Hawaii is a food lover’s dream. The combination of fresh tropical ingredients, Abundant oceans, and being at the crossroads of the Pacific to absorb multiple different cultural influences makes for an incredible culinary experience. Our Hawaiian Food guide aims to show you all the most Hawaiian dishes and must-try foods. So you know exactly what food to eat in Hawaii.
The Hawaiin Cuisine has developed a Rich and unique identity as it has been exposed to so many different cultural influences along with being isolated enough to develop its own uniqueness. Oriental and Polynesian Flavours of sesame and Soy fuse with Japanese techniques such as sushi, While US influences have brought in more familiar dishes.
On top of that, the Islands have their own rich Cuisine developed prior to the exposure to new worlds and the Hawaiians are fiercely proud of their heritage in all forms. So there are plenty of opportunities to sample good traditional Hawaiian Fare not least at a Luau feast.
A trip to Hawaii will expose you to endless foods and drinks that you may find hard to replicate or source back home leading to a strong desire to return…be warned! Here are some of our favorites.
Poke is everywhere in Hawaii and consumed by the bucket load by locals and tourists in the know. Just about every menu will feature it in some way, and supermarkets have large Poke counters dedicated to the dish. But for Newcomers, it can be a bit “eh?” What is it? What do I do with it? Is it Safe?
Once you try it though you will get it. Nothing embodies Hawaii to us more than Poke. A salad (of sorts) made from small chopped-up bits of “stuff”. Normally Raw Fish, Primarily Tuna (or “Ahi” in Hawaiian). Often served as an appetizer or Pupus. Start with the Ahi, and maybe upgrade to some of the more “exciting” types like Tako (Octopus), once you are used to it.
Poke is Marinated in a cure of soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions, and Maui sweet onions, along with a number of other ingredients depending on individual recipes. It’s surprisingly delicious for something so simple and the taste will remain with you long after leaving the islands, and leave you craving it until you return (which you will).
While Poke can be found outside the State it’s never really the same, we have even sampled it in the UK and it just doesn’t work. As for safety, well the amount the locals eat without dropping dead must mean it is pretty safe. It is raw fish so there are some concerns with that, but it’s no different from Sushi or even Rare meat.
Hawaii’s take on pulled pork. Well, actually It is a much older recipe predating even the USA let alone pulled pork. Anyway, Pulled pork is the closest to it we can think of, and that’s no bad thing. Traditionally cooked in an underground oven (Imu) and served at every Luau, you will have no trouble finding this delicious porky sensation.
Pulled pork is seemingly added to everything no on the mainland and on Hawaii the same is true now for kalua pork, so expect Kalua pork Burgers, Kalua pork Tacos, Kalua pork Pizza, etc…
Traditionally it is served as a bowl/plate meal, with Rice and Island vegetables or as the centerpiece of a luau feast, where the pig is unearthed as part of the entertainment.
Not a dish as such but you will see this on every menu. PuPu’s are basically Appetizers. However, they have taken on a life of their own and can be eaten similar to Tapas as well, where you share several small Pupus dishes rather than an entree for the main meal.
Many Expensive restaurants have Happy Hours, where they serve discount pupu’s along with cut-price cocktails and drinks. A great way to save some money while enjoying some of the best restaurants in the state.
At some point in Hawaii, you will notice people eating large colorful domes of gravity-defying “snow cones” But these are no ordinary Snowcones. Welcome to the fantastic world of Shave Ice. Large blocks of ice are literally shaved to create ultra-fine snow that forms a solid dome that holds the flavor syrups that are added to give it both the color and taste.
Available in a dizzying array of tropical flavors these are the ultimate refreshing treat, Make sure you order an ice-cream base and a snow cap (condensed milk) for the ultimate Shave Ice. Don’t visit Hawaii without grabbing a Shave Ice.
Hawaii’s national breakfast dish. This one takes some getting your head around. A mound of Rice topped with a burger pattie, and a fried egg, covered in gravy. It’s all a bit odd, especially first thing in the morning. But it really works. We couldn’t eat it every day (not without getting large) but we have to have it a couple of times every trip.
Enjoying fresh Hawaiian seafood right beside the ocean it is caught in, is one of Hawaii’s best pleasures and several seafood dinners are a must. The only problem is choosing a restaurant.
Unsurprisingly, being an island state, seafood is a huge part of the culture and cuisine. Seafood lovers will find endless options of incredible fish a shellfish dishes. Fresh fish is the order of the day but it’s worth remembering over half of Hawaii’s fish is imported, so you may not be getting quite what you imagined so try and seek out locally caught fish. Most pelagic fish, Tuna, Ono, Mahimahi, etc are more likely to be locally caught but most places that ensure they serve Local fish will tell you. Shrimp, Lobster, Cod, Salmon, or anything like that will almost certainly be imported. But it’s worth remembering this is far better than the 90%+ the US as a whole, imports. And remember a large proportion of imported fish is bound for cheap frozen supermarket fish and chain restaurants.
Yes, we are sure you have tried Pineapples before, but that doesn’t mean you have tried Maui Gold Pineapples ripened naturally on the Islands.
Actually, don’t try the Pineapples. We used to love Pineapple however after tasting Maui Gold Pineapples the sour, tough, tasteless lumps we get back home just won’t cut it anymore. Maui Gold Pineapples really put anything else so far in the shade they are not worth bothering with. They are super sweet and juicy and have almost no woody core at all when ripe.
You might find them hard to avoid though, Pineapple garnishes come with just about everything you might order especially cocktails.
Banana bread is very popular on the Islands both with locals and tourists alike. Often found at roadside stands and humble outlets in remote areas this is possible the best Banana bread you are likely to taste. Often still warm from being baked that morning It makes the perfect snack on any island tour.
This one may take some explaining…It’s not entirely obvious what the Hawaiians see in Spam Sushi. In case you are overthinking it, no it really is just SPAM sushi. Really your just going to have to go out on a limb and try these. It’s certainly an experience. Available at any convenience store or gas station it’s the snack of choice for the locals so if you really want to embrace all things Hawaii, you are going to have to get into Spam Musubi. And once tried you may just find yet another thing to crave when not on the islands.
Completely not Hawaiian in any way, but eaten in large amounts by locals so we have to mention them. Tacos have been hijacked by the Hawaiians and they have their own style. Served from small outlets or food trucks, they can be found all over. The cheap prices make for a cheap lunch. Order Take out and eat by the ocean for an amazing feast by the ocean. Look for Maui Taco’s or hunt out the JAWZ Tacos food truck at Big Beach for the Island’s best!
The Luau is a traditional Hawaiian feast and celebration. Now hijacked as a tourist attraction luaus are big business on the Islands. Probably your best shot at sampling some traditional Hawaiian cuisine the feasts are for the most part very good. Large All You Can Eat buffets of traditional Hawaiian fare such as Kalua pork (traditionally cooked underground), lomilomi Salmon, Poi. Along with some less traditional fare that is equally delicious.
While a Luau may seem a little like an expensive tourist trap, and it probably is, it is still a strong part of the Hawaiian lore and we feel every visitor should experience it at least once. From a culinary point of view, it is definitely worth it. While the food is often rustic and unrefined, that is exactly the point. It’s a chance to sample the cuisine the way the early settlers enjoyed it.
All that eating may make you thirsty, good job Hawaii has plenty of incredible drinks too!
The rich soils and frequent rainfall make the Hawaiian islands perfect for growing coffee. However, only small portions of the islands are suitable meaning the amount produced is quite low. This leads to high prices, well for export coffee that is. Kona coffee is world-renowned with people paying high prices for it. On the islands, it’s drunk every day! Homegrown is cheaper than importing it so you will find Hawaiian coffee everywhere. and that is a REALLY good thing. Remember to save room in your luggage to take back as much as you can!
While Kona Coffee gets the headlines Maui has its own Plantations and Maui Coffee is widely available on the Island and is just as good as Kona, but a lot cheaper. It just feels right glugging Fresh Maui Coffee every morning!
Yes, Mai Tai’s in Hawaii is a Cliché but there is a good reason for that. They are utterly fantastic and almost impossible to find good ones outside the islands. We have tried hundreds of Hawaiian/Tiki bars and none get it right. It must be just something in the Pacific air that makes them taste SO good. which is exactly what Mai Tai is supposed to mean.
Every bar will have its own secret blend but they normally consist of Rum, Orange Liqueur, Orgeat Syrup, and Lime/Orange/Pineapple juice. For us, it has to have a Dark Rum Float. Which is where so many imitators fall down as we can never find that rum outside of Hawaii?
If you want to make your own Mai Tai’s at home try our ultimate Mai Tai Recipe
We couldn’t forget the Humble POG. A juice drink made from Passionfruit Orange and Guava ( P + O + G ). Sold in supermarkets by the gallon, and drunk almost as freely. Locals drink POG like the mainland drink OJ and we Brits drink tea. Pick up a huge jug of it in the supermarket for a real taste of the tropics. Simply add Rum for an instant cocktail.
Hopefully, that gives you a good list of foods to get started, the Hawaiian cuisine offers endless incredible offerings depending on which island you choose. We find the biggest problem with Hawaiian food is our inability to recreate or locate the foods we loved away from the islands. leaving a strong urge to return just to get our hand on some real Poke, Mai Tais, Kona Coffee, and Maui Gold Pineapples.
Have Your Say
Let us know if you have any other Favourites, or if you have tried any on our list? What did you think, just because foods are must try doesn’t mean they are agreeable with everyone. Are you heading to the Islands for the first time? What foods are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below.