Traditional Hawaiian Food + Must Eat Dishes

Culinary Roots

Hawaiian cuisine takes a pinch of this and a dash of that from the many cultures that played a role in Hawaiian history. 

Polynesians brought taro, sweet potatoes, bananas, coconuts, sugarcane, pigs, chickens, and dogs. Early settlers ate local fish, shrimp, crabs, octopus, seaweed and sea salt. Western explorers brought cattle, pineapple, and a variety of seeds and livestock to the islands. 

Pineapple and sugarcane plantations followed and attracted international workers from Japan, China, Korea, Puerto Rico, Philippines, and Portugal. Each contributed their own culinary influence to modern Hawaiian cuisine.

Chinese dim sum dishes like manapua (pork buns), Korean kimchi and marinated meats, Portuguese malasadas and pork dishes, Filipino garlic and vinegar dishes and Japanese sashimi, bento, tofu, and soy sauce are all commonly eaten in Hawaii today. 

This combination of flavors and cultural influences all work together to form modern Hawaiian cuisine. 


Traditional Foods + Dishes

Typical Hawaiian Dishes

Plate Lunch – similar to a bento, usually including two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and a protein like hamburger or chicken katsu

Pupu – appetizers or small bites

Spam – canned and precooked spiced ham, common in Hawaii and in Hawaiian dishes

Musubi – a snack made of meat (often marinated spam) over rice, tied with seaweed

Kalua Pork – pulled pork

Saimin – a Hawaiian inspired noodle soup similar to ramen

Loco Moco – white rice topped with hamburger patties, a fried egg, and brown gravy

Manapua – fluffy buns filled with pork

Huli Huli Chicken – marinated chicken

Lau Lau – pork wrapped and cooked in taro leaves

Poi – thick purple paste made from taro

Lomi Salmon – salmon diced with tomatoes, onions, and peppers

Squid Luau – taro leaves and squid cooked in coconut milk

Poke – raw seafood salad, cut into chunks and marinated

Chicken Long Rice – noodle dish with vermicelli and chicken

Mac Salad – a mayonnaise-based macaroni salad with carrots 

Hō’i’o/Pohole – fiddlehead fern 

Shave Ice – elevated snow cone with flavored syrups and sweet toppings

Malasadas – Portuguese sweet bread similar to a donut 

Haupia – coconut pudding 

POG – papaya, orange, and guava juice

Kona coffee – coffee grown in the Kona region on Hawaii’s Big Island


Traditional Foods: Locally Grown, Caught & Raised

In addition to the common Hawaiian dishes, you’ll see these Hawaiian-grown and raised foods on menus and in seasonings during your visit.

Locally Grown

  • Banana
  • Guava
  • Papaya
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Lilikoi/Passionfruit 
  • Coconut
  • Taro (root veggie common in Hawaiian food)
  • Avocado
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Vanilla
  • Honey
  • Sugarcane
  • Coffee

Locally Raised

  • Pork
  • Beef (and dairy)
  • Goat 

Locally Caught

  • Ahi/Yellowfin Tuna
  • Aku/Skipjack Tuna
  • Bigeye Ahi
  • Tombo/Albacore Tuna
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Ono/Wahoo
  • Kajiki/Blue Marlin
  • Nairagi/Striped Marlin
  • Broadbill Swordfish
  • Sailfish
  • Opah/Moonfish
  • Grouper/Sea Bass
  • Red Snapper
  • Lobster
  • Crab
  • Shrimp
      Oahu Cooking Classes

      Oahu Cooking Classes

      Take a deeper dive into Hawaiian food and culture while you learn to make traditional Hawaiian dishes.

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