White sandy beaches, the clearest, warmest ocean waters, palm trees, the Honolulu Marathon — what could be better than December in Honolulu? The city of Honolulu and the state of Hawaii have everything from historic monuments to culture museums to breathtaking views. But of course, you need to make time for the food. Hawaiian food is not just pineapple topped dishes, coconuts, and spam. If you’re looking to unleash your adventurous foodie side, here are the top authentic Hawaiian dishes you need to try while you’re in Honolulu, or anywhere else in Hawaii, for that matter.
A starchy pudding-like dish for all seasons. Poi is a staple of not just Hawaiian food, but of Polynesian food in general. Poi is made from taro, a plant native to South and Southeast Asia. Taro root, the piece used in this dish is extremely beneficial for digestion, cancer prevention, and vision. In poi, the taro root is pounded into a paste and steamed or boiled. The paste is then mixed with water to create the pudding-like substance. Poi is typically slightly sour making this purply bowl something of an acquired taste. Poi is best when eaten with other foods.
Lau lau (also written as laulau), is another typical Hawaiian dish, traditionally consisting of pork, but can also be fish, chicken, beef, or vegetables wrapped in layers of taro leaves or luau leaves and cooked in an underground rock oven, giving it a hearty, smoky flavor, while making the texture soft. The dish is best when accompanied with salted butterfish and sweet potato, combining a variety of succulent flavors.
Kalua is Hawaiian for “cooked underground” and with this Hawaiian dish, that is exactly what happens. A whole pig (yes, a whole pig) is cooked in an underground oven called an “imu.” Historically, this was the centerpiece of a big Hawaiian feast, called an ‘aha’aina. These feasts later turned into the luau (think those pictures you’ve seen of a large pig with an apple in its mouth). The pig is covered in banana leaves and slow roasted. Think of this smoky flavored meal as the Hawaiian version of pulled-pork.
No, this has nothing to do with Pokemon. Poke-bowls, and poke in general, is an extremely popular lunch option for some classic Hawaiian food. What’s poke? Poke is the Hawaiian word for sliced or cut, which describes this dish perfectly. Poke is bite-sized cubes of raw fish, usually ahi tuna, but can be other fish as well. The fish is marinated in different sauces depending on what kind of poke you’re going to order. A common version is marinated in soy sauce, Hawaiian sea salt, sweet Maui onions, and limu, or algae. A poke-bowl includes poke and rice.
Lomi salmon, or lomilomi salmon, is a popular side dish often served with fish based dishes. Lomi salmon consists of raw massaged salmon with salt, diced tomatoes, sweet Maui onions, chili pepper flakes, and sometimes ice. This plate is always served cold and has often been compared to salsa, but with Hawaiian flair.
Chicken Long Rice
Who doesn’t love chicken noodle soup? Chicken long rice is Hawaii’s version of this classic food. The dish consists of broth with chicken, garlic, green onions, ginger, and long rice noodles. Long rice noodles are not made from rice – they are made from mung bean, yam, or potato starch. The dish is thought to originate not from Hawaii, but rather from Japan. The soup is a classic at every Luau, and no, it is never too hot out for a bowl of chicken long rice soup.
Another soup dish, saimin is quite different, however, from chicken long rice. Saimin was created by immigrants to Hawaii and draws inspiration from various East Asian dishes, including Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino pancit. The dish was originated on the plantations of Hawaii and later became a popular alternative to the less healthy fast food. Soft wheat egg noodles, green onions, a cured seafood called kamaboko, a type of barbecued pork called char siu, sliced spam, cured and smoked pork sausage called linguica, and nori (edible seaweed) all go into a bowl of hot dashi sauce. Saimin is so popular, you can get it anywhere on the islands, even at the local McDonald’s.
This dish doesn’t look the most appealing, but it is one of the most flavorful dishes you can try in Hawaii. The dish is made from squid and slow-cooked luau leaves all cooked in a coconut milk with salt, and sugar. The combination of salt and sugar give it its signature simultaneous savory and sweet taste. This briny stew is good for any and all occasions, from big luaus to small dinners.
Carbs on carbs on carbs, plus a mountain of protein. That’s loco moco, described as THE Hawaiian comfort food. Loco moco consists of sticky, white rice, a fried egg, hamburger patty, all drenched in gravy. The story is that this dish was invented by the wife of a restaurant owner who threw some ingredients together as something cheap for young kids to enjoy, and from there, this Asian-Western mix grew in popularity.
Hungry yet? Food is a huge part of the culture in Hawaii and in Honolulu, so if you want to full experience in your trip, be sure to try some of this food. While you’re in Honolulu, check out Helena’s Hawaiian Food. This restaurant is often thought of as the best and most authentic Hawaiian food in the city, with rave reviews from all who visit.
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