Almost equidistant from Asia and America, Hawaii’s culinary culture cherry-picks the best of East and West, creating mouth-watering mash-ups of regional dishes with local and imported ingredients. Fresh, flavourful and simple, these five tasty Hawaiian dishes are an absolute must when visiting the Aloha State.
One of Hawaii’s most cherished foods is the unlikely wartime staple, SPAM. Yes, that tinned meat. After WW2, Hawaii still had a strong military presence and soldiers were sent SPAM to live on. SPAM musubi features a grilled slice of SPAM on a rice block, wrapped with nori seaweed – ‘SPAM sushi’, if you will. Very simple but utterly delicious, you’ll find SPAM musubi at local stores all over the Hawaiian islands.
Introduced to Hawaii by Western sailors in the 1700s, lomi-lomi salmon is a tempting fresh side dish featuring raw diced salmon with tomatoes, often enlivened with chili or lime. ‘Lomi-lomi’ means ‘to massage’, which refers to the careful rubbing of salt into the salmon during preparation process. It’s always served at luaus, accompanied by kalua pig (pulled pork roasted slowly underground).
Hawaii’s most famous culinary export, poke has become a street food favourite all over the world. Cubes of raw tuna are piled atop rice along with avocado and onion slices, marinated in an Asian-style soy and sesame dressing. Fresh, healthy with an instant umami hit, it’s no wonder poke has taken the world by storm. Although the name poke (meaning ‘to cut into pieces’) took hold in the 1970s, it’s a centuries-old dish that historically was made by combining scraps of reef fish with seaweed and kukui nuts.
A dish conceived by proprietors of Hawaii’s Lincoln Grill in the 1940s, loco moco was created at the request of its teenage patrons, who had little money. A tasty mishmash of East and West, the Hawaiian comfort food marries rice with a hamburger patty and a fried egg. The whole thing is slathered in rich gravy. A truly rib-sticking dish, Hawaiians love loco moco for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Seek it out in cafes and even roadside diners.
A sweet Polynesian treat, haupia is a set coconut milk pudding. Often served in cubed slices, it’s a versatile dessert and is commonly accompanied by pineapple and other fruit, or is used to create a pie topping. Since the 1940s, haupia has been a popular wedding cake topping, too. Simple, creamy and smooth, be sure to round off your meal with a slice of haupia when in Hawaii.
Taste authentic farm-to-fork Hawaiian cuisine on our Best of Hawaii or Hawaii Explorer trips, where you’ll dine at a traditional farm and learn about sustainable agriculture.