So much food, so little time! We’re rounding up the top 8 foods to try in Hawaii.
Hawaii has incredible foods, many of which you can’t find anywhere else in the world! Only after I moved away from Hawaii (twice!) I realized how amazing Hawaii cuisine really is. It’s not just the “fancy” stuff, but rather the everyday foods that make Hawaii cuisine unique, delicious, and addictive!
So, we put together our top 8 foods to try in Hawaii, so you can make sure you give them a taste while you visit:
Poi is at the top of our list because it’s one of the most historic foods in Hawaii. Ancient Hawaiians used to eat this as a staple of their diet and also feed it to their babies so they would “bulk up.”
Of course, even today, eating too much poi will cause anyone to “bulk up” (it’s mostly carbohydrates). But, the food is so unique and interesting, you should definitely try it while you’re here.
What is poi? It’s the mashed root of the taro plant (known in Hawaii as kalo).
Poi is produced by mashing the cooked taro root (baked or steamed) until it is a highly viscous fluid. Water is added during mashing and again just before eating to achieve the desired consistency, ranging from liquid to dough-like.
When you buy poi in a Hawaii grocery store, you will likely have a selection to choose from that’s been on the shelf for different timeframes. Older poi will be sour because it’s had time to ferment. Newer poi will be sweet. You can also add sugar to your poi as you get used to the taste!
Best Place to Try It: Hanalei Poi Company in Kauai or Waiahole Poi Factory in Oahu. (Also available at most grocery stores near the Poke counter).
If you’re in Hawaii and order a plate lunch, you may be offered the main dish of “laulau,” and it would be worth your time to try it. Basically, laulau is pork, beef, chicken, or salted butterfish wrapped in taro leaves. Then, the ends of the leaf are folded and wrapped again.
Hawaiians traditionally cook laulau in an underground oven called an Imu (the same way they cook kalua pig). But today, many families and chefs steam them in a kitchen too.
Best Place to Try It: Young’s Fish Market on Oahu
3. Poke: One of the Most Famous Foods to Try in Hawaii
Admittedly, I’m not a fan of fish, but even I love the sight of a nicely prepared poke. I recommend only eating poke at a semi-nice/nice restaurant because we’re talking raw fish here.
Poke is the Hawaiian verb for “section” or “to slice or cut.” Traditional forms are aku (an oily tuna) and hee (octopus). Increasingly popular ahi poke is generally made with yellowfin tuna. Adaptations may feature raw salmon or various shellfish as a main ingredient served raw with the common “poke” seasonings.
Most locals buy their authentic poke at fish markets or grocery stores.
You may have poke restaurants in your hometown where they prepare the bowl in front of you like a salad. That’s not how it works in Hawaii. Instead, you’ll find it already made and marinating. Then, you’ll order your choice and have it scooped out on top of a layer of rice.
Best Place to Try It: Kahiau Jerky Poke & Provisions on Oahu
I’ll also add “mochi ice cream” to this one because it’s my kids’ favorite. Mochi is a Japanese rice cake that’s pounded into a paste and then molded into the desired shape. It’s especially popular during the Japanese New Year.
Now, mochi ice cream is something else! The mochi actually surrounds the frozen ice cream in the middle, and the kids are crazy for it. Definitely one of the most fun foods to try in Hawaii!
Best Place to Try It: Nisshodo Candy Store on Oahu
5. Kalua Pig
You may THINK you’ve tried slow-cooked pork before, but if you haven’t tried it after it comes out of an underground oven, you haven’t really experienced how delicious the meat can be.
Kalua is a traditional Hawaiian cooking method that utilizes an imu, a type of underground oven. Kalua Pig is basically an entire pig that’s cooked in an imu, sometimes overnight, but almost always for hours and hours. When it comes out from the imu, you have a unique-tasting, hearty meal waiting for you!
Best Place to Try It: Helena’s Hawaiian Food on Oahu
Saimin is Hawaii’s take on Ramen Noodles. Many restaurants have turned this simple dish into its own art form, creating delicious bowls of soup complete with house-made noodles, an array of vegetables, and rich broth.
But you can also find it in unexpected places, like McDonald’s, Zippy’s (the local fast food chain), and even Aloha Stadium.
If you’re going into an area of the islands with a cool climate, this is definitely one of the top foods to try in Hawaii. But many locals and visitors will eat it on a hot day too.
Try saimin topped with Spam, eggs, or pork.
Best Place to Try It: Sam Sato’s on Maui or Palace Saimin on Oahu
Here’s one of the best foods to try in Hawaii that will satisfy your sweet tooth! Malasada is a Portuguese yeast donut that’s fried and tossed in sugar. Many local bakeries make them hot and fresh to order.
To really appreciate Hawaii’s unique take on this treat, try a filled Malasada. Many places will fill them with coconut cream, guava jelly, lilikoi (passion fruit) cream, or chocolate.
Best Place to Try It: T Komoda Store and Bakery on Maui or Leonard’s on Oahu.
Manapua is a steamed or baked bun filled with char siu pork. You may find an array of Manapua options around the islands, but we recommend trying the classic. The tasty treat rose to fame thanks to the Manapua Man, a food truck that would deliver the buns to work crews and hungry after-school kids. Today they’re easy to find inside warmers at 7-11s and other convenience stores.
They’re low-cost, hand-held, and super filling!
Best Place to Try It: Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery or Royal Kitchen on Oahu.
Discovering the Best Foods to Try in Hawaii
Don’t forget — if you want to experience Hawaii food like a pro, make sure you book an Aloha Plate Tour through Hawaii Aloha Travel or Secret Hawaii Tours. While on the tour, you’ll stop at some of the most interesting and “out of the way” eateries on Oahu, where your guide, Lanai Tabura, will teach you about Hawaii cuisine and what makes it unique and delicious.