I’ve been living outside of my home state for some time now and there are a few dishes that I miss dearly and haven’t been able to accurately recreate in the kitchen. These dishes just don’t taste the same if you’re not eating them after a long day at the beach. Every self-proclaimed foodie needs to try these five local dishes.
What do locals eat in Hawaii?
Hawaii has a rich cultural heritage influenced by immigration during the rise of the sugar plantations starting in the early 19th century. Most plantation workers arrived to the islands from China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines as well as a small group from Portugal and Puerto Rico, all of which have left a mark on local cuisine. This combination of nationalities mixed with Hawaiian culture and traditions gave rise to the unique and tasty fusion of foods that have become local favorites.
Traditional Hawaiian cuisine was based upon taro, the purple starchy root vegetable, still eaten today and prepared in a variety of ways (you can’t find poi in Europe!). Nowadays, almost every meal is accompanied by a side of rice, the most obvious gastronomical influence taken from Asian cuisine. Not surprising to locals, Hawaii has the highest rice consumption per person in the United States, 100 lbs (45 kg) annually!
Let’s take a look at the Hawaii foodie list that will keep you coming back to the islands for more:
I haven’t been able to find a place that sells them in Europe, but acai bowls are well known in California and other parts of the U.S. These thick acai berry “smoothies” in a bowl are topped with anything you can dream of: granola, honey, toasted coconut, fruits or even chocolate chips. It makes for the perfect breakfast or snack to cool off after a day in the sun.
North Shore Bowls (Inside Mila Bikini Shop across from Foodland Pupukea)
Poke is slowly becoming a well known dish throughout the world and has always been the perfect snack to take to the beach or to eat on the go. Although the varieties with ahi (tuna) are always the most popular, try the tako(octopus) poke, crab or tofu poke for vegetarians. Also ono (delicious) is dried fish like ahi, aku and marlin, which are similar to beef jerky, but much more amazing (you need to taste it for yourself).
Kalua pig is more than just your typical pulled pork, although it’s great too. Traditionally, the pig is slowly cooked in an imu (underground oven), which is covered in leaves and lava rocks, keeping the meat moist and juicy while adding a nice smoky flavor. People also cook vegetables like taro as well as chicken or fish and many people kalua their Thanksgiving turkey. Besides being served alone with rice, Kalua pig can be found on menus as part of a “Hawaiian plate” (also a must try), mixed with cabbage, or as the filling for a sandwich or taco.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food
L&L Hawaiian BBQ
Furikake Crusted Mahi Mahi
I love mahi mahi and it’s been a while since I’ve come across this flaky white fish on a menu. Each fillet is breaded with a layer of furikake, the Japanese dried seaweed seasoning before being seared to perfection. This dish is great and always reminds me of home, since it can be found at most local restaurants.
I Love Country Cafe
Although less mentioned, Hawaii has amazing desserts made with local ingredients like guava, lilikoi (passion fruit), taro and coconut. Many visitors to Hawaii fall in love with our malasadas, lilikoi bars, tropical pies and guava chiffon cakes. Haupia is a traditional Hawaiian coconut pudding, used instead of icing to make a perfectly moist cake, which is topped with toasted coconut shavings.
Don’t leave the islands without discovering the fusion of flavors Hawaii has to offer. Now that made me hungry!