From pineapple pork to poke, traditional Hawaiian food is pure pleasure. Some may even say the poi and pu pu platters are, too!
Juicy, tropical fruits hand-plucked from trees above you. Mouthwatering mahi mahi dinner, pulled from the sea before your eyes. Spot the nearest coconut, crack it open and enjoy the flesh and milk (if said coconut is being worn as a hula dancer’s bra, find the second closest.) Local delicacies surround you, making Hawaiian food next-level fresh and downright delicious.
“Wow” at a Hawaiian Luau
To learn about Hawaii’s colourful culture, a tasty start is at a Hawaiian luau. This traditional feast is also a feast for the senses, accompanied by beautiful music, sumptuous food spreads and smoky aromas emanating from an underground rock oven.
So, what’s on the menu? Here is our must-try list of traditional Hawaiian food, you can enjoy at a festive luau, or exploring on your own on your chosen island.
Traditional Hawaiian food
If you’re hungry for culture (or just plain hungry!) Hawaii delivers (literally too, but it’s better to dine in!) Get ready to start Maui’ing down on these famous dishes!
1. Oh, Poi!
Love or hate Hawaiian poi, every visitor must try this staple. Tangy poi is a gluey, starchy paste made from pounding and diluting taro root, a cornerstone of Hawaiian cuisine. Speaking of roots, poi is deeply-rooted in Polynesian tradition, and historically even had ceremonial purposes. Used as an accompaniment to most traditional Hawaiian dishes and eaten with your hands, you can use these criteria for picking your poi: three fingers refer to runnier poi, two-fingers is thicker and one-finger poi is the thickest.
2. Laulau, now!
While taro root makes poi, taro leaves are used for cooking laulau. Meat, usually pork, but sometimes fish or chicken, is wrapped in the edible leaves and then left to cook in an imu , an underground rock oven, until soft and smoky. When it comes to traditional Hawaiian food, each tasty morsel of laulau delivers a bite of Hawaii’s rich culinary history.
3. Kalua pig is nothing to snort at
Shredded pork is slowly cooked in an imu, lending itself to that smoked flavour of laula. For fans of southern-style pulled pork, this is an absolute must. Kalua is simply the name for the cooking method, and the pig is a main dish at a Hawaiian luau. A large pit is dug in the ground, fired up with wood and lined with hot stones for a cooking surface. After a few hours the tender kalua pig is ready for you, soink your teeth into.
4. Who doesn’t love a good poke?
We drool just thinking about the freshest of fresh poke one can find in either five-star Hawaii hotel menus, or the most simple, rustic food stand by the roadside. Poke is enjoying a surge in popularity in North America, and for good reason, but as an authentic Hawaiian dish, you must try it in its land of origin. Raw fish, usually tuna, but also salmon, octopus and other local catches, is cubed and served with sea salt, seaweed, garnishes and rice. Its melt-in-your-mouth goodness is addictive, so be warned, the local poke maker may become your new best friend in Hawaii.
5. Pu Pu (tee hee) Platter
We got our giggle out the way, now let’s find out what the heck this really is! Pu pu refers to Chinese-American inspired appetizers. Order a pu pu platter and you can expect to be served a tray of finger foods like spring rolls, spare ribs, chicken balls, crisp wontons and skewered beef and shrimp, surrounded by a small hibachi grill. With all that decadent, deep-fried goodness ready to share, pu pu platters are where it’s at.
6. Spam, spam, spam
Monty Python fans may have a chuckle, but to Hawaiians, Spam’s no joke! Over 7 million cans of the processed cooked meat are consumed by Hawaiians each year, and Waikiki even hosts an annual Spam festival. While we have been raving about fresh foods in Hawaii, Spam is the exception. Beyond the traditional eggs with Spam and rice, Hawaiian chefs have come up with ingenious ways of serving the beloved cooked ham, including sushi. Spam is found on fine dining menus to family dinner tables, as well as in the hearts of proud islanders. If it’s Spam that’s found in your email, that’s, unfortunately, another story.
7. Shave Ice
Picture a heaping bowl of halo halo from the Philippines. Now imagine the refreshing first slurp of a slushie in the heat of summer. Hawaii's famous shave ice is the best of both worlds.
Thinly ground ice is saturated with a syrupy flavour of your choice, then topped with fruit, candy, ice cream, or whatever strikes your fancy. Find sugary shave ice stops all across the islands in the form of mom-and-pop shops or beachfront food stands.
Ready to sink your teeth into our tailor-made Hawaii Vacations? If it’s a foodie vacation you’re after, look no further than Flight Centre. We’ve hand-picked the best selection of Hawaii hotels and resorts that feature some of Hawaii’s best chefs, menus and restaurants.