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What are Some Hawaiian Foods?

By KD Morgan
Updated May 16, 2024
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Hawaiian foods are some of the healthiest cuisine of most cultures. It is primarily fish, fruit, taro and macadamia nuts. When the people of Polynesia settled the Hawaiian Islands, they brought their local fruits and vegetables with them. The tropical climate allowed all traditional Hawaiian foods to grow in abundance.

Within the local fish options, some of the most popular are also the most abundant in the islands. Mahi-mahi is one of the most famous. It is a dolphin fish, unrelated to the mammal dolphin. Opakapaka is a pink snapper, Uku is a gray snapper and Ulaula is a red snapper. Ono is from the mackerel family and translates as “delicious”. The famous Ahi is an albacore or yellow fin tuna. Hawaiian lobsters are small, unique and exceptionally delicious.

Fruit trees make a major contribution to Hawaiian foods and cuisine. Pineapples are in abundance and exported all over the world. Because of their health benefits, a new organic, white pineapple was developed in the 1980’s. This pineapple offered the same advantages as normal pineapple but is very low in acid so more people are able to enjoy it.

Papayas, mangoes, apple bananas, coconuts, star fruit and breadfruit are a few of the fruits grown on the islands and included in most of the Hawaiian dishes. Macadamia nuts, sea algae, sugar cane and free-range island chicken round out the common Hawaiian foods.

A traditional Hawaiian luau includes Hawaiian sweet potatoes and poi, made from the infamous taro root. Taro root is one of the perfect foods from the Earth. It is considered by many traditional Hawaiians to cure many diseases. It is so healthy that is was even made into a mash and fed to ailing or premature infants.

A luau is a gathering of the community for a common meal. They prepare the food in an imu, which is an underground oven. These imus have been used for centuries all over the Polynesian islands and Micronesia as a means of preparing large meals for the entire community.

For a traditional Hawaiian luau, an island kalua pig is placed underground in an imu pit along with breadfruit, Hawaiian sweet potatoes, taro root, fish and island chickens. Green material surrounds the fire pit to allow for steaming of the food. This process takes 6 to 8 hours to complete.

When we consider Hawaiian foods, we cannot neglect the famous Kona coffee, which is enjoyed as a delicacy all over the world. Kauai, Lanai, Maui, Molokai and Oahu now offer local coffees as well. In addition, local island beers are now available from each of the main islands. Each has its own unique signature due to the soil and environment of each island.

Many influences have been introduced to Hawaiian foods since Hawaii has become a large tourist location. Asian influences of Japan, China, Thailand, Korea and India are prominent. Local chef Roy Yamaguchi created his own Eurasian cuisine with Hawaiian foods. Sam Choy has introduced many signature beef, fish and pork dishes, also integrating other cultures into his traditional Hawaiian foods. His is known on the islands for his SPAM™ and eggs breakfast.

Many of the local chefs have considered the diverse palates of the tourists from around the world when creating their specialties. Pupus, which are appetizers, have become very famous in the Hawaiian Islands. Crab stuffed mushrooms with a delicate cheese sauce, sashimi, salmon or fish pate, topped with sour cream, Maui onions and capers are a few examples.

One of the favorites of tourists and locals alike are the lightly breaded panko fish. This is a Japanese wheat or rice flour used to create a delicate island fish dish. Panko sauces are also used as a mild, light fish sauce.

Traditional Hawaiian foods are a healthy balance when considering the humid, tropical climate of the Hawaiian Islands. The islands offer an array of excellent tastes and textures. The variations are so complete that anyone can find a favorite among the local Hawaiian foods.

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Discussion Comments

By Comparables — On Feb 02, 2011

This was a great article and made me think about all the years I spent on the islands. I can remember all the great Hawaiian luau foods, but I also remember all the fresh fruits that I would eat for breakfast. The island is rife with litchi, passion fruit, guava, avocado, mountain apple, and lilikoi. These are other exotic fruit that were not mentioned in the article.

By Georgesplane — On Feb 01, 2011

@ Valleyfiah- One of the most iconic local Big Island favorites is the Loco Moco. You can buy this Hawaiian food at almost any deli or eatery on the big island.

The Loco Moco has many variations, but the basics are rice, hamburger patties, a fried egg over-easy, and brown gravy. This is one of those foods created out of demand by the working class; similar to po'boys that you will find in the south. When I was a kid, this was my breakfast instead of fast food drive through. Sometimes I would have it with kalua pork, or maybe fried spam, but it was always hot and delicious. If you want to live like a local next time you visit the big island, give the Loco Moco a try.

By ValleyFiah — On Jan 30, 2011

You are forgetting some famous Hawaiian food like Tako Poki, Opihi, smoked marlin, and haupia. These are all local favorites that you will find at shops along the beach or at luaus.

Tako Poki is Octopus salad made with thinly sliced poached octopus, ginger, sesame seeds, and seaweed. Opihi are hard to find, but if you are lucky (and you know someone who is daring enough to climb the cliffs), you might be invited to a backyard luau where the host serves these Hawaiian limpets. They are increasingly rare to find around the island (at least anywhere accessible anyway), but they are abundant and protected at the marine reserves around the archipelago. They can be eaten raw, or cooked for a minute for two on a grill.

You find great smoked marlin at most stores, and most of it is locally caught. Haupia is a common desert found at luaus as well. It is a stiff coconut custard made with fresh coconut milk, milk, cornstarch, and cane sugar.

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