hawaiian foods

18 Indigenous Hawaiian Foods You Must Try on Your Next Visit

Hawaiian culture offers a colorful tapestry of traditions, and food is no exception. This article aims to explore 18 must-try Hawaiian foods that offer a feast for both the eyes and the palate.

Historical Overview

Historical Overview

Image source: Pinterest

Hawaiian cuisine is not just a random assortment of dishes but a rich tapestry that tells the story of the islands themselves. The culinary landscape of Hawaii has evolved significantly over centuries, incorporating a variety of influences that make it as diverse as it is delicious.

Early Polynesian Settlers

The first known settlers of Hawaii were Polynesians who arrived around 300-500 A.D. These early settlers brought with them plants like taro and breadfruit, and fishing techniques that still influence Hawaiian diets today. They introduced the concept of the “luau,” a communal feast that typically features dishes like poi, lau lau, and Kalua pork.

These indigenous foods form the cornerstone of traditional Hawaiian cuisine and carry a deep cultural and spiritual significance.

Influence of Immigrants

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the arrival of workers from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Portugal to labor in Hawaii’s booming sugar and pineapple plantations. Each group brought its culinary traditions, contributing to the melting pot of flavors that Hawaii has become.

Chinese immigrants introduced foods like manapua (steamed buns), while the Japanese brought sashimi and tempura. Portuguese laborers contributed their sweet bread and sausages, and Filipino settlers introduced adobo and other vinegar-based dishes.

American Mainland and Military Presence

The annexation of Hawaii by the United States in 1898 also had a significant impact on the islands’ food culture. Mainland foods like hamburgers and canned goods found their way to Hawaiian tables. The military presence during and after World War II introduced Spam, which has since become a beloved ingredient in various local dishes, most notably Spam Musubi.

Modern-Day Fusion and Tourism

Hawaii is a global tourist destination, and over the years, international and mainland cuisines have further influenced local dishes. You’ll find everything from Italian pasta to French pastries adapted with a Hawaiian twist. Fusion dishes like Loco Moco and Spam Musubi showcase how Hawaii has successfully blended different culinary traditions to create something uniquely its own.

Famous Hawaiian Foods

When we talk about the roots of Hawaiian cuisine, it’s impossible not to mention the traditional foods that originated with the native Hawaiians. These dishes have been nourishing the islands’ inhabitants for centuries and provide a glimpse into the spiritual and communal aspects of Hawaiian culture.

1. Poi


Image source: Pinterest

Poi is more than just a dish; it is a symbol of Hawaiian heritage. Made by boiling taro root and mashing it until it becomes a smooth, sticky paste, poi serves as a staple food rich in nutrients. It often accompanies dishes like lau lau and Kalua pork and can be eaten in various consistencies—some prefer it thicker, while others like it slightly watery. The act of sharing poi at a meal signifies communal unity and is deeply ingrained in the Hawaiian tradition.

2. Lau Lau

Lau Lau

Image source: Pinterest

A flavorful parcel of pork, fish, or chicken wrapped in taro leaves and then steamed, Lau Lau is a delicacy reserved for special occasions and communal feasts. The taro leaves infuse the meat with a unique, earthy taste while keeping it moist and tender. Making Lau Lau is often a community activity, with families and friends gathering to prepare large quantities for luaus or other events.

3. Kalua Pork

Kalua Pork

Image source: Pinterest

Arguably the star of any traditional luau, Kalua Pork is made by cooking a whole pig in an underground oven called an “imu.” The pig is seasoned with sea salt and sometimes wrapped in banana leaves before being covered with hot stones and earth to cook for several hours. The result is smoky, juicy pork that pulls apart effortlessly. Kalua Pork serves not just as a meal but as an event that brings the community together.

4. Haupia


Image source: Pinterest

This coconut milk-based dessert is often compared to pudding or gelatin but possesses a unique texture all its own. Simple ingredients like coconut milk, sugar, and arrowroot or cornstarch are combined and cooked until thickened, then poured into a pan to set. Haupia is traditionally cut into squares and can be found at almost any gathering or special occasion.

5. Lomi Lomi Salmon

Lomi Lomi Salmon

Image source: Pinterest

A side dish often served at luaus, Lomi Lomi Salmon consists of salted salmon that is massaged (“lomi” means “to rub” or “massage” in Hawaiian) together with diced tomatoes and onions. The dish is a refreshing counterpart to richer, heavier foods and is often eaten with poi.

6. Ulu (Breadfruit)


Image source: Pinterest

Ulu, or breadfruit, was one of the original “canoe plants” brought over by the first Polynesian settlers. The starchy fruit is incredibly versatile and can be prepared in various ways, including baking, frying, or even mashing like potatoes. Its subtle, slightly sweet flavor makes it a favorite in both savory and sweet dishes, and it has experienced a resurgence as a sustainable food source.

7. Poke


Image source: Pinterest

Originally a Hawaiian dish of sliced, marinated raw fish, Poke has also been influenced by Japanese sashimi and ceviche from other Pacific islands. The modern variants often include Asian-inspired flavors like soy sauce, sesame oil, and wasabi.

8. Saimin


Image source: Pinterest

Saimin is a noodle soup that epitomizes the melding of multiple Asian cuisines. Chinese egg noodles, Japanese dashi, and Filipino and Korean flavors all come together in this comforting, hearty dish. It’s a go-to fast food in Hawaii and a testament to the islands’ cultural melting pot.

9. Manapua


Image source: Pinterest

Derived from the Chinese “bao,” Manapua are fluffy steamed buns filled with pork, chicken, or sweet fillings. They were originally sold from “Manapua Man” wagons primarily in Chinatown and have become a favorite snack island-wide.

10. Teriyaki Beef

Teriyaki Beef

Image source: Pinterest

While Teriyaki itself originates from Japan, Hawaii has adopted it as its own. Here, teriyaki seasoning is not limited to chicken but extends to beef and even Spam, making it a popular choice for plate lunches.

11. Malasadas


Image source: Pinterest

These deep-fried dough balls are a must-try for anyone with a sweet tooth. Coated in sugar and often filled with flavored creams or custard, Malasadas are especially popular during the Carnival season but can be enjoyed year-round.

12. Portuguese Sausage

Portuguese Sausage

Image source: Pinterest

A beloved breakfast staple, the Portuguese Sausage is a spicy, smoky link that pairs well with eggs and rice. Its seasonings include a mixture of garlic, paprika, and various herbs, making it a flavorful start to the day.

13. Spam Musubi

Spam Musubi

Image source: Pinterest

The U.S. military introduced Spam to Hawaii during World War II, and it quickly became a local staple. Spam Musubi is a perfect example of American influence; the canned meat is grilled and placed atop a block of rice, wrapped in seaweed, essentially turning an American product into a sushi-like treat.

14. Loco Moco

Loco Moco

Image source: Pinterest

This hearty dish consists of a hamburger patty served over rice and topped with a fried egg and gravy. While the hamburger is decidedly American, the way it’s served is distinctly Hawaiian, reflecting a blend of American and local tastes.

15. Macaroni Salad

Macaroni Salad

Image source: Pinterest

Though pasta salads are common throughout the U.S., the Hawaiian version usually accompanies the “plate lunch” and is much creamier, often containing mayonnaise, grated carrot, and sometimes tuna or boiled egg.

16. Hawaiian Pizza

Hawaiian Pizza

Image source: Pinterest

Though a point of controversy (and not actually invented in Hawaii), the pineapple-topped pizza has become associated with Hawaiian cuisine due to its tropical fruit topping, showing how mainland ideas about “Hawaiian” can influence the food landscape.

17. Kūlolo (Taro Pudding)


Image source: Pinterest

Kūlolo is a traditional Hawaiian dessert made from taro, coconut milk, and sugar. Especially popular during the Makahiki festival, this treat is steamed or baked until it achieves a fudgy, pudding-like consistency. Its rich, earthy flavors make it a beloved dish that offers a taste of Hawaiian history and a celebration of the islands’ natural bounty.

18. Mochi


Image source: Pinterest

Mochi is a sticky, chewy rice cake of Japanese origin that has found a home in Hawaiian cuisine. Especially popular during New Year’s and Girls’ Day (Hinamatsuri), mochi in Hawaii often takes on local flavors. Ingredients like coconut milk, macadamia nuts, or tropical fruits are incorporated, creating a hybrid delicacy that reflects the islands’ multicultural fabric.

Signature Drinks

In Hawaii, beverages are a vibrant celebration of the islands’ rich cultural diversity and abundant natural resources. From traditional drinks that have been consumed for centuries to modern concoctions that showcase local ingredients, these signature drinks are as much a part of Hawaii’s culinary landscape as its food.

1. Kona Coffee

Kona Coffee

Image source: Pinterest

When it comes to coffee, Hawaii is best known for its Kona coffee, grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa. The unique volcanic soil gives this coffee a rich, deep flavor that is revered by coffee connoisseurs worldwide. Whether served black, as espresso, or in a variety of coffee-based drinks, Kona coffee stands as a proud emblem of Hawaiian agriculture.

2. Mai Tai

Mai Tai

Image source: Pinterest

This iconic cocktail, although not originally Hawaiian, has become synonymous with the island’s laid-back lifestyle. A tropical blend of rum, lime juice, and other ingredients like orgeat syrup and Curaçao, the Mai Tai is often garnished with a cherry and a slice of pineapple or lime.

3. POG (Passion, Orange, Guava)


Image source: Pinterest

A non-alcoholic beverage, POG is a delightful combination of passionfruit, orange, and guava juices. Originally created by a food product consultant in Hawaii, it has become a popular drink and even inspired a milk-cap game of the same name among local children.

4. Blue Hawaii

Blue Hawaii

Image source: Pinterest

Invented in Waikiki in the 1950s, the Blue Hawaii cocktail features rum, vodka, blue Curaçao, and a mixture of tropical fruit juices. Its striking blue color and fruity taste make it a popular choice at bars and resorts across the islands.

5. Okolehao


Image source: Pinterest

Okolehao is a traditional Hawaiian moonshine originally made from the root of the ti plant. Though less commonly found today, this spirit reflects the historical ingenuity of Hawaiians and their use of native flora. It has a unique, earthy flavor and is occasionally used in modern cocktails.

6. Coconut Water

Coconut Water

Image source: Pinterest

Given the abundance of coconuts in Hawaii, fresh coconut water is a common and refreshing drink. It can be consumed straight from the coconut or used as a base in various beverages, from smoothies to cocktails.

7. Lilikoʻi Lemonade


Image source: Pinterest

A refreshing twist on the classic lemonade, this drink uses lilikoʻi (passionfruit) to add a tropical flair. Its tart, sweet, and aromatic qualities make it a beloved beverage, especially during the hot summer months.


The culinary landscape of Hawaii offers a rich array of flavors and textures, thanks to its diverse heritage. From indigenous staples like poi and lau lau to modern fusions like Spam Musubi, the 18 Hawaiian foods explored in this article represent the islands at their most delicious and diverse.

AboutCorinne Switzer

Corinne is an avid reader and takes a keen interest in conspiracy theories. When not busy with her day job, she likes to indulge the writer in her and pens columns on a wide range of topics that cover everything from entertainment, healthy living to healthcare and more.