Even though Hawaii is located in the US, it's a state that has its own unique culture. Because of this, Hawaii has traditions and foods that are not found anywhere else in the world. Along with the beautiful weather and beaches, many people like to visit Hawaii for its food and culture.
Although Hawai isn't one of the first places many people think of when considering unique foods from other cultures, there are definitely some really tasty foods that everyone has to try. Even if you can't make it to the islands, there are food trucks and restaurants all over the US that sell delicious Hawaiian dishes.
To see 10 Hawaiian foods you have to try, keep reading!
10 Kalua Pork
"Kalua" is a word that refers to a traditional type of cooking in Hawaiian culture. It involves cooking in an oven that is placed underground. Foods cooked kalua-style are typically served at an event like a luau because they take so long to prepare.
These days, kalua-style foods aren't just made in these underground ovens, but they can be also prepared in a slow cooker. Many people use liquid smoke in their kalua pork to give it that really smoky flavor and serve it up alongside rice.
If you're really into Chinese food, you might know that manapua is typically served in Chinese restaurants. But, as anyone who loves food will know, many cultures have a lot of overlap and this Hawaiian dish, known in China as "cha siu bao," is no exception.
Manapua started appearing as a part of Hawaiian cuisine in the 19th century as Chinese immigrants began moving to the islands. This dish consists of a steamed bun that is filled with something savory - typically a deliciously seasoned pork. Yum!
8 Loco Moco
Loco moco is a pretty popular dish in Hawaiian cuisine. Although there are a lot of ways to cook it, most people prepare loco moco in the same way. Loco moco is typically made by taking a plate of white rice and topping it with fried hamburger meat, a fried egg, and brown gravy. Other ingredients may be added after that, but aren't necessary.
Loco moco is a dish that was reportedly created in the mid-20th century by a restaurant owner in Hilo, Hawaii. The owner's young visitors were hungry and wanted something different, so this is what the cook made for them. Obviously this dish hit the spot for those customers and must be delicious since it stood the test of time!
It's hard to talk about Hawaiian cuisine without mentioning poke. Poke is among the first dishes that many people think of when they think about tasty Hawaiian food and has become popular everywhere, not just on the islands. Considering how unique and delicious this dish is, it's easy to see why!
Poke, also referred to as a "poke bowl" by some, is a Hawaiian dish that comes from the Hawaiian word that means "cut into chunks." If you look at a bowl of poke, it's easy to see where this name came from. It was originally a dish enjoyed by fishermen who were looking for a way to eat the castoffs of their daily catch. Today, it's made with cut up pieces of raw fish that are then seasoned and garnished with other ingredients.
6 Plate Lunch
Plate lunch isn't necessarily a dish but a type of meal. Although it's not technically a single dish in its own right, it's still a uniquely Hawaiian culinary phenomenon and likely something that you will see on the menus at traditional Hawaiian restaurants around the islands.
In Hawaiian cuisine, a plate lunch refers to a meal combination that typically comes with a side of white rice, macaroni salad, and one entree. The entree various depending on what you order, but can be any Hawaiian dish like kalua pork, laulau, shrimp, or haupia.
A malasada is a food that actually has Portuguese origins, but has become really popular in other parts of the world. In Hawaii, malasadas are a super popular treat and have a really unique style about them that completely sets them apart from malasadas in other cultures and countries.
A malasada is a type of fried dough that is coated in granulated sugar after being fried. In many places, malasadas are simply left like that and served up while warm. But in Hawaii, malasadas get an extra special touch. They're often filled with something like jam, chocolate, haupia, or custard.
Laulau is a Hawaiian food that is really popular on the islands. While barbecue-style cooking is popular in other parts of the US, laulau is particularly special in Hawaii. Barbecue-style cooking leaves meat flavorful and tender, right? So does laulau!
Laulau is the term used for this specific dish - pork wrapped in a taro leaf before being cooked inside the leaf. The tarot leaf helps to keep the pork tender while also keeping all the juices and seasoning in the meat while the dish cooks. Some laulau even puts fish or chicken in with the pork before cooking it.
3 Spam Musubi
Spam tends to be pretty divisive everywhere except Hawaii. In Hawaii, spam is a pretty popular food and it's part of a ton of other dishes. One of the most popular Hawaiian dishes to use the ingredient is spam musubi. It's typically served up for lunch or as a snack and can even be found in convenience stores.
Spam musubi is made by taking rice and setting a piece of fried spam on top of it. Then, a piece of nori is wrapped around it. Variations on this dish are also popular with ingredients like a fried egg being put between the rice and Spam, but these three simple ingredients are always found in Spam musubi.
2 Shave Ice
When many people imagine shave ice, they immediately think of carnivals and festivals. The ice is packed into a paper cup with syrup poured over it to make it delicious and colorful. This sweet treat originated in Asia thousands of years ago and has become a huge part of Hawaiian culture in more recent years.
It was brought to Hawaii by Asian immigrants that moved to the islands to work. Because the weather is so warm in Hawaii, shave ice is a really popular way to cool down. There are infinite varieties of it there, with some even adding condensed milk and fresh fruit.
Saimin is a noodle soup that has become a huge part of Hawaii's culinary culture over the years. It's a prime example of Asian immigrants' influence on Hawaii culture and food, creating a unique blend of delicious dishes that really aren't available anywhere else in the world.
Saimin is such a popular dish that it's even served at McDonald's in Hawaii. This noodle soup is made with egg noodles, kamaboko, and green onions. It's served in a hot type of broth called dashi and can be served with other toppings like Spam, fried eggs, and slices of nori.