The traditional food of the Hawaiians always seems to get lost or infused with other local ethnic style dishes that get mixed into Hawaii cuisine. But the native Hawaiian food and the Hawaiian culture are unique and have remained the same with traditional cooking styles from the past . There have also been some influence from plantation time foods that have been incorporated into the Hawaiian diet. If you’re interested in tasting Hawaiian local food, look out for these following dishes that are truly Hawaiian food favorites to try when you visit.
A sampling of Native Hawaiian food
So, what is Kalua pork – A favorite local food in Hawaii that is basically baked pig done in an imu using traditional kalua techniques (underground pit and covered with ti leaf and steamed) and gives a nice smoky steamed effect on the meat. Most Kalua pork nowadays is cooked in a slow cooker or instant pot.
Where to find this – most restaurants, take out places, even grocery stores sell Kalua pig because it is a staple meat on the islands for protein. Most home-made versions are done in a slow cooker or baked in the oven
What is Lau lau – a term meaning leaf, this is wrapped goodness with taro leaves wrapped around fish and pork and steamed until it all melts in your mouth including the delicious taro leaf which is a staple green for Hawaiians.
Where to find this – many take out places, grocery stores and café/restaurants serve this a high-end version come out with pupu (appetizer) style of Lau Lau
What is this dish – basically squid luau is a delicious squid cooked in taro leaves and coconut milk and tender to the taste. Sometimes chicken is added to this dish to give more sweet and savory meat flavor.
Where to find – not always on take out menus but in local cafes or local mom and pop take out places that might have it on the menu. Try it, you’ll like it!
Purple sweet potato
What is this – a staple canoe plant brought by early Hawaiians for starch, the purple sweet potato is boiled, steamed, baked. Can be eaten cut up or mashed up like a poi.
Where to find this – the sweet potato is typically a side dish to many take out places and in many plate lunch specials that you can find at takeout places
What is Poi – basically this is the staple starch for Hawaiians which is a sticky paste made with taro root and pounded with a poi ponder and water added until it is the right gooey consistency. Left out a few days to ferment, the poi adds more of a sour taste to the starch
Where to find poi – most Hawaiian plate meals will include poi as part of a mixed plate special at many take out or mom and pop café style venue
What is Haupia – a favorite dessert that is like a coconut pudding, Haupia is made with coconut milk, sugar and some cornstarch to create the thick dessert.
Where to find haupia – sold in a mixed plate with other Hawaiian style food at many take out places, mom and pop shops. You can order haupia separately as a dessert and some come with different variations like sweet potato layered in with the Haupia
What is lomi salmon – a mixture of diced tomatoes, onions and cured raw salmon or salted fish. This is typically served cold and mixed with poi to complement the salty flavors. Making Lomi salmon is very easy with these very simple fresh ingredients that make a perfect complement to any other Hawaiian traditional dish.
Where to find lomi salmon – a staple dish included in any mixed Hawaiian plate, you’ll find poi included with most meals as a side dish.
Chicken long rice
What is chicken long rice – made during the missionary timeframe when Chinese contract laborers added noodles and made this into a soup, chicken long rice has been incorporated into the Hawaiian style dish that is a local favorite with lots of ginger and garlic added to the soup.
Where to find this – a typical dish you can order at the plate lunch place, farmers market food vendors, mom and pop shop, even local style grocery stores.
What is pipi kaula – a delicious Hawaiian style jerky that is dried outdoors and is then fried or char-broiled in an oven and added to poi or rice in a combination. Many versions are now made with different ingredients and sauces to create a variety of flavors and oven drying to cure the meat faster.
Where to find pipi kaula – a farmer’s markets, road side stands or food trucks and local take out counters that sell this as an entree
What is Kulolo – a baked dessert like a haupia but using grated taro instead of coconut and using mature coconut or coconut cream, sugar and with the taro and baked in an imu or oven for a few hours
Where to find Kulolo – sold at roadside stands, farmers markets and some local take out places selling Hawaiian style food and desserts
Breadfruit or Ulu
What is breadfruit – a typical starch like a potato that Hawaiians brought with them, this starch is typically steamed, baked, boiled or even deep fried. Many different versions of breadfruit are being created to infuse more local starches into the food menu.
Where to find breadfruit – you can buy at farmers markets or have this in a mixed Hawaiian plate at various take out places.
What is Luau stew – a delicious comfort food that grandma made that is a popular Hawaiian dish and made with seasoned and cooked taro leaves and added protein, typically a beef brisket which oozes amazing flavors to the stew. Other typical ingredients that you will find in the stew includes: coconut milk, ginger, onion, pepper and seaweed.
Where to find Luau stew – popular take out food places, cafes and local mom and pop counter shops will sell this delicious comfort style food.
What is poke – the popular raw fish Hawaiian poke is well loved here in Hawaii with many different versions, ingredients and sauces added to create a variety of taste and flavors. The basic flavoring of Hawaiian style poke includes onions, sesame oil, soy sauce, chili pepper and garlic
Where to find poke – there are poke specialty shops, grocery stores and take out places that all sell different versions of poke all over Hawaii.
What is Opihi – this is the local edible shellfish or limpet that attaches to rocks on a seashore and is typically pried from the rocks and eaten raw like an oyster. The raw ocean goodness of Opihi shellfish is mixed with sea salt and sometimes seaweed to add more flavor and texture. Sometimes opihi is grilled and mixed in the a variety of sauces and ingredients to create more flavor and taste.
Where to find opihi – not as easy to find on the menu, you can get opihi from sea food markets, road side vendors selling seafood or some local grocery outlets that sometimes carry these on the menu.
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Conclusion on local Hawaiian food
If you are looking for Traditional Hawaiian food, look for any of these dishes suggested above served at your local café, take out counter, road side stand, farmers markets or even a fine dining venue in Hawaii and you will really soak up the local flavors and taste of Hawaiian foods.