1. Poke Bowls
Chopped and marinated fish over rice, otherwise known as poke bowls, have been around for decades in Hawaii. However, mainlanders are only just now beginning to catch on to this fabulous dish. Most new poke places make it to order or add their own special flair but “real” poke is pre-made (essential for letting the sauce really soak into the fish)and typically sold by pound.
2. Hawaiian Plate
If you’re ever in Hawaii, don’t get confused and order a plate lunch instead of a Hawaiian plate. Plate lunches are completely different. To get a feel for what’s on a typical Hawaiian plate, think rice, poi, mac salad, and chicken long rice as staples. From there, you can add Lau Lau (pork wrapped in taro leaf), tripe stew, Lomi salmon and Luau squid. For dessert? Haupia is always best – it’s like coconut pudding meets jelly (chocolate-haupia below is our personal favorite). Not sure where to go for the best Hawaiian plates? Order one at any of these places – just make sure to get plenty to share if you’re not dining solo!
3. Shave Ice
The shaved ice in Hawaii is incomparable to any other place in the world. It’s light, fluffy, and melts as soon as it hits your tongue. The syrups are made from local fruits, which makes them even more delicious. Top it all off with azuki beans, fresh mochi balls, or ice cream, and you have a winning combination.
4. Spam Musubi
Spam musubi is a versatile dish composed of only three ingredients: rice, Spam, and nori. Though there are many ways to prepare it, as long as you have those key components, you can’t go wrong. For example, some people prefer to eat their Spam straight from the can while others like it pan-fried in shoyu until extra crispy. You can also get creative with how you arrange your slices of Spam and rice–thick or thin slice? On top or in the middle? More rice or less? Some places mix things up by adding an egg (or topping it with a quail egg). You can find Spam musubi at both casual convenience stores and upscale restaurants, no matter which variation you prefer.
Casual and delicious, mochi is a sweet rice cake that’s often found in Hawaii. You might see it at an office potluck or gathering with friends, but if you’re lucky, your parents will have some waiting for you in the car after you get off of your flight. Hawaiian mochi is less formal than traditional Japanese mochi; usually softer and not as delicate. Mochi comes in all sorts of flavors here – from azuki bean to peanut butter to blueberry cheesecake and chocolate-haupia – so there’s sure to be one (or more) that you’ll love!
A malasada is a hot yeast doughnut that has brioche-like qualities, but is slightly eggier. It is fried to a deep, dark brown and then rolled in sugar. Malasadas originated from Portugal, however over the years they have been Hawaiian-ized. Just like many things that come to Hawaii, they have changed over time to fit the preferences of those living here. When it comes to eating malasadas, each person has their own preference; while some might prefer Leonard’s, others only want to eat the Champion’s.
One of the best things about living in Hawaii is the fresh seafood. Sashimi, in particular, is something you can find quite easily and affordably. Whether you’re grabbing lunch to go or sitting down for a casual dinner, sashimi will likely be an option. And because islanders love their fish, you can always count on it being high quality and delicious.
8. Plate Lunch
Plate lunch is becoming a popular meal because it contains everything you need in one sitting. Most plate lunches come with rice, macaroni salad, green salad, and your choice of meat (mochicko chicken, garlic shrimp, hamburger steak, etc.). It’s affordably priced and usually served in a plastic or styrofoam container or paper plate. Plate lunch is a staple in Hawaii. It iscomfort food that can be found at most local restaurants across the islands. In Hawaii, you’ll often hear people say things like: “What’d you have for lunch?” followed by “Got a plate lunch from Rainbow’s today”; “Will you order me the mochiko chicken plate lunch from Diamond Head Grill?”; or even “Let’s get Korean style plate lunch for dinner” (as seen in the photo).
Just like Spam musubi, there is no one right way to make a Hawaiian Plate Lunch. Just know that there is a lot of variety available, and it all comes down to personal preference in the end.
9. Coco Puffs
The delicious dessert known as the Coco Puff comes from Liliha Bakery in Hawaii. It consists of three parts: choux pastry, chocolate pudding, and chantilly. This small treat is usually served cold and is composed of a fluffy pastry filled with thick chocolate pudding and topped with sweet chantilly frosting. If you’re ever in the bakery, be sure to try the original chocolate flavor instead of straying for the green tea option–it’s not nearly as good. This Hawaiian classic will surely put you in a good mood.
If you’re looking for something new to try, go for a manapua. It’s essentially a large char siu bao, or steamed bun filled with fatty roast pork. To give you an idea of how filling they are, one will make for a snack while two could be considered a meal. You’ll find that some places offer steamed manapuas while others do baked versions. The classic filling is char siu although nowadays, you have the option of trying everything from curried manapua to sweet ones filled with black sesame and sweet potato.