As a widely popular tourist destination, Hawaii has transformed into a melting pot of different cultures and traditions brought in by people from different origins. Be it the music, dances, customs or cuisine, Hawaii can offer a wide array of experiences to its visitors. More than just colorful traditions, beautiful sunsets, and extraordinary surfing experiences, this beautiful tropical destination is also home to a fusion of flavors that gave birth to several of traditional Hawaiian foods that are now loved by both locals and tourists.
The Evolution of Hawaiian Food
Considering the evolution of Hawaiian food, there is no one main source of influence or inspiration to the modern Hawaiian dishes that we now know. Having embraced the fusion of various ethnicities and traditions, the locals of Hawaii incorporated a variety of ingredients and distinct styles to their cooking.
Apart from the usual local Maui ingredients such as fish, poi from taro, coconuts, yams, sweet potatoes, and sugar cane, you can now find Hawaiian dishes inspired by ethnic foods brought in from other countries such as China, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Portugal, and Puerto Rico. These new ingredients and cooking styles include the Japanese bento, Chinese char siu bao, Portuguese malasadas, and many more!
Modern and Traditional Hawaiian Dishes
But no matter these influences and changes, Hawaii still boasts a variety of local foods that are made with the unique flair that one can only experience from having tried a Hawaiian dish. Here are some of the most popular traditional and modern Hawaiian that you should try out during your Maui vacation.
- Kalua pig
This famous pork dish is the king of every luau in Hawaii. Cooked in an imu (underground oven) a whole pig is smoked and slow-roasted until it becomes very tender. Compared to shredded pork, kalua pig has a softer texture, with a unique smokey flavor. The simple and salty flavor of kalua pig goes best with plain rice and your choice of gravy or sauce.
Made using steamed or baked taro root that is pounded and mixed with water, poi is a traditional Hawaiian dish that is very thick, starchy and sticky. If you ever want to try this unique staple meal, it is best to pair it with a salty Hawaiian dish such as lomi-lomi salmon, kalua pig, poke or dried aku.
- Lomi-lomi salmon
If you are to order a Hawaiian plate in any of the local restaurants in Hawaii, you will find that the lomi salmon is the perfect side dish to have. Made using only the freshest of ingredients — salmon cured with salt, onions, green onions, tomatoes and some chili peppers — lomi salmon is best served chilled.
This is the Hawaiian take on the Japanese sashimi, but instead of thinly slicing the fish, poke is served using bite-sized cubes of fish, usually tuna. Many other versions are also available using a different main ingredient, such as salmon, octopus or tofu. Served as an appetizer or main course, poke is flavored using soy sauce, sea salt, and sesame oil along with other ingredients such as inamona, chili pepper and limu seaweed.
Made using pork, fish or chicken meat wrapped in layers of taro leaves, laulau is then steamed or cooked in an underground rock oven until the meat is soft and cooked to perfection. Once laulau is ready, the meat is juicy and tender, while the taro leaves are soft, spinach-like and flavored by the meat’s juice.
- Spam musubi
This Hawaiian twist to the Japanese omusubi has become a very popular snack and lunch meal sold in various stores and restaurants in Hawaii. The SPAM musubi is made with a slice of grilled SPAM placed on top or in the middle of a block of rice, then wrapped together with nori. This Hawaiian specialty can be served hot or cold and is a perfect to-go meal.
- Loco moco
A contemporary Hawaiian dish and favorite comfort food for locals and tourists alike, loco moco is a must-try meal for travelers visiting the islands. This popular dish is now made differently and served in many restaurants and diners in Hawaii. This delicious meal is made from white rice topped with a hamburger patty and fried egg, then smothered in mushroom gravy.
Whether you prefer the traditional or modern dishes of Hawaii, you will still find yourself loving the different ways the Hawaiian cuisine has transformed into what it is today. So if you ever find yourself on any of the islands of Hawaii, be sure to try some of these modern and traditional meals to make sure that your Hawaiian vacation is complete. And if you want to bring back some gifts from Maui to give your loved ones a taste of what the islands have going on, be sure to check out our online shopping directory. Filled with Made in Maui goods, you are sure to find Hawaiian food, snacks & desserts to share!