The best Hawaiian dishes and culinary experiences to try in Pacific Island paradise

The beaches are beautiful, the volcanoes are spectacular, and the marine life is incredible… But Hawaii has another treasure. The food! With traditional Hawaiian culinary experiences and foods influenced by all the diverse cultures in Hawaii, you won’t be able to stop eating in this Pacific Island paradise. From fresh seafood to sweet desserts, here are the yummiest Hawaiian dishes you can’t miss on your trip. 

Hawaiian plate

If you’re looking for the most traditional Hawaii culinary experiences, you can’t miss the Hawaiian plate. It’s a classic lunch dish consisting of protein like fried chicken or beef, steamed white rice and mayonnaise macaroni salad on the side. It’s cheap, delicious and filling, plus it’s a great way to try a little bit of everything! Whether you try it at a roadside stand or a restaurant, you’ll fall in love with the beloved Hawaiian plate.

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You can’t go to this Pacific Island paradise without trying authentic poke. It’s one of the most famous Hawaiian dishes, found all over the islands from beach stands to fine dining restaurants. Poke literally translates to “cut crosswise into pieces” and it’s true to its name, made with thick chunks of fresh raw seafood like tuna, salmon or octopus. It’s all marinated in a sauce with ingredients like soy sauce, onions, chilli, Hawaiian sea salt, limu kohu (seaweed unique to Hawaii) and inamona (a condiment made with roasted nuts, limu and sesame oil) and served over a bed of steamed rice. Refreshing and flavourful, you’ll love this delicious Hawaiian dish. 

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If you’re after some comfort food in Hawaii, go for a warm bowl of this noodle soup. Like many Hawaiian dishes, saimin takes its influences from Hawaii’s diverse immigrant groups. Developed during the plantation era, the egg noodles were inspired by Chinese dishes, while the dashi broth is inspired by Japanese cuisine. As different cultures arrived in Hawaii, more ingredients entered the dish including Korean kimchi, Portuguese sausage, Filipino spam and Japanese kamaboko. It’s so iconic in Hawaii that you can order it everywhere from speciality saimin restaurants to McDonald’s. If you want the real traditional stuff, try getting your bowl of saimin at a popular mom-and-pop shop that’s been around for years. 

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Shave ice

There’s no better way to beat the heat on a hot day in this Pacific Island paradise than with shaved ice. This iconic icy treat is made with finely shaved, fluffy ice soaked in sweet syrups. You can get all kinds of flavours like coconut, strawberry, guava, pineapple, chocolate and lilikoi (similar to passionfruit). You can even add extras like vanilla ice cream, condensed milk, mochi balls or azuki bean paste. Warning – they can be very addictive!

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Kalua pork

Kalua pork is one of the most beloved Hawaiian dishes and a staple part of Hawaiian cuisine. The locals traditionally cook it in a two to four-foot deep underground oven called an imu. They fill the imu with kindling and lava rocks and ignite it. Once the kindling turns to coal and the rocks heat up, they place large leaves like palm fronds or banana leaves on top. The whole pig is then laid on top, covered with leaves and buried in the pit to slow cook for at least eight hours. The result? The most tender, smoky pork meat that just melts in your mouth. You can usually find Kalua pork at luaus and it’s one of the most memorable Hawaiian culinary experiences you can have.

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Malasadas are like doughnuts without a hole… And that just means more doughnut to enjoy! Originally brought to Hawaii by Portuguese labourers in the late 19th century, today you’ll find malasadas all over the islands. Rolled in sugar, these deep-fried delights can also have flavours like jam, chocolate, custard and haupia. Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, these doughy balls of heaven are the perfect sweet treat. You’ll just have to try every flavour to find your favourite! 

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Huli Huli chicken

Like teriyaki chicken? Then you’ll love this Hawaiian dish. The chicken marinates in a delicious sauce of pineapple juice, soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar and more, then grills over a fire. The name Huli means “to turn” and that’s the key to this dish to keep the sweet glaze from burning. As the sugars in the sauce caramelise, the outside gets crispy while the insides stay juicy and it’s truly irresistible!

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Acai bowl

The acai bowl actually originated in Brazil as the acai berry (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) is native to Brazil and the Amazon… But it’s also one of the most popular Hawaiian dishes, with acai berries growing in the tropical climates of the islands. Made with thick, sorbet-like blends of acai berries and fruit and topped with everything from granola and honey to fresh fruits and coconut, this delicious bowl is the perfect way to start your day in Hawaii. Best of all the acai is an antioxidant superfruit – so it’s also the healthiest way to start your day! 

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Garlic shrimp

If you want to experience Hawaii’s famously fresh seafood, try the garlic shrimp! The fresh shrimp is drenched in butter, oil and lots – a lot – of garlic, and it’s an absolute explosion of flavour. Head to the famous shrimp trucks on the North Shore of Oahu where you’ll get your shrimp with steamed rice on a paper plate. Don’t forget to bring some breath mints for after your meal! 

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Spam musubi

Looking for a snack between meals? You can’t go past Spam musubi. It’s similar to onigiri, the Japanese rice balls wrapped in seaweed and stuffed with flavoured treats. But in this case, the block of rice is topped with a slab of grilled Spam and wrapped in nori seaweed. Spam was invented during World War II as a durable, portable food that could be eaten out of the can. It took off in Hawaii and today you’ll find Spam musubi in almost every convenience store, grocery store and lunch cafe.

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Chocolate haupia cream pie

Ready for dessert? Chocolate haupia pie is one of the most beloved traditional Hawaiian dishes, often served at luaus and restaurants. It’s made with a flaky crust, dark chocolate custard cream and haupia, a traditional cubed pudding made with cornstarch and coconut cream. Topped with everything from whipped cream to cocoa powder and macadamia nuts, you can’t help but want another slice of haupia pie.

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Loco moco

Found all over the islands from food stands to high-end restaurants, loco moco is the ultimate comfort food in Hawaii. It starts with a plate of white rice topped with a grilled hamburger patty, warm brown gravy and a fresh fried egg – you get the best of everything with this carb fiesta! Loco moco is a classic breakfast meal but you can have it any time of day. Warning – it’s known to cause a “kanak attack” – when you eat so much you need a nap!

What are your favourite Hawaiian dishes and culinary experiences? Let us know in the comments below… 

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