A Quick Guide to the Best Hawaiian Foods

08/16/2018 | by Courtney Dennis | Big Island Kauai Local Tips Maui Oahu Vacation Planning Vacation Rentals


Ready for some culinary adventures on your Hawaiian vacation? The Aloha State offers so many unique options when it comes to cuisine that it’s a challenge to narrow down the must-try suggestions! However, here are a few of the most common (and delicious) foods you may encounter during your visit.

First, some food-related vocabulary…

If you’ve heard “The Hukilau Song,” which has been covered by everyone from Bing Crosby and Don Ho to Tiny Tim, you may have already figured out that “kau kau” is Hawaiian for “food” or “to eat.” You may also hear today’s island residents talking about the “ono grinds” (delicious food) they’ve had at their favorite restaurant.

Speaking of Hawaii’s restaurants, many have a section on their menu entitled “pupus,” which is the local word for appetizers. If you happen to find yourself at a restaurant in the late afternoon or early evening, you may also have a chance to enjoy “pau hana” specials. “Pau” being the word for “finished,” and “hana” meaning “work,” the phrase basically means work is over for the day and it’s time to celebrate!

For the best pau hana specials on Maui, try Gannon’sBook a stay at one of our luxury vacation rentals nearby in Wailea, Makena, or Kihei.


Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahi_poke
Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahi_poke

Next, some basic luau foods…

Even if you haven’t had your first trip to the islands yet, you’re probably already aware that a luau is a Hawaiian feast. If you’re a returning traveler, you may also know that an “imu” is the underground oven generally used to cook the main dish. A typical luau involves “kalua” pork, meaning that the pig was cooked in an imu.

“Lomi lomi” salmon, a salty side dish that usually contains tomatoes and onions, is often considered a nice complement to the kalua pork. Nearly every luau will also include “poi,” a thick paste made from cooked, pounded taro (a root vegetable), which was the main staple of the traditional Hawaiian diet. Lastly, don’t be surprised if you stumble upon “lau lau” at a luau; this dish made from pork, chicken, or fish wrapped in taro leaves is typically either cooked in an imu or steamed on a stove.

For the best luau on Kauai, try the Smith Family Garden LuauBook a stay at one of our luxury vacation rentals nearby in Anahola, Kapaa, Lihue, or Poipu.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/2309271699
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/2309271699

Now, for some of the most popular main dishes…

  • You’re likely to see “poke” on many menus in Hawaii, as this dish has gained popularity in recent years. Poke may be made with nearly any type of seasoned, cubed raw fish, plus onion and some type of sauce, and may be served over rice.
  • “Huli” being the Hawaiian word for “turn,” “huli huli” chicken involves roasting a chicken rotisserie-style over mesquite wood chips while basting it with a honey/brown sugar/“shoyu” (soy sauce)/chili marinade, which results in out-of-this-world flavor.
  • “Saimin,” or noodle soup, serves as an example of the Chinese influence on Hawaiian cuisine and may include fish cakes, pork, chicken, shrimp, and/or eggs in a clear broth with green onions.
  • Chicken “katsu” consists of breaded chicken cutlets or strips, fried and served with a shoyu-based brown sauce. Of Japanese origin, this dish is often served with shredded cabbage and rice as “plate lunch.”
  • You’ve probably heard that Spam continues to be popular in the Hawaiian Islands, but you may not have heard of “musubi,” which is made by placing a grilled slice of Spam on a block of rice and wrapping it in “nori” (dried seaweed).
  • Adventurous visitors may also be interested in trying “loco moco,” which generally involves of a bowl of steamed rice with a hamburger patty on top, covered by a fried egg and gravy.

For the best loco moco on the Big Island, try Cafe 100Book a stay at one of our luxury vacation rentals nearby in Hilo.

Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leonard%27s_malasadas.jpg
Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leonard%27s_malasadas.jpg

Most importantly, let’s talk dessert…

  • Don’t miss an opportunity to try “haupia” during your vacation! This coconut-flavored dessert is usually referred to as a pudding, although its consistency is more like gelatin or flan.
  • You may also find that you come across a variety of desserts flavored with “lilikoi,” which is the Hawaiian name for passionfruit.
  • A Portuguese introduction, large, fluffy pastries called “malasadas” are a common sweet treat in the islands. They may be dusted with sugar and/or filled with custard, fruit, or chocolate.
  • An introduction from the Philippines, “lumpia” consists of a thin, crepe-like wrap with a filling of bananas and brown sugar, sometimes topped with a caramel sauce.

And you thought you were planning a trip to Hawaii for the scenery! One opportunity to try some of these incredible local foods, and you’ll find yourself craving all the time you can get in the exotic 50th state.

For the best malasadas on Oahu, try Leonard’s BakeryBook a stay at one of our luxury vacation rentals in nearby Diamond Head, Kahala, Kakaako, or Waikiki.


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