Ethnic And International Foods

Authentic Hawaiian Foods

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Contrary to popular belief, the addition of pineapple to a dish does not make it Hawaiian. In fact, pineapples are not even native to Hawaii. So I am sorry to say that your "Hawaiian Pizza" is merely a "Ham and pineapple pizza" neither created nor popular in the islands.

So what is authentic Hawaiian food?

To us locals, authentic Hawaiian food can be divided into two categories, traditional and non-traditional. Traditional Hawaiian food refers to dishes emerging from old Hawaii, the luau spreads of centuries past and daily staples that fueled the natives. Non-traditional Hawaiian food is birthed out of the cultures of immigrant plantation workers, foods not created by Hawaiians, but unique to the Hawaiian islands and staples to the local diet. Here is a general guide that will help you eat your way through Hawaii.


Poi (po-ee): This is the starch staple of the native Hawaiian diet. Consisting of mashed cooked taro (corm of the kalo plant) mixed with water, poi was once revered as a representation of the Haloa, or ancestors of the native Hawaiians. The flavor of this purplish, glutinous dish is somewhat like paste and usually an acquired taste. Though considered sacrilege my many, some locals like to add a spoonful or two of sugar.

Lau-lau (la-ow la-ow): Beef, pork, or chicken and some tasty morsels of salted butterfish are bundled into a taro leaf pouch then wrapped in ti leaves. Traditionally cooked in an imu, or underground oven, the outer ti leaves are then discarded leaving behind a succulent packet of moist greenery and rich meat.

Poke (po-kay): A seasoned raw fish salad, usually prepared with Ahi. The cubes of fish were traditionally mixed with sea salt, seaweed, and kukui nut oil. Today, other ingredients of Asian inspiration including soy sauce and sesame oil are popular additions to this exotic yet surprisingly tasty dish. I must mention that I hate raw fish, but I will eat poke. Try it.

Squid Luau (Loo-ow): Sometimes prepared with chicken instead of squid, either ingredient is cooked with taro leaves and coconut milk until it becomes a pot of dark green mush. Though unappetizing in appearance, upon tasting you'll discover that it has a smooth and creamy consistency and if prepared right, the bits of chicken or squid will practically melt in your mouth.

Sweet Potato/yam: Rounds of unseasoned sweet potatoes or yams is a common side dish to a Hawaiian meal dating back to early Hawaii.

Lomi Salmon (Low-mee): A diced salad of salted salmon, onions (mild and sweet variety, such as the Maui onion), fresh tomatoes, and often green onions. The name comes from the massaging, or lomi-lomi action that serves to mix the ingredients and enhance the flavors. Salty and delicious, Lomi Salmon is the perfect complement for kalua pig and poi. In fact, it not uncommon to see a local mix the lomi salmon into the poi itself.

Hawaiian Salt: A salt seasoning from the mixture of the natural mineral "Alaea", volcanic baked red clay, with sea salt. This salt is pink in color and is used to season kalua pig, poke, Hawaiian jerky, and more.

Haupia (How-pee-ah): A coconut milk dessert originally made from mixing hot coconut milk with ground arrowroot. Today, arrowroot is usually replaced with cornstarch and a lot of sugar is added. Haupia is like a very firm pudding, usually served in white squares, and varies in richness depending on the quality and quantity of coconut milk.

Pipikaula (Pee-pee-cow-oo-lah): The Hawaiian answer to beef jerky. Traditional preparation includes rubbing strips of beef with salt and hanging it outside to dry for a couple of days. Nowadays, restauarants still hang short ribs of beef to dry (indoors) with the ultimate texture being crispy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. Sometimes the meat is pan fried prior to serving.

Limu salad (Lee-moo): Fresh salad of blanched black seaweed (Limu), seasonings, tomatoes, onion, and cucumber. Countless variations exist.


Spam Musubi: The most famous of Hawaii's myriad of spam offerings. Rice is packed together into a solid rectangle, covered with a thick piece of spam, and wrapped tightly with a wide strip of nori (dried seaweed). It's like an enormous spam sushi. My favorite musubis have a sweet teriyaki sauce nestled under a piece of fried spam. I don't for spam fresh from the can.

Chicken Long Rice: Coming from Chinese origins, clear long rice noodles, chicken, broth, ginger, and green onions are simmered into a Luau staple with an Asian flair. This dish is also good for colds.

Saimin (Sigh-min): A blend of several ethnicities resulted in this noodle soup dish of crinkly soft wheat egg noodles in hot dashi (Japanese soup stock) garnished with ingredients such as green onions, Chinese cabbage, kamaboko (fish cake), sliced meat, and nori. Saimin is often paired with teriyaki meat sticks for a truly local treat.

Loco Moco: Eaten for any meal including breakfast, the Loco Moco is an island comfort food featuring a mountain of white rice topped with a large hamburger patty nestled under one or two over easy eggs and smothered in gravy (usually brown). Break the yolk, blend the ingredients together and enjoy feeling your cholesterol rise and your waist expand.

Meat Jun: A slice of marinated beef ribeye is dipped in an egg and flour mixture, fried, and served with a dipping sauce. This is a staple of Korean restaurants in Hawaii but if you order it in Korea, expect confusion and strange looks.

Huli-Huli Chicken (hoo-lee hoo-lee): Hawaii's answer to BBQ chicken, the bird is brushed with huli huli sauce containing ingredients such as ketchup, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, pineapple juice, and sherry and cooked. The name comes from the Hawaiian word "huli" which means "turn", because authentic huli huli chicken is slow roasted over an open fire, constantly rotating for even cooking. Huli huli chicken is a popular fundraiser item recognizable by the billows of smoke rising into the air.

Guri Guri ice cream: A hybrid between sherbert and ice cream dating back to Hawaii's plantation days. Sweet and creamy, this confection is either loved or dismissed, with some practically addicted (like my father).

Haupia pie: Sometimes simply the aforementioned haupia in pie form, haupia pie usually consists of a layer of the coconut dessert paired with another ingredient. The two most popular combinations are chocolate haupia pie and sweet potato (purple) haupia pie.

Plate Lunch: Although not technically a food, the plate lunch is iconic in Hawaii. This consists of local main dishes served with two scoops of white rice and a scoop of Hawaiian macaroni salad.

Pupu Platter (poo-poo): Also not a food in itself, the strange sounding "pupu" is an appetizer or snack. A pupu platter is an assortment of appetizers often including items such as poke, pipikaula, sushi, teriyaki sticks, and more. It has no correlation with poo.


Now that you're drooling for these Hawaiian delectables, where can they be found? Here are some of Hawaii's best:

Ted's Bakery (North Shore, Oahu): Famous for their award winning Haupia pies

Tasaka Guri Guri Shop (Maui Mall): THE place for guri guri ice cream.

Rugers Market (Diamondhead, Oahu): Traditional Hawaiian food, go early.

Helena's (Kalihi, Oahu): Traditional food, famous pipikaula, call first because they close randomly.

Rainbow Drive-in (Kapahulu, Oahu): Known for their plate lunches and "gravy all over" or "chili all over" options.

Ono Hawaiian (Kapahulu, Oahu): Traditional Hawaiian food, always busy with lines sometimes out the door.

People's Caf (Pali Highway, Oahu): Traditional Hawaiian, famous for salted meats.

Aloha Mixed Plate (Lahaina, Maui): Famous plate lunch to make you burst.

Palace Saimin (Kalihi, Oahu): Incredible saimin and tender BBQ sticks.

If you can't make it to these spots, there are still hundreds of places where you can enjoy authentic Hawaiian food. Ask any local and we'll direct you to our personal favorites, just be sure you bring a loose pair of pants to wear on the flight home.

More about this author: Angie Yomo

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