Savor the Aloha Spirit: Indulge in Authentic Hawaiian Food to enjoy on the islands (updated 2023)

Delicious Hawaiian foods made up of multi-cultural, Polynesian and ethnic foods from ancient Hawaiian traditional food, plantation days to the current Hawaiian regional cuisine is all wrapped up into what we call local foods of Hawaii.

Eating your way through Hawaii is one of the most enjoyable parts to visiting the islands, but you may wonder what really are the foods of Hawaii? In this post, we share the typical foods from Hawaii starting with traditional Hawaiian food through to Plantation era foods introduced to the islands and then the farm to table approach of growing and eating what’s local with an innovative twist.

Check out the details, history and some inspired reading on what Hawaiian food is all about and the popular foods to eat and try on the islands.

What Hawaiian Foods should you eat on the islands now
Hawaiian Food Showcase Highlights Island Flavors and Culture

History of local Hawaiian foods from indigenous to farm to table in Hawaii

Foods of Hawaii does cover a wide range of history and eating on the islands starting with the original settlers to the islands with the Polynesians bringing over their canoe plants (over 30 different plants) and creating food from the land, fishing and living healthy on the islands. The ancient Hawaiians planted coconuts, sweet potatoes and yams, sugar cane, grew their staple taro for poi, fished and raised meat that they cooked in earthen ovens in the ground. You can see that eating most of the traditional Hawaiian foods covers very simple food with local ingredients used along with spices grown on the islands.

Popular Hawaiian dishes to try includes Hawaiian Poke, Lau Lau, Kalua Pork, Poi, purple sweet potato, baked breadfruit, Pipi Kaula and fresh Opihi harvested and clinging to slippery rocks in the ocean. The staples of Hawaiian traditional food are simple, hearty and nutritious food that fed the Hawaiian people and now all locals and visitors want to eat some of the good local food here.

History of Food and eating in Hawaii
A traditional squid Luau dish

Mission era Hawaiian foods brought to the islands

Mission Era Foods in Hawaii refers to the types of food that were introduced and cultivated during the missionary period in Hawaii, which lasted from the early 19th century to the mid-19th century. During this time, missionaries from various Christian denominations arrived in Hawaii and brought with them new agricultural practices and food items.

The missionaries played a significant role in shaping the food culture of Hawaii by introducing and promoting certain crops and cooking techniques. They encouraged the cultivation of crops such as wheat, rice, corn, and various fruits and vegetables. Additionally, they introduced new cooking methods and recipes that blended their own cultural influences with the local ingredients and cooking traditions.

Some of the foods that emerged during the Mission Era in Hawaii include poi (a traditional Hawaiian staple made from taro), lomilomi salmon (a salmon salad with tomatoes and onions), haupia (a coconut-based dessert), and Portuguese-influenced dishes like malasadas (fried doughnuts) and sweet bread.

Overall, Mission Era Foods in Hawaii represent a culinary fusion of traditional Hawaiian ingredients and cooking methods with the influences brought by the Christian missionaries, resulting in a unique blend of flavors and dishes that continue to be enjoyed in Hawaii today.

Missionaries from the east coast of the United States brought their own dishes and preserved foods like salted fish which was incorporated into the Hawaiian food palate starting with lomi-lomi salmon as a side dish. This was eventually included as a favorite Hawaiian style dish to eat.

Plantation era farmers and their foods

Plantation era farmers and their comfort foods introduced into Hawaii

When the first immigrants came to the islands to work in the plantation fields, lunch time was a delicious affair with everyone sharing their food in a potluck type of local gathering at lunch time and other gatherings at the end of day. Everyone loves Hawaiian comfort foods and all of these favorite dishes were passed down from families and shared at so many different events and gatherings.

This covers the gamut of international flavors from the early plantation days and workers with  Pasteles from Puerto Rico, Chicken Long Rice from China, Adobe Chicken from the Philippines, Hot Saimin from China, sweet breads from Portugal, tempura chicken or beef and Japanese bento food. All of these delicious foods have found their way into the Hawaiian food palate and mixed plate appeal so popular on all the islands.

Popular Hawaiian food favorites from the Islands

Popular Hawaiian food dishes around the Islands

From all of these traditional and plantation era food mixed into a blend of good eats into a local style of popular Hawaiian foods evolved with easy takeout food, bento boxes and mixed plate specials became a go to for locals always hungry and looking or delicious food. This included popular favorite dishes like plate lunch, Loco Moco, Hawaiian Mac salad, Lumpia, Manapua, Spam Musubi, Lomi Salmon, Hawaiian barbeque and Huli Huli Chicken.

It’s all delicious and available at many take out venues, grocery stores and mom and pop outlets all around the islands for quick and easy food to eat Hawaiian style.

The New Hawaiian Fusion Style of Hawaiian Food

New Hawaiian fusion foods represent a modern culinary trend that combines traditional Hawaiian ingredients and cooking techniques with influences from various global cuisines. These innovative dishes embrace creativity and experimentation, resulting in exciting flavor combinations and unique dining experiences.

In new Hawaiian fusion cuisine, you may find traditional Hawaiian ingredients like taro, coconut, and fresh seafood incorporated into dishes inspired by Japanese, Korean, Thai, Mexican, or even Italian cuisines. The fusion can take the form of combining different cooking styles, using non-traditional ingredients in traditional Hawaiian dishes, or infusing traditional Hawaiian flavors into international dishes.

Examples of new Hawaiian fusion foods include sushi rolls with a Hawaiian twist, such as spam musubi sushi or poke bowls with creative toppings and dressings. Kalua pork tacos with pineapple salsa or kimchi-infused loco moco (a traditional Hawaiian dish consisting of rice, hamburger patty, fried egg, and gravy) are also popular fusion creations.

Furthermore, chefs are incorporating local ingredients like lilikoi (passionfruit), macadamia nuts, and Kona coffee into desserts such as lilikoi cheesecake or macadamia nut brittle with Kona coffee-infused chocolate.

New Hawaiian fusion foods offer a delightful blend of flavors, celebrating the multicultural influences present in Hawaii while honoring its traditional roots. These innovative dishes continue to evolve as chefs explore new combinations and push culinary boundaries, making the Hawaiian dining scene an exciting and dynamic culinary destination.

Here’s some delicious Hawaiian Foods and what should you eat

Hawaiian Regional Cuisine

The origin of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine

12 Talented chefs incorporated all these local dishes into a variety of fusion style dishes in their menu started in 1992 to develop into a Hawaiian Regional cuisine and incorporates locally grown ingredients, fresh seafood, meats and other products direct from local growers and farmers in the area. This focus on local ingredients and fresh from the farm was originally a concept of forward thinking chefs on the island even before the concept of “Farm to Table” became a major buzz word in the foodie world. These locally sourced ingredients inspired some of the top chefs in popular restaurants and hotels to create beautifully executed food and presentation that created a real buzz in the Hawaii food scene and still does today.

The fusion style and Hawaiian cuisine that is prevalent today around the various islands is what excites visitors to discover the delicious flavors of this Hawaiian regional cuisine. You will find all the major high-end restaurants and hotels coming up with their own riff to innovative or island inspired flavors that help create and foster the food trends and direction of eating well on the islands.

It’s not surprising that the new Hawaiian Regional Cuisine originated from all the multi-cultural and food influences around the islands with local growers and ranchers being supported by the food industry in a healthy and symbiotic relationship. New chefs coming to the islands are also inspired by all the fresh ingredients, quality and variety of food ingredients to create new and inventive flavor profiles and exciting presentations to Hawaiian food.

Hawaiian Snacks

Hawaiian Snacks everyone loves to eat on the islands

Everyone on the islands love to snack in between meals and Hawaiian snacks cover the gamut from sweet, salty, tangy to overall savory foods that will tie you over to the main meals or just Hawaiian appetizers on their own for a pupu gathering.

Popular favorite snack foods include sweet mochi desserts, Taro Chips, Manapua, spam musubi, Japanese arare crackers, Hawaii sushi or poke and all the Hawaiian snack favorites here to try.

Hawaiian Desserts

Hawaiian Desserts and local favorite sweets and pastries

It appears that all local people love Hawaiian desserts and will always leave a little extra space in their tummy for somethings sweet to eat after a good meal. Popular favorites to try here includes: Chocolate Haupia Cream Pie or just simple haupia, shave ice, mochi, Kulolo and so many other delicious Hawaiian desserts here.

Hawaiian Style Barbeque

Popular Hawaiian Style Barbeque

Hawaii barbeque is big on the islands and everything from chicken, meat, fish and seafood is tasty when it is barbequed and served fresh on the islands. Starting with the smoky and flavorful huli huli chicken, simple bbq Chicken, beef or seafood on the grill or ethnic flavored bbq.  Hawaiian style bbq covers the gamut that everyone loves with different variations and sauces from sweet, garlicky, vinegar and sour or spicy you’ll find on the islands.  Check out these delicious inspired bbq recipes below.

Check out our post on Hawaiian Barbeque here for more inspiration and pictures.

Hawaiian food recipes and delicious barbeques

Maui rib style

Huli Huli pork ribs

Hawaiian BBQ recipe

Hawaiian style short ribs

Garlic Shrimp ala Giovanni’s Hawaiian style shrimp

Inside tips for eating Hawaiian foods around the islands

Embrace the Local Specialties: When dining in Hawaii, be sure to try traditional Hawaiian dishes like poi, kalua pig, lomi lomi salmon, and laulau. These dishes offer a genuine taste of the islands’ unique culinary heritage.

Explore the Food Trucks: Hawaii is famous for its vibrant food truck culture. Seek out local food trucks and stands that serve authentic Hawaiian cuisine. They often offer a variety of delicious and affordable options, from plate lunches to fresh seafood.

Visit Farmers Markets: Experience the freshest produce and local ingredients by exploring farmers markets across the islands. Not only can you sample tropical fruits and unique snacks, but you can also interact with local farmers and artisans, learning more about the food and culture of Hawaii.

Seek Out Regional Specialties: Each Hawaiian island has its own regional specialties worth trying. For example, on Oahu, indulge in malasadas (Portuguese-inspired doughnuts), while on Maui, savor the famous coconut candy known as “Hawaiian Coconut Pudding.”

Don’t Miss the Poke: Poke, a traditional Hawaiian dish made with diced raw fish, is a must-try. Look for poke shops or supermarkets that offer a variety of fresh poke flavors and toppings. Don’t hesitate to try different combinations and discover your favorite.

Enjoy the Plate Lunch: Plate lunch is a beloved Hawaiian tradition, consisting of a generous portion of rice, a protein (such as chicken, beef, or fish), and a side like macaroni salad. It’s a filling and flavorful option that showcases the diversity of Hawaiian flavors.

Indulge in Shave Ice: Cool down with a refreshing treat by trying Hawaiian shave ice. It’s finely shaved ice topped with flavored syrups, often accompanied by sweetened condensed milk or azuki beans. Experiment with different flavor combinations for a delightful experience.

Ask the Locals: Engage with locals and ask for their recommendations on where to find the best Hawaiian food. They can provide valuable insights and point you to hidden gems that may not be as well-known to tourists.

Experience a Luau: Attend a traditional Hawaiian luau to immerse yourself in the local culture and enjoy a feast featuring traditional dishes and entertainment, such as hula dancing and live music.

Be Open to New Flavors: Hawaiian cuisine is influenced by various cultures, so be open to trying new flavors and combinations. Embrace the fusion of tastes and ingredients that make Hawaiian food truly unique.

Remember, exploring the diverse Hawaiian food scene is an adventure in itself. Enjoy the journey and savor the flavors of the islands!

Check out these other delicious Hawaiian inspired food topics

Locals love these tasty Hawaiian snacks

Popular Hawaiian dishes you need to try

Try some Poi in your diet

Traditional Hawaiian food favorite dishes

Comfort foods of Hawaii

Delicious Hawaiian tropical fruits

Try some Loco Moco

All about Poke

Hawaiian Spam and recipes

Hawaii chocolate making and tour

Hawaiian style banana bread

Farmers markets in Hawaii

Avocado season in Hawaii

Mango season in Hawaii

Pineapple season in Hawaii

Taste fresh lychees in season

Conclusion on Hawaiian Foods

Are you hungry for Hawaiian Food?

So, this is the whole gamut of different types of Hawaiian foods to eat on the island from more traditional Hawaiian food, plantation era comfort foods and into the new Hawaiian Regional Cuisine that is popular at many fine dining restaurants on the islands.

You can always have a great meal with all the delicious flavors of the islands from something as simple as a mixed plate lunch to a five-star dining experience at a very expensive restaurant in Hawaii.

Conclusion to eating Hawaiian Food

Eating Hawaii-style foods is not just about satisfying your taste buds; it’s a journey through the vibrant culinary traditions and cultural diversity of the islands. From traditional dishes rooted in Hawaiian heritage to innovative fusion creations, the food scene in Hawaii offers a plethora of flavors and experiences.

By embracing local specialties, visiting food trucks and farmers markets, and seeking out regional delicacies, you can truly immerse yourself in the authentic tastes of Hawaii. Don’t miss the opportunity to try poke, indulge in plate lunches, and cool off with refreshing shave ice. Engage with locals, ask for recommendations, and be open to new flavors that blend influences from different cultures.

Thanks for visiting today and checking out this post on Hawaiian Food. I hope you are inspired to plan a visit and enjoy the amazing cuisine of Hawaii. If you enjoyed the images and post, could you please share it with any of the social media buttons located around the post.

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Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.