. In no particular order, here are some classic Hawaiian dishes that will never leave you hungry.

SPAM®

Although it gets a bad reputation in most parts of the world, the mainland included, SPAM® is still holding strong in the islands of Hawaii and places like the Philippines. Always served with rice, this simple Hawaiian snack is perfect for any type of afternoon craving.

SPAM® Musubi is a flavorful snack

Mochi Ice Cream

We have the Japanese to thank for bringing over mochi. This sweet, sticky rice cake is delicious enough in its purest form, but why not go wild and add ice cream? Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream, which specializes in a laundry list of mochi ice cream flavors, used to have locations all around Hawaii. And while locals are still mourning many of their closings, you can make the journey to their Koko Marina Center location, which is still open.

Bubbies’ mochi

Loco Moco

Legend says that a group of hungry teenagers at a restaurant in Hilo on the Big Island inspired the loco moco. We owe a huge thanks to them. A staple lunch dish throughout the islands and almost difficult to get wrong, the loco moco consists of rice, a hamburger patty, and a generous serving of gravy. In other words, this dish will fill a person up and still leave them wanting some more.

Loco Moco is a hearty meal sure to fill you up

Shave Ice

Shave ice is not your run-of-the-mill ice shavings topped with mysterious food coloring. The Hawaiian shave ice is much more involved, with fine ice shavings topped with fruit syrup and then anything your heart desires. Ice cream, Azuki beans, and even tiny pieces of mochi are always on the menu. It’s a perfect beginning or end to a day at the beach.

Matsumoto Shave Ice

Saimin

Use the word “ramen” to describe this dish, and expect to be confronted by locals who will tell you otherwise. This ultimate Hawaiian comfort food came to be during the plantation era of Hawaii when the Portuguese, Chinese, and Japanese laborers shared a table and combined their traditional ingredients into one bowl. So popular that you can find it at McDonald’s, these noodles are served in a shrimp-based broth with roast pork. It is perfect for any time of day.

Saimin from Dina’s Sandwitch

Haupia

A simple mixture of coconut milk, sugar, and starch, the Hawaiian haupia is available in most restaurants. Its silky and creamy texture is a refreshing way to finish a meal and is light enough that you’ll always have room for it.

Haupia makes for a great, and light, dessert

Laulau

One of the most recognized local foods, laulau is most popular during the holiday season. Perfect portions of salted pork and butterfish are wrapped in taro leaves, then ti leaves, and then steamed to combine a rich and powerful flavor.

Laulau is popular around the holidays

Lomi-lomi Salmon

Lomi-lomi salmon is a classic side dish on the islands, but fantastic on its own. Made with salted tomato, sweet Maui onion, and fresh salmon, it’s a dish that complements all traditional Hawaiian cuisine.

Lomi-lomi salmon is a mouthwatering side dish

Hula Pie

We wouldn’t dare discuss food pride in Hawaii without mentioning hula pie. Starting with a cookie crust and smooth vanilla and macadamia nut ice cream, you wouldn’t dream it could get better than that. Think again. It’s then topped with fudge, macadamia nuts, and light whipped cream. To be clear, the original is at Duke’s restaurant, and it’s absolutely worth the flight over.

Duke’s Hula Pie

Poi

Poi, made from the root of the taro plant, is always on the table when locals sit down to eat. Slightly sweet, it’s a perfect addition to Hawaii’s many savory dishes.

Poi is slightly sweet

Kalua Pig

Kalua pork, cooked for eight hours underground, is worth the wait. This dish is hands down the king of all luau foods, and no one would disagree with you. The smoke from the imu (underground oven) cooks the pork so slowly that the flavors of the banana leaves and koa wood blend into the juices of the meat, creating a flavor profile like no other.

Kalua pork is the classic luau food

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