When most people think of Hawaii they imagine beaches, surfing, nightlife, and of course, a rich variety of local foods. For most mainland Americans, Hawaiian food is so different and exciting that it’s difficult to decide what to try first. The good thing about Hawaii, though, is that living here or even visiting for an extended stay gives you plenty of time to explore food options. We’ve chosen a few favorites we think you must try.
Lau lau is considered one of Hawaii’s comfort foods, kind of like fried chicken, mac and cheese, or pizza in the Lower 48. It’s prepared with pork and taro greens, which are then wrapped in steamed lau (or ti) leaves. Lau lau is traditionally served with steamed white rice, macaroni salad, and other popular side dishes. It can be made with chicken or salted fish as well as pork and can be a side dish or main meal.
Poi is one of the dishes most mainlanders think of when they think “Hawaiian food.” It’s a staple of the area. It’s best described as a type of pudding mixture made with taro, water, and a little salt or shoyu sauce. Poi is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. In fact, Hawaiians use it as a baby food because of its low fat, high protein, and high antioxidant and vitamin content.
This is another well-known Hawaiian main dish. Most recipes call for the pig to be wrapped in ti leaves, which helps maintain the flavor. Kalua means “to bake in the ground oven,” which gives the pig a unique smoky taste different from most barbecue. Kalua pig is often cooked in an underground imu, but if you don’t have one of those, you can make it at home in a slow cooker.
Also known as ulu, breadfruit is a pale yellow fruit with a starchy texture similar to potatoes. It’s one of Hawaii’s most versatile foods; it can be cooked almost any way you can think of. Some people eat it raw, and some make it into a breadfruit poi. Our favorite way to enjoy ulu is simply with a block of warm, melted butter. Yum! Breadfruit is one of the oldest Hawaiian foods, brought to the islands between 200 and 500 AD.
When it’s time for dessert, look no further than the coconut. Haupia is traditionally cut into squares like dessert bars but has a smooth, pudding-like texture. Traditional haupia is cooked in an imu, made with coconut cream and Polynesian arrowroot, and wrapped in ti leaves. More modern versions usually use coconut milk, cornstarch, and the smallest bit of sugar. Haupia should be allowed to solidify in the fridge for several hours.
Kulolo can be a dairy or non-dairy dessert, so if you’re lactose intolerant, fear not. It’s actually harder to find than some Hawaiian foods, but many farmers’ markets sell it, and the locals often make it at home. Kulolo is another coconut and taro root dessert made with brown sugar. It looks a bit like a pound cake and can be cut into slices and served with Rosalani—a popular Hawaiian brand of ice cream.
There are many other delicacies we haven’t covered here, so visit or move to Hawaii to learn about and taste all our delicious local dishes.