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Hawaii is full of island flavor and has some of the top cuisines in the world. The islands are a melting pot of different cultures, resulting in delicious food you may only find in other countries. As a family that lives in the Midwest, traveling to Hawaii to try different restaurants and foods is always a fun experience. If you are a foodie like us, here is a list of the top 25 Hawaiian foods you must eat on the island!
Also known as “Crazy Burger,” loco moco is a traditional comfort dish consisting of white rice, topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and brown gravy. It’s an excellent choice for a hearty lunch in between activities. Loco moco is so popular in Hawaii, McDonald’s even serves it for breakfast!
Poke (po-kay) is a healthier option made of tuna, sea salt, soy sauce, inamona, sesame oil, limu seaweed, and chili pepper. Aside from being served in a bowl, it is very similar to sushi. Poke is a staple in native Hawaiian cuisine.
Poi is an ancient Hawaiian dish made from taro root. It is a gooey, purple-colored food often paired with some fresh fish. Most other starches are imported into Hawaii, but taro grows across the islands, and many locals even grow it in their backyard. You will often find poi at luaus in Hawaii. Admittedly, we don’t love the bland flavor or pasty texture of poi. However, it’s worth trying because it’s a rich part of Hawaiian cuisine and is very healthy.
Huli Huli Chicken
Huli huli chicken resembles a rotisserie chicken barbecued over mesquite wood and is basted with a sweet huli-huli sauce. The main ingredients for the delicious flavor are pineapple, ginger, soy sauce, ketchup, sugar, sesame oil, and garlic.
Also referred to as Ice Shave (but not referred to as Shaved Ice), it’s what you’d expect. Shave ice is prevalent across the islands. It is an ice-based dessert with an endless selection of syrups sure to please everyone, especially children. Shave ice is a Hawaiian food you must eat on vacation!
Kalua means “to cook in an underground oven.” Kalua pig is commonly prepared at luaus as the main dish. It’s fun to watch and participate in the experience of the pig being dug up and served. It has a unique smoky taste and is cooked perfectly. My favorite way to eat kalua pig is on a hotdog with pineapple relish!
Haupia (how-pee-ah) is a traditional custard-like coconut dessert in Hawaii. The only ingredients are cornstarch, sugar, coconut milk, and water. The first time I ate haupia was at a luau, and I fell in love instantly. It’s light, airy, and full of delicious coconut flavor.
Plate lunch is a Hawaiian version of a ‘meat and three.’ Typical entree options are chicken katsu, kalua pork, or lau lau. Some common sides are rice, lomi-lomi salmon, and haupia (a coconut dessert).
Hello, deep-fried dough! Andagi is a tasty deep-fried treat. They are little dough balls made of mixing flour, sugar, and eggs and create a dense and hearty, crisp-like doughnut.
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Saimin is often compared to ramen. It consists of soft egg noodles, green onions, kamaboko, and is frequently topped with meat or egg. Unlike the ramen I’m used to, saimin seems to be a hearty meal option in Hawaii.
Mochi is a sticky, rice dessert made from glutinous rice flour. I am a huge fan of mochi! It originated in Japan but was brought over to Hawaii. It is made into many different flavorful desserts, but I like to think butter mochi is where it’s at. If you can find yourself some mochi, it’s a Hawaiian food you must eat!
Manapua is a traditional Chinese dish (cha siu bao). It is a bun filled with barbecue-flavored pork, which is then baked or steamed. These little pockets of deliciousness are an excellent choice for pork lovers.
The acai (ah-sah-EE) bowl is an excellent healthy option for breakfast or brunch. An acai bowl is a mixture of oats, a smoothie blend, fruits, juices, and is topped off with peanut butter or honey. It is very similar to a yogurt parfait. There are several restaurants across Hawaii famous for their acai bowls. They are an excellent option for a quick meal or for those who follow a vegetarian diet.
Spam musubi is an affordable snack or lunch food while on the go. It’s simply a block of rice topped with grilled spam. It is then wrapped together with traditional Japanese nori (seaweed). Spam musubi is a popular snack in Hawaii because it’s simple to make and full of flavor.
Chicken katsu is a traditional Japanese dish. The chicken is breaded and fried with flour, egg, and panko bread crumbs. It is a crispy and delicious way of enjoying chicken. If you like fried chicken or chicken tenders, I like to think of chicken katsu as a lighter and crispier option.
Chicken Long Rice
Chicken long rice is essentially the Hawaiian version of chicken noodle soup. It is made of vermicelli noodles, chicken thighs, fresh ginger, and green onions. It’s a little less broth and a lot more noodle. The beauty of the vermicelli noodles is that they are gluten-free, so it’s a dish that gluten-sensitive people can enjoy.
Malasadas translate to ‘undercooked.’ Malasadas are a Portuguese type of doughnut enriched with eggs and butter. After frying, they are rolled in sugar or cinnamon. Typically, authentic malasadas are not filled with anything, but in Hawaii there are a few places that do add a filling. I’m a sucker for any type of fried dough, so these pillowy puffs of goodness are a ‘yes’ from me.
Hawaiian mac salad is known to be creamy and full of flavor. Think midwest potato salad, but one million times better. The main ingredients consist of macaroni, carrot, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. Extra mayo is key when on the islands, which I can’t complain about. When we were in Maui last, we had crab mac salad at the Geste Shrimp Truck. Do yourself a favor and stop there as soon as you land in Kahului!
Guava cake is guava juice or nectar often paired with a strawberry cake mix. Whipped cream cheese and some guava gel glaze top this tasty traditional Hawaiian dessert. The first time I had this island favorite was at a luau, and it was a delicious treat.
This yellow passionfruit is one of Hawaii’s most popular exotic fruits. Lilikoi is both tart and sweet and adds a tropical twist to many recipes. Most enjoy lilikoi added to drinks or desserts. For instance, the mai tais at Monkeypod Kitchen is served with a lilikoi foam on top of the famous cocktail. We also found lilikoi ice cream and frozen yogurt at several restaurants in Maui.
Years ago, Hawaii produced most of the world’s canned pineapple. We learned that Lanai is often called Pineapple Island because it was once home to the world’s largest pineapple plantation. However, pineapple companies eventually left Hawaii to be produced cheaper elsewhere. It’s best to find a pineapple locally grown, like from the Maui Gold Pineapple Company. This will guarantee a fresh and juicy fruit.
Laulau is steamed pork, beef, or chicken wrapped in taro leaves. You may remember we mentioned taro being used in poi. Hawaiians try to use all parts of the taro plant for cooking. Just remember not to eat the leaves. This Hawaiian dish is excellent as a plate lunch paired with rice and mac salad.
This fresh tomato and salmon salad is a mainstay side dish in Hawaii. Lomi-lomi translates to massage, and massaging the ingredients into fresh salmon is the trick to this tasty side dish. This refreshing dish is simple to make, only calling for salmon, salt, tomatoes, green onion, and some sweet onion.
Hawaii’s fresh fish is the key to their delicious fish tacos. There is an abundance of fish taco options in Hawaii, but our favorite is from Coconut’s Fish Cafe in Maui! The fish shines through in flavor and texture, and the additional fresh ingredients compliment it perfectly. Coconut’s Fish Cafe is Zagat rated for the perfect fish taco.
Okay, so this isn’t a food, but we couldn’t leave mai tais off the list! This Polynesian drink is a mix of white and dark rum. Mai tais are best served with a fresh pineapple ring while relaxing on the beach or poolside. You can’t go wrong with this tasty drink, but our favorite is from Monkeypod Kitchen in Maui. Trust us…you need their happy hour in your life!
Hawaii is one of our favorite places to travel and explore. We hope this blog gave you inspiration about the Hawaiian foods you must eat on your next vacation. We always experience something new on the islands, including local cuisine. The islands have some of the best restaurants I’ve ever visited, and we are big fans of the food. If you want to travel to a melting pot of flavors and taste new dishes, look no further than Hawaii!
Have you been to Hawaii before? What is your favorite local dish across the islands?
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