When visiting the dreamy islands of Hawaii, you can expect not only a paradise of gorgeous beaches and sunshine but also a paradise of delicious comfort food.
When eating in Hawaii, you’re in for a treat with lots of fresh, ethnic and fusion foods you won’t find anywhere else. Try the food that island locals enjoy every day which, comprise one of America’s most unique food cultures. Here’s a list of the things you have to try next time you’re in Hawaii—shaved ice isn’t on the list but spam most definitely is!
1. Ahi poke
The latter part is pronounced po-keh and it’s one of the freshest and delectable foods you can get in Hawaii. Poke is cubes of raw ahi that are often flavored with different kinds of marinade such as shoyu (we don’t call it soy sauce here), spicy mayo and/or chilies and scallions. My personal favorite has been the spicy coconut ahi, and ahi poke in general is best served over a couple of scoops of rice. You can get it in a bowl at sushi places such as Kozo Sushi or Sushiman but the you can get the most variety and best taste at Fresh Catch situated in Kaimuki in Honolulu, Oahu.
2. Acai bowl
The Brazilian fruit has been all the rage for ages in Hawaii. Locals were savoring cold acai bowls with bananas, granola and honey before it was a fad in the Mainland. Made with the freshest fruits and ingredients, this deliciously sweet and nutritious smoothie-type snack is the best thing to eat after a hot day at the beach. The most popular acai bowls in Honolulu can be found at Diamond Head Cove Health Bar, Lanikai Juice and at Jewel or Juice.
3. Spam musubi
The fact that locals love spam is not just a Hawaii stereotype. Spam is a staple in local cuisine. Our favorite way to eat it is by putting a slice of fried spam on top a rectangle of rice and wrapping it in seaweed or nori so it’s convenient to eat anywhere on the go. This is what we call a spam musubi and it is hands down our favorite snack! You can find spam musubis wherever you go from grocery stores to sushi restaurants to our favorite local diners like Zippy’s or Likelike Drive-Inn.
Ramen is somewhat of an art form in Hawaii just like in Japan. There are many amazing ramen bistros and restaurants where all kinds of ramen are served: with clear or thick broth made with chicken or pork or beef, with lots of toppings like corn, char siu, spinach, katsu, and of course, with delicious and soft homemade noodles ranging in thickness and length. Favorite ramen restaurants around Honolulu include Tenkaippin, Goma-Tei and Agu Ramen, each known for their special and distinct broth and flavors.
Malasads are Portuguese doughnuts which laborers from the Madeira and Azores Islands brought over to Hawaii during the plantation era. They’re balls are fried dough sprinkled heavily with sugar and/or cinnamon and inside sometimes there are amazing fillings such as warm chocolate, haupia (you’ll learn what that is next) and other flavored jellies. They make the most heavenly comfort food and there are incredible bakeries around Hawaii that are famous for malasadas, most notably Leonard’s in Kapahulu and Champion’s Bakery in downtown Honolulu.
Haupia is a heavenly coconut dessert, made up of coconut milk and some type of starch, that’s thick and creamy and served as pudding, gelatin or pies. A few times a year for limited amounts of time, the McDonalds franchise in Hawaii sells haupia pie in the exact same shape as the apple pie and it’s to die for. Go to any bakery in Hawaii such as the one at Zippy’s or Kilani Bakery in Wahiawa for a taste of the most scrumptious tropical dessert the islands have to offer.
7. Kalua pork
Kalua pork is a popular main dish served at luaus and it’s a traditional Hawaiian dish that used to be made by cooking a pig in a deep underground oven called an imu, although these days it’s more often cooked in a slow cooker. Kalua pork is soft and tender with the texture of pulled pork, and it tastes best slightly salted with a salad of diced tomatoes and onions over rice. You can get a delicious plate lunch of kalua pork at local eateries known for serving traditional Hawaiian food such as Ono Hawaiian BBQ and Young’s Fish Market in Honolulu.
8. Loco Moco
The loco moco is a true local classic and original that has stood the tests of time. It’s the best comfort food one can find in Hawaii. It’s a simple hamburger steak served over rice (sometimes fried rice) with an egg sunny side up with gravy all over. People eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner and even for after-dinner as a drunk snack. You can order loco mocos at any of our favorite diners such as Zippy’s or Likelike Drive-Inn.
9. Garlic Fried Chicken
Similar to how Koreans make saucy and delicious fried chicken wings, garlic fried chicken is boneless fried chicken that’s glazed to perfection in a sweet, garlic sauce. It’s a favorite feature on bentos and plate lunches, especially on top of rice with furukake flakes and some ginger on the side. Word on the street is that Mitsu-ken in Kalihi makes the most irresistible garlic fried chicken and it’s the type of place you have to go early to in order to get some before it runs out. The Korean chicken plate at Zippy’s is pretty bomb although it’s not the same type of glaze as the garlic fried chicken at Mitsu-ken, but it’s still worth a try if you can’t make it out to Kalihi.
10. Shrimp Scampi
Shrimp scampi is a very popular dish among locals, but only the kind you get from a truck that’s parked out by the beach or the open fields in the countryside. Driving out to North Shore, where many of the most popular trucks can be found, to grab a plate of garlic shrimp with two scoops of rice is always a special treat before heading to the pristine, more natural beaches of the northern shore. Most trucks can be found around Haleiwa and Kahuku and the most popular ones are Giovanni’s, Fumi’s, Romy’s and Macky’s.