Traditional Hawaiian Food: Eat These 7 Massively Tasty Dishes

Traditional Hawaiian Food

Traditional Hawaiian Food

Many traditional Hawaiian foods are dishes originally brought over from Pacific Polynesian islands.

Though now the islands of Hawaii include a diverse demographic of ethnicities all adding their own flavors, there still remains a vibrant following of traditional favorites – the true tastes of Hawaii.

Let’s just dive straight into these really tasty 7 traditional Hawaiian foods. Be sure to sample all of them when you visit Hawaii!

Poi - Traditional Hawaiian Staple Dish

Poi - Traditional Hawaiian Staple Dish

1. Poi

The staple and traditional filler starch dish in Hawaiian cuisine is something known as poi.

Poi is a thick paste made from taro root (similar to a yam or potato but with a starchy-er flavor) that is either steamed or baked and pounded. While pounding, water is added to the mixture to create a pudding like consistency.

Poi has a unique flavor, starchy and slightly sour from the light fermentation in the preparation process. I personally can’t get enough poi while I’m in Hawaii, but I can understand that the flavor and texture does get some getting used to. I like to add a little lomi-lomi salmon (see below) to my bowl of poi!

Hawaiian Laulau

Hawaiian Laulau

2. Laulau

Traditional Hawaiian food would not be complete without a dish known as laulau.

Taro is a well respected plant, not only in Hawaii, but also throughout Polynesia and the Pacific islands. While poi is made from the taro root, laulau is made from the leaves.

Traditionally laulau is made with pork wrapped in layers of taro leaves and cooked in an underground hot rock oven for hours until it turns soft and smoky flavored. The meat is tender and juicy while the leaves turn to a spinach like consistency.

Nowadays you can easily find fish, chicken or pork laulau in Hawaii.

Hawaiian Food

Kalua Pig

3. Kalua Pig

Another giant of Hawaiian cuisine is the famous pork dish known as Kalua Pig.

Cooked in an underground oven (known as an imu), the pork slow roasts so it becomes extremely tender and retains a remarkable smoky flavor.

Kalua pig is similar to southern American pulled pork, but instead of the tangy barbecue sauce it has a pungent wood smoke flavor. In my opinion, kalua pig goes great with a nice big pile of rice!

Poke and Tako

Poke and Tako

4. Poke

Poke is the Hawaiian version of Japanese sashimi (raw fish) – and for myself, it doesn’t get much better than poke – I’m in love and addicted.

Instead of slicing the fish thin like the Japanese, Hawaiian poke is served in bite sized hearty cubes. The most common type of fish is ahi (tuna), but a number of other kinds of fresh saltwater fish are used.

After the raw fish is cut into chunks it’s most commonly seasoned with a splash of soy sauce, Hawaiian sea salt, sweet Maui onions, and perhaps some limu (seaweed type of plant).

One of the latest and greatest inventions is the poke bowl, a bowl of rice topped with a heap of poke. If you ever go to the North Shore of Oahu, check out Kahuku Superette (it’s mandatory).

Note: Also pictured is tako, octopus made in a similar way as poke.

Traditional Hawaiian Food

Lomi Salmon

5. Lomi Salmon (lomi-lomi salmon)

Lomi salmon is not originally native to Hawaii but was brought over from other Pacific islands. The dish is now part of most traditional Hawaiian meals and makes a great addition to poi.

Raw salmon is cured with salt and diced up along with tomatoes, onions, and normally some chili peppers. The result is what I’d call a salmon infused Hawaiian style salsa garnish.

The salty flavor of the salmon paired with the acidic tomatoes and pungent onions is a flavor to cherish.

Hawaiian Food

Chicken Long Rice

6. Chicken Long Rice

Chicken long rice is not a traditional Hawaiian food recipe, but it has weaved its way into becoming a norm at many Hawaiian luaus and meals.

Originally a Chinese food inspired dish, chicken long rice is a combination of clear mung bean noodles cooked in chicken soup. The result is a slurpy stew with clear noodles, chunks of chicken and often a pleasant gingery flavor.

7. Fruit (like Pineapple)

Topping off a great Hawaiian meal, it’s a necessity to down some freshly grown Hawaiian fruit! The islands are famous for pineapple and it comes juicy and bursting with sweet flavor.

There you have 7 traditional Hawaiian food favorites to enjoy when you’re in Hawaii. Though modern developed Hawaiian plate lunches and SPAM musubi are so popular, Hawaii still holds on dearly to its heritage of cuisine.

Have you ever had a traditional Hawaiian feast? What’s your favorite dish?

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  1. says

    The Hawaiians certainly know their way around pork dishes, and you can’t get better fruit or seafood, but poi? I couldn’t force myself to gag down a second bite. We were told by a local that it is like “bread”. I have no idea in what way.

    • says

      Hey Lane, yes, poi is definitely a unique taste and texture – hmmm bread? Never heard of that before – maybe that it’s eaten as a staple? Fruit and seafood is so delicious in Hawaii!

  2. says

    i can tell you what ISN’T my favorite. Poi. I’ve eaten it a dozen different ways and I just can’t get a liking for it.

    i love so many things – Poke, Spam Musubi, mochiko chicken, mac salad, malasadas and of course, the shave ice!!

    • says

      Yes, Jen, great to hear that you also enjoy Hawaiian speciality dishes! Poi is a different kind of flavor – I really like it with lomi salmon mixed in.

  3. says

    That Hawaiian plate brings back so many memories. I’m part Hawaiian, so I was raised with family luaus. Before I became veggie- I LOVED kalua pig. Long rice, poi (with sugar)… as a child, that was it.
    Poke and spam musubis, til today, they still tempt me. There are times in Hawaii, I’ll un-veggie myself.

    • says

      Cool to hear that you’re also hapa Christine! I’m half Chinese, and my mother is also from Hawaii so I’ve spent quite a bit of time there. Hawaii is where I truly become a food lover!

  4. says

    I’m another in the hapa club – half Japanese. =) Poke is just an island staple and I’ve got friends who fish, but a good lau lau and lomi salmon are more of a treat… Your photos are making my mouth water – I might have to go order lau lau today. Love your passion for Hawaii cuisine, Mark.

  5. AudreyD. says

    I tried to make to most out of the little time we had in Hawaii and try as many Hawaiian dishes as possible! From the list here, I see we did great!

    Fruits and seafood are, of course, delicious and we couldn’t get enough of them! Loved everything: the lomi lomi salmon, kalua pig (we had some nachos with kalua pig, it was amazing!), laulau and really really LOVED the poke. And the poi was…well poi. Couldn’t eat it beyond the first bite, but still tried it!

    Ahhh, this make me wish to be on an Hawaiian beach right now with some delicious food! :)

    • says

      Hey Audrey, that’s great to hear. Hawaiian food is so comforting and I know what you mean, it makes you want to be on the beach! Good job for sampling poi as well!

  6. Liana Falaniko says

    This information is incorrect. These 7 dishes are very much “Local” favorites but they are a far cry from “Traditional” hawaiian food. Granted you started off on the right track, Poi, Laulau, and Kalua Pig are very much traditional. However, Poke, Lomilomi Salmon, and Pineapple are NOT traditionally hawaiian. Poke is Japanese meaning “cube/dice” which is why the fish is cubed. Lomilomi is hawaiian for massage but this refers to the technique of using your hands to message the salmon, tomoato, green onions, and yellow onions together. As for the pineapple it’s from the Philippines not Hawaiian. These 4 dishes were brought to hawaii by imigrents who came here to work on the sugar cane plantations. The workers would share their different lunches during their brake and over time each culture was represented in what we in hawaii now refer to and “mix plate.” If you are going to use such words as “Traditional” you should make sure that it is being used to discribe true “Traditional” items.

      • says

        This mixed plate I reminds me of what you would get at any southern BBQ joint. We all think of it as traditional ( pork, chicken or ribs with greens, mac and cheese, baked beans and cornbread). Even thought everything originated from a different culture we southerners definitely consider this southern cooking and not visit to the south would be complete without sampling our ‘traditional’ southern food. Thanks for the suggestions Mark. We are headed to Hawaii at the end of the summer. Cant WAIT to try these amazing dishes.

  7. Maebelle Librando says

    Being born and raised on Maui, but now living in California, anything to do with Hawaiian Foods “excites” me..Poi, Yum!!! How could you not like poi & lomi salmon. or poi & poke!!!

  8. Victoria says

    Hi there I am hapa -Okinawan and hapa -haoli and was fortunate enough to grow up in Wahiawa on the island of Oahu. I love the way you describe all the Hawaiian food. I am in Chicago and miss Hawaii so much I want to return to live. I’m glad I stumbled upon your website.


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