Traditional Hawaiian Food: Eat These 7 Massively Tasty Dishes

By Mark Wiens 48 Comments
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 very sticky pudding like consistency.

Poi has a unique flavor, it’s 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 lomƒi-lomi salmon (see below) to my bowl of poi to make it even better.

If you’re really interested to try poi, you can buy it in powder form, but fresh poi is the best tasting.

Hawaiian Laulau
Hawaiian Laulau

2. Laulau

Traditional Hawaiian food would not be complete without a dish known as laulau — it’s one of my personal favorite dishes on this Hawaiian food list.

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. Every time I come back to Hawaii to visit family, poke is just about the first food I want to eat.

Instead of slicing the fish thin like for Japanese sashimi, 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 also very commonly used.

There are so many different types of poke you can try in Hawaii, from limu poke to shoyu poke to spicy mayo poke, each using cubes of raw fish but with a different marinade combination. For the common shoyu poke (soy sauce), the raw fish is cut into cubes, seasoned with a splash of good soy sauce, Hawaiian sea salt, sweet Maui onions (they are so good if you can find some), 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, which is octopus made in a similar way as poke. When you’re in Hawaii, you should try both poke and tako.

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, and it absolutely works incredibly well together.

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. I think eating chicken long rice goes very well together with a full Hawaiian food meal.

7. Fruit (like pineapple and lilikoi)

Topping off a great Hawaiian meal, it’s a very pleasant necessity to enjoy some freshly grown Hawaiian fruit.

The islands of Hawaii were formerly famous for their fruit, but as land and labor became too expensive, the fruit industry in Hawaii started to decline. However, you can still get local fruit and Hawaii is famous for tropical fruits like pineapple and passion fruit (liliko).

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?