What are some traditional foods in Hawaii?

Posted on

What are some traditional foods in Hawaii?



Prep time

Cooking time

Total time


Hawaii, often referred to as the “Paradise of the Pacific,” is not only known for its breathtaking landscapes, warm hospitality, and vibrant culture but also for its unique and diverse culinary traditions. The Hawaiian cuisine is a reflection of the islands’ rich history, blending influences from native Polynesian settlers, early European explorers, Asian immigrants, and more recent mainland American influences. In this article, we will take a gastronomic journey through Hawaii’s traditional foods, exploring the flavors, ingredients, and cultural significance of each dish that has helped shape the local food scene.


Poi is a staple of traditional Hawaiian cuisine and holds a special place in the hearts of native Hawaiians. Made from the starchy corm of the taro plant, poi is a versatile and nutritious food source. The preparation process involves mashing the cooked taro corms with water until they reach the desired consistency, which can range from thick and pasty to thin and watery. Poi can be eaten on its own or served as a side dish. It has a slightly sour taste and is often described as an acquired taste due to its unique texture and flavor.

Poi has cultural significance in Hawaii and is often served at important gatherings and celebrations, including luaus and traditional ceremonies. It is also believed to have numerous health benefits and is rich in essential nutrients, making it a vital part of the Hawaiian diet.

Kalua Pig

Kalua pig is another iconic dish in Hawaiian cuisine. Traditionally, it is prepared by cooking a whole pig in an underground pit known as an “imu.”

The pig is seasoned with salt and sometimes other spices and then wrapped in banana leaves before being placed in the imu. It is then covered with hot stones and slow-cooked for several hours, resulting in tender, smoky, and flavorful meat.

The term “kalua” refers to the cooking method, which involves slow roasting or steaming in an underground oven. Kalua pig is often the centerpiece of a traditional Hawaiian luau and is served shredded with a smoky aroma that is truly irresistible. The combination of tender meat and a smoky flavor profile makes it a favorite among both locals and visitors.

Lomi Salmon

Lomi salmon is a refreshing Hawaiian side dish made from diced salmon, tomatoes, onions, and green onions, with a dash of salt. The name “lomi” means to massage or knead, which is how the dish is traditionally prepared. The ingredients are gently mixed and massaged together until the flavors meld, resulting in a light and vibrant salmon salad.

This dish showcases the Hawaiian love for fresh seafood and the influence of early European settlers who introduced ingredients like tomatoes and onions. Lomi salmon is a delicious and healthy addition to any Hawaiian meal, offering a burst of flavors that complement the other dishes on the table.

Lau Lau

Lau Lau is a traditional Hawaiian dish that consists of pork, butterfish (or other fatty fish), and sometimes chicken, wrapped in taro leaves and ti leaves. The parcel is then tied securely and steamed until the meat becomes tender and infused with the earthy flavors of the leaves. Lau Lau is a labor-intensive dish to prepare, but the result is well worth the effort.

The use of taro leaves in Lau Lau is a testament to the importance of the taro plant in Hawaiian culture. It is often served with poi and other traditional side dishes, creating a balanced and satisfying meal that exemplifies the diversity of Hawaiian cuisine.


Poke (pronounced poh-kay) has gained immense popularity both in Hawaii and on the mainland in recent years. It is a dish that celebrates the island’s love for fresh seafood, particularly raw fish. The term “poke” means to slice or cut, and that’s precisely what this dish involves—sliced or cubed raw fish, usually ahi tuna or salmon, marinated in a flavorful mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions, and other seasonings.

Poke can be enjoyed as an appetizer or a main course and is often served over a bed of rice or mixed with fresh vegetables. Its simplicity and deliciousness have made it a beloved Hawaiian dish that is now enjoyed worldwide.


No traditional Hawaiian meal is complete without a sweet treat to finish it off, and haupia fits the bill perfectly. Haupia is a creamy coconut pudding that is both simple to make and incredibly delicious. It is typically made with just four ingredients: coconut milk, sugar, cornstarch, and water.

The mixture is heated until it thickens, then poured into a pan and chilled until it sets. Haupia has a smooth and velvety texture with a subtle coconut flavor that satisfies the sweet tooth without being overly rich. It is often cut into small squares or served in individual cups as a dessert option at luaus and other Hawaiian gatherings.


Manapua, sometimes referred to as “Hawaiian bao,” is a popular snack or street food item in Hawaii. It is a Hawaiian take on the Chinese baozi (steamed buns) that was introduced by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century. Manapua consists of a soft, fluffy bun filled with various savory fillings, most commonly char siu (barbecue pork).

These portable snacks are often enjoyed as a quick and satisfying meal on the go. Manapua vendors can be found throughout Hawaii, offering a variety of fillings and flavors to cater to different tastes.

Plate Lunch

The plate lunch is a quintessential Hawaiian comfort food that has evolved over the years. It typically consists of two scoops of white rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, and a protein of your choice, such as teriyaki chicken, loco moco (a hamburger patty topped with a fried egg and gravy), or katsu (breaded and fried meat, often pork or chicken).

The plate lunch concept was influenced by the bento lunches of Japanese immigrants and has become a beloved part of Hawaii’s food culture. It’s a hearty and satisfying meal that can be customized to suit individual preferences.


Saimin is a noodle soup dish that reflects the multicultural influences on Hawaiian cuisine. It is reminiscent of Japanese ramen and Chinese mein, but it has a unique Hawaiian twist. Saimin features thin wheat noodles served in a flavorful broth, often garnished with green onions, kamaboko (fish cake), char siu pork, and sometimes a hard-boiled egg.

Saimin is a beloved comfort food in Hawaii, and it’s often enjoyed as a hot and satisfying meal, especially on a rainy day or when craving a bowl of comforting noodles.


Malasadas are Portuguese-inspired fried doughnuts that have become a beloved dessert in Hawaii. These sweet treats are deep-fried until golden brown and then coated in granulated sugar. Malasadas are known for their light and fluffy texture and are often filled with various flavored creams or custards, such as chocolate, haupia, or guava.

Originally brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants, malasadas are now a popular indulgence that can be found at local bakeries and food trucks.

They are often enjoyed during special occasions and celebrations. Hawaii’s traditional foods offer a tantalizing glimpse into the cultural tapestry of the islands. These dishes not only reflect the history and influences that have shaped Hawaiian cuisine but also celebrate the abundance of natural resources that the islands provide. Whether you’re savoring the earthy flavors of poi, enjoying the smoky goodness of kalua pig, or indulging in the sweet decadence of malasadas, each dish tells a story of Hawaii’s unique culinary heritage. So, the next time you find yourself in the Aloha State, make sure to embark on a gastronomic adventure and savor the traditional foods that make Hawaii a true culinary paradise.

Lū’au and Laulau

Lū’au is not just a traditional Hawaiian feast; it’s also the name given to a variety of dishes often served at such gatherings. A lū’au typically includes a wide array of foods, but one of the most prominent dishes is laulau. As previously mentioned, laulau consists of pork, butterfish (or other fatty fish), and sometimes chicken, all wrapped in taro leaves and ti leaves. However, at a lū’au, you’ll often find an assortment of other delicious dishes like kalua pig, chicken long rice, lomi salmon, and poi, making it a true celebration of Hawaiian cuisine.

Lū’au gatherings are an essential part of Hawaiian culture, and they provide an opportunity to enjoy traditional foods while celebrating special occasions or milestones. These feasts are often accompanied by music, hula dancing, and a strong sense of community.

Spam Musubi

While Spam may not be exclusive to Hawaii, its popularity in the islands is unrivaled. Spam musubi is a beloved Hawaiian snack that combines two ingredients: Spam and rice. A slice of cooked Spam is placed on top of a block of rice, often with a drizzle of soy sauce and wrapped together with a strip of nori (seaweed). This portable treat can be found in convenience stores, local markets, and even high-end restaurants.

The introduction of Spam to Hawaii during World War II has left a lasting mark on the islands’ culinary landscape. Hawaiians have embraced Spam and incorporated it into various dishes, including Spam fried rice, Spam and eggs, and, of course, Spam musubi.

Portuguese Bean Soup

Portuguese bean soup is a hearty and flavorful dish that reflects the influence of Portuguese immigrants on Hawaiian cuisine. This soup typically consists of red kidney beans, sausage, tomatoes, onions, carrots, and cabbage, all simmered together to create a comforting and filling meal. Some variations may include macaroni or other ingredients, depending on family recipes and regional preferences.

Portuguese bean soup is a popular comfort food in Hawaii and is often enjoyed during cooler weather or as a satisfying meal option. It’s a testament to the cultural diversity that has enriched Hawaiian culinary traditions over the years.


Pipikaula is a traditional Hawaiian dish that showcases the islands’ connection to beef production. It is a form of beef jerky, where thin strips of beef are marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar, and other seasonings before being air-dried or sun-dried. The result is a flavorful and chewy beef jerky that can be enjoyed as a snack or incorporated into various dishes.

The name “pipikaula” is believed to be derived from the Hawaiian words “pipi” (beef) and “kaula” (rope), possibly referring to the way the beef strips were once hung on ropes to dry. Pipikaula is a tasty and portable option for those on the go and a testament to the Hawaiian ingenuity in preserving food.

Hawaiian Sweet Bread

Hawaiian sweet bread, often simply referred to as “Hawaiian bread” or “King’s Hawaiian bread,” is a deliciously sweet and soft bread that has become a staple in Hawaii and beyond. It was originally created by Robert Taira, who founded King’s Hawaiian Bakery in Hilo, Hawaii, in the 1950s. The bread is characterized by its slightly sweet flavor and a golden, tender crust.

Hawaiian sweet bread is used for a variety of dishes, from making sandwiches and French toast to creating the popular “Hawaiian bread rolls” often served at family gatherings and picnics. Its unique sweetness and fluffy texture make it a favorite among both locals and visitors.

Hawaii’s traditional foods are a testament to the rich and diverse cultural influences that have shaped the islands’ culinary heritage. From the staple dishes like poi and kalua pig that reflect the indigenous Hawaiian culture to the Portuguese-inspired Portuguese bean soup and the globally beloved poke, Hawaiian cuisine is a melting pot of flavors and traditions.

Exploring these traditional foods not only allows us to savor the unique flavors of the islands but also offers a glimpse into the history, people, and communities that make Hawaii a culinary paradise. So, whether you’re dining at a local Hawaiian restaurant, attending a lū’au, or trying your hand at cooking these dishes at home, don’t miss the opportunity to experience the vibrant and diverse world of traditional Hawaiian foods. Aloha!


Beginner-friendly recipes / Coffee Recipes / Easy Recipes / foods / Quick recipes / recipe / Recipe collections / Tea recipes / traditional foods in Hawaii

You might also like these recipes