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Know Your Hawaii Vacation Hors D’oeuvres

You’ll be eating at a wide variety of restaurants while you’re here, so it’s a good idea to get as familiar as you can ahead of time with some of the menu items you’re likely to encounter. We won’t attempt now to help you with entrees, since there are zillions of kinds of restaurants and the menus are so persified there’s no way to summarize. But all good restaurants have something for you to try first. Appetizers. Hors D’oeuvres. We call them pupu. Except in the purely ethnic restaurants, you can expect to find the standards: caviar, shrimp cocktail, escargot, calamari, crab cakes, foie gras, oysters, steak tartare …

But you’ll see some offerings that may not sound familiar to you. Most of them are wonderful! Here’s what to expect:

Chicken Katsu

It’s sections or pieces of chicken, dipped, rolled in panko crumbs (made without crusts; finer and crisper) and fried, usually with a shoyu sauce or a sauce created by the chef.


Same as chicken katsu, but with pork.

Ahi Poke

The freshest raw ahi tuna is mixed with onion, shoyu, some seseme oil and Hawaiian salt (captured from sea water) and chilled.

Coconut Shrimp

The raw shrimp are peeled and deep-fried after being dredged in flour and eggs, rolled in shredded coconut and skewered. They’re served with a cocktail sauce and often crushed pineapple.

Hawaiian Spareribs

Regular spareribs are mixed with garlic and ginger and boiled, then drained, marinated with shoyu, sugar, tomato sauce and oyster sauce, and broiled.

Hawaiian Won Tons

Any lunch meat (Spam is popular in Hawaii) is mixed with water chestnuts, green onions, parsley, hard-boiled eggs, pepper and oyster sauce. Those ingredients are sealed in won ton skins and deep-fried.

Seafood Stuffed Shiitake Mushrooms

The shiitake mushroom caps are stuffed with a mixture of spinach, cream, shallots, crab, shrimp, and seasoning, then baked.

Char Siu

These are buns with a Cantonese barbecued pork filling, either steamed or baked with a light sugar glaze to produce a smooth golden-brown crust.

Dim Sum

There are restaurants devoted to these dumpling delicacies, of which there are many kinds. You’ll probably see some of these offered:


These are made of ingredients wrapped in a translucent rice flour or wheat starch skin: shrimp, chiu chau (peanuts, garlic chives, pork, mushrooms), served with a small dish of chili oil.


Potstickers are steamed dumplings that then are pan-fried with meat and cabbage.


Shaomai are steamed dumplings with pork inside a thin wheat flour wrapper, topped off with crab roe and mushroom.

Hey, we’re barely scratching the surface here. But you get the idea. Don’t ever pass on the pupu just because you don’t know what they are!

Posted by: Jamie Winpenny on Jul 29, 2008