We love our local food here in the Aloha State, especially here at Hawaii Aloha Travel. Our custom food tour is curated to offer the best of what Oahu’s farms and eateries have to offer. And we love to feature those establishments on the blog and Hawaii Vacation Connection Podcast as well.
But you don’t have to be in Hawaii to enjoy some of our favorite local dishes, and we offer three of them here: Shoyu Chicken and Kalua Pig. All you need is a crock-pot or any slow-cooker, a few basic ingredients, and the patience to wait it out.
We’ll not bother to offer specific recipes, for two reasons. First, recipes for these favorites are all over the internet, all variations of a simple theme. Second, the best recipes are family not-so-secrets, mastered over generations. The point is to create your own interpretation you and your family can enjoy. (This humble blogger’s wife was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. After 21 years living in Hawaii, she is now a master of both of these favorites.)
One of the great things about local food is that it is meant to “keep”. That is, they are generally made for large families or groups like soccer teams or hula halau. There are always leftovers to take home. It is nearly impossible to leave family gatherings or potluck events without an auntie or uncle handing you a heaping plate when you’re on your way out the door. “Throw ‘em in the microwave! Two minutes!”
All you really need to know about the dish is in the name. “Shoyu” is known by most as soy sauce, but categorically referred to by the former here in Hawaii (and in Japan, of course). Most shoyu chicken recipes will include shoyu, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, and green onions or scallions. Bone-in chicken thighs are most commonly used.
If we’re being particular, we’ll say shoyu chicken is “local food”, the product of the co-mingling of the traditional foodways of plantation workers from the mid-1800s from Japan, China, the Philippines, even Portugal and beyond. Slow-cooked shoyu chicken is tender and juicy, with a sweet and salty flavor set off by the ginger and garlic. You can also simply marinate the thighs in the sauce and throw them on the grill, too.
Find a recipe online and make it your own!
Kalua pig is definitely something we consider “Hawaiian food”. It is the central dish of every Hawaiian luau. For centuries, a whole pig was (and is) traditionally roasted in an ‘imu, or earthen fire pit, on hot lava rocks and covered with banana and ti leaves. The traditional process involves a team of people and takes a full 24 hours of preparation and cook time.
But you don’t need a team of willing (and able) diggers, rock-stackers, or fire tenders to make an accurate version of Hawaii’s most iconic dish (or an earthen pit, for that matter) to make a true-to-taste version in your own kitchen at home.
The basic ingredients are pork shoulder, liquid smoke, some garlic, and Hawaiian rock salt (although kosher salt will do in a pinch). That’s it. Slow cook it to perfection. Add some cabbage for texture and additional flavor. You will see variations in whatever recipes you find. They are all acceptable and open to interpretation.
And that’s the point. With just a little bit of research and effort, you can prepare and enjoy two of the Aloha State’s favorite food staples, hot and fresh even in the mainland deep winter.