Delicatessens Define Hawaii’s Cuisine

Teh sign above the door at Mitsuba Delicatessen
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Delicatessens Define Hawaii’s Cuisine

Hawaii: the land of perfect weather, picturesque sunsets and plate lunches.

Plate lunches because that’s what you’ll find at almost every eatery in town – whether they’re filled with spaghetti or chicken katsu. The styrofoam (and sometimes biodegradable) cartons have become most notable in the island cuisine.

A popular (and one of the oldest) Japanese delicatessens on Oahu.

I’m pretty sure it was all thanks to delicatessens that popped up around smaller, local communities. Oftentimes, these mom-and-pops literally feel like “hole in the walls.” They are usually very tiny, with just enough room for customers to order from the spread of steaming entrees that line the covered countertop. Behind, a worker shuffles side to side with a pair of tongs in hand. They do this dance for each customer hoping to fill their plate lunch with delectable dishes.

Initially, local delicatessens only served food items from a specific culture, like the Japanese and Filipino ones you see today in Kalihi on Oahu or in older towns on the other islands. Customers point at the food item they want, creating their own mixed plates of goodies that include spam musubis, garlic chicken, tempura-style dishes and much more. Each dish probably costs no more than $5; otherwise, it is sold by the pound.

It’s funny, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone shorten the word delicatessen to deli. It’s always “Mitsuba’s” or Mitsuba’s Delicatessen. Delis are for sandwiches, silly! Hopefully you’ll get a chance to experience a truly authentic delicatessen while in Hawaii. Just make sure to get there early because they run out of foods pretty quick.