Guide to Local Hawaii Food
The cultural melting pot of the islands has cooked up a delicious and unique mix of Hawaii food choices. The original diet of the Native Hawaiians has been altered and augmented over the last 200 years by foods introduced by the arriving missionaries, whalers, and immigrant plantation laborers from China, Japan, Korea, Portugal, and the Phillipines. The result is something we now simply call “local food” – not a very creative name for a delicious and varied style of food that is completely unique to Hawaii.
Local food is made up of a cultural mix of flavors, foods, and preparations. “Hawaiian food” is something different – that is the traditional food of Native Hawaiians.
Local food incorporates some Hawaiian food, but there are other cultural influences, as well.
So if you ask a local on Maui where you can get some good local food, we will direct you to a place like Zippy’s in Kahului. (Even the McDonald’s menu in Hawaii has been adjusted to include some popular local staples, like saimin.)
If you ask where you can get authentic Hawaiian food, that’s a whole different thing, and we will send you to a place like Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina or Da Kitchen in Kihei or Kahului for a traditional “Hawaiian plate” like the one pictured here.
Below is an overview of some of the most popular ethnic dishes that make up “local food” in Hawaii. Give some of these ono grinds (definition) a try!
- Crack seed: preserved fruits and seeds; some are sweet, others are sour. You’ll find a crack seed section in most local food stores.
- Adobo: chicken or pork cooked with vinegar and spices
- Lumpia: fried pastry filled with vegetables and meats, or sometimes a dessert lumpia filled with sweet fruit such as banana or apple
Haupia: a sweet firm custard (consistency like gelatin) made of coconut milk; you can also find haupia (coconut flavor) ice cream, cakes, pies, and pastries
- Kalua pig: roasted pig cooked in an imu (underground oven);very flavorful and tender; this is the foundation of most luau menus
- Laulau: pieces of pork or chicken (sometimes flavored with a little butterfish) topped with taro leaves, then wrapped in ti leaves and steamed
- Lomi lomi salmon: diced salted salmon with tomatoes and green onions
- Poi: pounded (pureed) taro root that forms a pasty texture; many Hawaiians prefer it aged and slightly fermented
- Poke (pictured): raw fish seasoned with such ingredients as soy sauce, onions, sesame oil, or seaweed
- Chicken katsu: deep-fried, breaded chicken pieces served with katsu sauce
- Miso soup: traditional Japanese salty, savory broth soup
- Mochi (pictured): a small cake or roll made of pounded rice, sometimes flavored or filled with other ingredients
- Sashimi: very fresh firm raw fish, sliced thin; traditionally dipped in shoyu and/or seasoned with wasabi
- Sushi: rolls or cakes of white rice topped or filled with various raw or cooked seafood, seaweed and vegetables
- Tempura: seafood or vegetables dipped in a light batter and deep fried
- Kalbi ribs: flavored similarly to teriyaki, but with chili pepper, sesame oil and green onions
- Kim chee: spicy pickled cabbage (or other fruits/vegetables) flavored with such seasonings as ginger and garlic
- Malasada: a fat, doughy deep-fried donut traditionally sprinkled with sugar and sometimes filled with flavored custard; served fresh and warm
OTHER LOCAL FOOD FAVORITES
Bento: a box lunch with a variety of local foods, such as seafood or ribs, noodles, sushi, and a scoop of rice
- Loco moco: a fried hamburger patty atop a nest of rice topped with a fried egg and gravy
- Manapua: Chinese-inspired pork-filled steamed dumpling buns
- Plate lunch (pictured below): similar to bento, this is a plate made up of traditional favorites suchas teriyaki beef or chicken, hamburger with gravy, roast pork, or fried fish; traditionally served with one or two scoops of steamed white rice and a scoop of macaroni salad
- Saimin: A Hawaii-style variation on Japanese ramen and Chinese mein—a thin-noodle soup with fish cake, veggies, and sometimes pork
- Shave ice (pictured at bottom): ground ice, similar to a snow cone, except the ice is shaved finer in Hawaii, topped with flavored syrups, and sometimes combined with other local ingredients like azuki beans
Shoyu: Japanese word for soy sauce; shoyu is the most common condiment for local food
- Spam musubi: a slice of grilled Hormel Spam set atop a cake of steamed white rice, wrapped with a strip of dried seaweed. You can often find these local treats under the heating lamps at convenience stores and gas stations (yes, gas station food!)
- Steamed white rice: a staple in the local diet, steamed white rice generally takes the place of potatoes
- Teriyaki anything: locals use teriyaki sauce (a flavorful, savory marinade of shoyu, garlic and ginger) for pretty much everything, so you will find teriyaki beef, chicken, pork, seafood and many other teriyaki dishes.
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Candy Aluli, Publisher
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(Note: We recognize and respect the significance of the ‘okina and kahakō markings in the written Hawaiian language; however, we have omitted those diacritical markings on our site in order to integrate with the more common spellings used in online searches.)
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