Thanksgiving in Hawaii: Locals Celebrate With a Mix of Cultures

Thanksgiving in Hawaii is celebrated unlike anywhere else. The holiday is one of the few special occasions where the entire extended family gathers to ‘talk story’ and eat some amazing food. There are so many different cultures present in Hawaii and that diversity is also reflected in the food you can find on the table at Thanksgiving.

For the first time in a very long time I’m going to be home in Hawaii to celebrate with my family! I’m super excited to share the interesting blend of customs and traditions we have.

Here are a few ways Thanksgiving in Hawaii is unique:

Thanksgiving in Hawaii Turkey
pc: D Sharon Pruitt

Kalua turkey

A very typical way to prepare the turkey on Thanksgiving (and my personal favorite) is to cook it in an imu, or traditional Hawaiian underground oven. It takes six hours or longer to cook, but the meat is much more tender and falls right off the bone. Because of the amount of time and preparation needed, most people drop off their turkeys at a place with an imu. On Thanksgiving morning they pick up the perfect bird.

Mixed cuisines

Locals always make a big deal about food, so of course Thanksgiving is no different. Along with the traditional turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, it’s just as common to see poke, sashimi, sushi, lau lau, poi and rice, beside various other dishes. Many Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese, and Filipino immigrants, among others have come to call Hawaii home. They brought with them their individual cooking styles and cuisine, thus profoundly influencing the modern gastronomy of the islands. During any potluck and on Thanksgiving, you may need a fork, spoon or chopsticks.

Thanksgiving in Hawaii poke
The Thanksgiving table in Hawaii will probably have different kinds of poke and lomi lomi salmon.

Casual atmosphere

In many homes in the U.S, Thanksgiving is somewhat of a formal affair. In Hawaii, some locals set up tables in the garage and driveway in order to fit all the guests. It’s also common to put up a tent and eat outdoors in the front or back yard to take advantage of the pleasant November weather. Coolers, rubber slippers (we don’t call them flip-flops in Hawaii) and shorts will definitely make an appearance.

Local twist on traditional dishes

Normal mashed potatoes? Boring. Why not try the same dish with Okinawan purple sweet potatoes flavored with coconut milk? We love to create our own versions of typical Thanksgiving dishes. Some of my favorites are the desserts like macadamia nut pie, our version of pecan pie and haupia pumpkin pie. A local twist on stuffing is also popular, some recipes call for Portuguese sausage or Chinese Lap cheong sausage.

Thanksgiving in Hawaii pies
It’s hard to go wrong with any of the Ted’s desserts.

Do you eat any “untraditional” Thanksgiving dishes at your home? Leave a comment below.

Browse the Hawaii destination section of the blog for more about the islands or check out my Ultimate Hawaii Foodie List.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Just so you know, some links in this post are affiliate links. I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you buy something. I only ever link to things I’ve actually tried or would use myself. Your support helps to keep Lost & Abroad up and running.


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