Kalua pork, Laulau, scoop of rice, with lomi lomi salmon, poke, and poi on the side. Haupia for dessert.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Hawaiian food? If you’re like most people, pineapples, ham, and Hawaiian pizza were probably the first things that popped into your mind. Others probably conjured an image of a whole pig wrapped in banana leaves roasting on rocks in an underground oven. Traditional staples like kalua pork, laulau, poi, and lomi lomi salmon are the first things that pop up in Google when you search for Hawaiian food. They dominate the search results for a good reason—they taste great! But I’m going to let you in on a little secret, there’s more to Hawaiian food than what you’ll find at your resort luau. Here are five foods you must try to eat like a local.
1. Loco Moco
Hamburger steak, rice, and fried egg garnished with green onions, sesame seeds, and shallots.
Start your day right with a Hawaiian breakfast fit for a king. White rice and hamburger steak topped with a fried egg and smothered in gravy. What’s not to love? The Loco Moco owes its humble origins to Lincoln Grill restaurants in Hilo, Hawaii, where in 1949 teenagers from the Lincoln Wreckers Sports club requested something different from a sandwich that was still quick to prepare and easy on the wallet. The result was the Loco Moco. The “Loco” comes from the nickname of one of the members, while the “Moco” was chosen because “it rhymed with loco and sounded good.” Today the Loco Moco can be found in most restaurants across the island.
2. Plate Lunch
It’s lunch time, you’re hungry, and you see a familiar pair of golden arches tempting you in the distance—not so fast! Before you settle for conventional fast food, why not do as the locals do and pick up a plate lunch from the food truck on the street corner. What makes the plate lunch uniquely Hawaiian is that it represents a mix of asian and pacific islander roots. Typical entrees include chicken katsu, kalua pork, korean barbecue, and steak. These are usually accompanied with two scoops of rice and mac salad. The types of food you can find in a plate lunch are as diverse as the people who live on the islands.
3. Shaved Ice
Nothing quite as refreshing as shaved ice on a hot summer day in Hawaii. You may already be familiar with the snow cone, but Hawaii takes it to the next level with shaved ice. Local favorites include lychee, lilikoi, and taro. If you’re familiar with froyo, just about all the toppings you can think of are also used on Hawaiian shaved ice. Try adding mochi balls, cream, condensed milk and li hing mui powder for a truly local experience.
4. Spam Musubi
You need an afternoon snack and all you’ve got is a one dollar bill in your board shorts. Never fear. Just head on over to your local 7-11 and pick up a spam musubi. A block of rice, topped with spam, and wrapped in nori. It doesn’t get more local than that. Spam musubi is a menu item you’ll find everywhere from convenience stores to restaurants. For some added flavor, try drizzling it in teriyaki sauce.
No list of local favorites would be complete without poke (pronounced po-kay). If you love sushi or sashimi, you’ll love poke, which consists of cubed raw fish marinated in sea salt, sesame oil, and shoyu. Often spices and garnishes like limu will be mixed in to the poke for added effect. Ahi(yellowfin tuna) poke is the most common, however akua, octopus, salmon, and other types of seafood may also be used. If you’re looking for a meal, try a poke bowl, which consists of poke on top of rice. You cannot leave hawaii without getting an authentic taste of the sea.