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Hawaiian cuisine is a vibrant fusion of diverse influences, blending flavors and cooking techniques from Polynesia, Asia, and North America. You’ll find many food trucks and restaurants serving a variety of cuisines in its Hawaiian version with fresh produce.

A trip to the Aloha State isn’t just about sandy beaches and picturesque sunsets; it’s an opportunity to feast on a unique food culture that reflects the islands’ history and the spirit of ‘ohana (family).

For foodies and travel enthusiasts alike, this list of the top 15 popular Hawaiian dishes will guide you on a gourmet journey that’s as much a taste of the islands as it is a culinary travel experience.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

1. Poke

No Hawaiian meal is complete without a generous serving of poke. Pronounced “poh-kay,” this classic Hawaiian dish features fresh, cubed ahi tuna (raw fish) marinated in a mixture of sesame oil, soy sauce, and other seasonings, such as chili peppers, seaweed, and onions.

The simplicity of its preparation allows the quality of the fish to shine. Originally served as a snack or appetizer, poke has skyrocketed in popularity and can be found in numerous variations, including octopus (tako) and salmon.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

2. Loco Moco

A decadent creation often attributed to the cafe culture of 1940s Hawaiian diner fare, loco moco is a comfort food dream. This dish features white rice, a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and brown gravy. It’s the ultimate example of the savory umami flavors that the islands have to offer.

Variations on different Hawaiian islands might include Portuguese sausage or Spam, further highlighting the dish’s fusion of flavors and cultural influences.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

3. Kalua Pig

Kalua pig or Kalua pork is one of the most well-known traditional Hawaiian dishes and is central to any luau. This shredded, smoky pork is traditionally cooked in an underground oven, known as an imu, which infuses the meat with a distinct earthy flavor.

The end result is incredibly tender and moist pork, often served with cabbage and white rice. Kalua pig embodies the essence of Hawaiian cooking—simple, soulful, and seasoned with aloha.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

4. Spam Musubi

Hawaii’s love affair with Spam began during World War II and continues to this day, with Spam Musubi being its creative culinary expression. This popular snack is a slice of grilled Spam on top of a block of rice, wrapped together with nori seaweed to form a sort of Spam sushi.

It’s a beloved island staple found everywhere, from gas stations to upscale eateries, showcasing the versatility of the much-maligned canned meat.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

5. Huli Huli Chicken

A staple of Hawaiian barbecues, huli huli chicken is marinated in a sweet and tangy sauce, then cooked on a rotating spit, allowing the meat to baste in its own juices.

The term “huli” means to turn over, and during cooking, the chicken is flipped multiple times. This results in a succulent, flavorful bird with crispy skin that’s a hit with locals and visitors alike.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

6. Haupia Pie

For those with a sweet tooth, haupia pie is sure to delight. Haupia, a traditional Hawaiian coconut pudding, is often served at luaus. But in pie form, it becomes a showstopper. The pie typically has a shortbread-style crust and a rich, silky haupia filling.

Decadent and rich, it’s an indulgence that merges the tropical flavor of coconut with the comfort of homemade pie.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

7. Malasadas

Traditional malasadas are delectable treats. A Hawaiian take on the Portuguese deep-fried dough recipe, these sugar-dusted, pillow-soft doughnuts are often served hot and filled with tropical fruit-flavored custards or left plain as a canvas for the sweet sugar coating. A bite into a malasada is a little taste of paradise and can be enjoyed as a sweet breakfast or a dessert.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

8. Shave Ice

On a hot Hawaiian day, nothing refreshes quite like shave ice. This isn’t your typical snow cone—the ice is shaved ultra-fine, creating a smooth, velvety texture. It’s then doused with vibrant, tropical syrups in flavors like guava, lychee, and passion fruit.

Some places also add a sweetened condensed milk drizzle for an extra creamy experience. Shaved ice is a testament to Hawaii’s love for tropical flavors and its commitment to keeping cool in the island heat.

Try one of the best-shaved ice in town here!


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

9. Lau Lau

Lau Lau is a traditional Hawaiian dish that involves wrapping meat (often pork) and sometimes fish in taro leaves and steaming the packets. The result is succulent, tender meat with a subtle flavor infused by the taro leaves.

This process of cooking in leaves or ti leaves dates back hundreds of years and is a practice that’s uniquely Polynesian. Modern lau lau might incorporate meats such as beef or chicken, which can be found in local plate-lunch spots.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

10. Poi

Poi, a staple local food of the traditional Hawaiian diet, is made by pounding cooked taro root with water until it reaches a smooth, paste-like consistency.

Its texture ranges from very thin and watery to very thick. Poi is often featured at traditional Hawaiian luaus and is an important cultural touchstone. Its slightly sour taste and purple hue might surprise you, but its place in the cultural fabric of Hawaii is undisputed.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

11. Saimin

Brought to Hawaii by Chinese immigrants, saimin is a noodle soup dish that is influenced by Japanese ramen and Chinese mein. It typically includes wheat egg noodles in a hot dashi-based broth, topped with green onions, char siu, kamaboko (fish cake), and sometimes even a tender piece of kalua pig.

Saimin is comfort in a bowl, a testament to Hawaii’s love affair with savory noodle dishes that are every bit as satisfying as they are delicious.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

12. Manapua

A Hawaiian spin on the classic Chinese bao, manapua features a fluffy, white bun typically filled with barbecued pork (char siu) but can also include chicken, beef, or even sweet fillings like custard. It’s the ideal handheld snack for a busy day of exploring the islands.

Often found at dim sum restaurants and local bakeries, manapua has become a staple in Hawaii, further reflecting the island’s vibrant food scene and multicultural history.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

13. Pipikaula

Also known as Hawaiian beef jerky, pipikaula is a popular Hawaiian dish that was first introduced to the islands by the Spanish-Mexican vaqueros who came to the islands in the 1830s.

This flavorful, chewy beef is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and spices, then dried or smoked to create a satisfying snack or a main dish. Modern interpretations may include other meats like pork or chicken, but beef remains a favorite.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

14. Lomi Lomi Salmon

Lomi lomi salmon is a Hawaiian side dish that features a tangy mixture of salted salmon, tomatoes, and onions. The term “lomi” means to massage, and traditionally, the mixture is prepared by rubbing the ingredients together with your hands.

It’s a refreshing and flavorful accompaniment perfect for cutting through more decadent dishes. Though termed “salmon,” lomi lomi can be made with a variety of salted fishes, showcasing the island’s ample seafood offerings.


Impressive Hawaiian Dishes

15. Ono

Lastly, ono isn’t just a word for delicious in Hawaiian — it’s a fish! Ono, or wahoo, is a local Hawaiian favorite for its firm texture and slightly sweet flavor. It’s often grilled, caramelizing the sugars in the fish and bringing out its natural sweetness.

Whether it’s fresh on a plate with rice and a side of macaroni salad or served as a star in a fish taco, ono is an emblematic taste of Hawaii’s bountiful ocean.


FAQs

What is the best time of year to try traditional Hawaiian foods?

Hawaiian foods are available year-round, but by visiting during local festivals like the Merrie Monarch Festival in spring or the Aloha Festivals in September, you can get to experience a variety of traditional dishes and local specialties.

Is it easy to find gluten-free options in Hawaiian cuisine?

Many traditional dishes, such as poke, poi, and grilled meats, are naturally gluten-free. However, it’s always a good idea to check with the restaurant about ingredients and preparation methods to ensure they meet gluten-free standards.

Can I take Hawaiian food back home with me?

Certain packaged foods, such as Kona coffee, macadamia nuts, and packaged sweets, can be taken back home. However, fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats are usually not allowed due to agricultural regulations. So, we recommend you always check local customs regulations before attempting to bring food items back home.


Ready to Experience These Hawaiian Dishes?

Hawaiian cuisine is more than just food; it’s a reflection of island life, history, and the Aloha spirit. Each dish tells a story and is served with a side of tradition! When visiting Hawaii, be sure to indulge in the local flavors, and don’t shy away from trying something new.

The multicultural influences on Hawaiian cuisine have created a unique and vibrant culinary landscape that’s just as diverse as the native Hawaiian people who call the islands home. With such an array of tempting options, a trip to Hawaii is truly a feast for the senses.

Let’s start planning your next stay now! Begin by searching our stunning vacation rentals now, and please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have. Our local, knowledgeable team is here 24/7 to assist.

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