Mmmerica / Hawaii Food

Hawaii Food

Infographic of Cuisine of Hawaii

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Hawaii is home to a unique blend of people and cultures, including the early Polynesians who have inhabited the islands for many years, European explorers, and later immigrants from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Portugal, and the rest of the United States. As a series of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii’s many years of relative isolation have allowed the culture of the islands to develop and evolve over its history. The culture and cuisine that has been created is vastly different from that of the mainland, as they call the rest of the United States, characterized by a relaxed lifestyle with food playing a central role.

When Polynesians arrived on the islands around 300 to 500 AD, they found that though the soil of the islands was very fertile, few types of native vegetation grew. They soon brought with them edible plants to begin cultivating on the islands, including taro, sweet potatoes and yams, coconuts, and sugarcane. They also brought animals for eating, including pigs, chickens, and even dogs to supplement the native seafood, which included various types of fish, shrimp, crab, and octopus.


The meat was traditionally cooked in an earth oven, or imu, which was an underground pit lined with volcanic rocks. The cooking method, called kalua, roasts and steams the meat, which is wrapped in leaves before being placed in the pit. The meat is covered with wet leaves and a layer of earth, which traps in the heat for a long period of time. In this culture, the men cooked, first for themselves and then for the women, and the two did not eat together. For some ceremonies, pigs were slaughtered in sacrifice and cooked on a spit over an open fire, before being offered to appease the gods.

Much later, in the late 1700s, explorers from England arrived, bringing other plants and animals like melons, pumpkins, onions, goat, and cattle. Pineapples and grapes were soon cultivated on the islands, becoming an important part of the diet. Americans who settled on Hawaii began cultivating pineapples and sugarcane, building large plantations that made the two crops the most important sources of revenue on the islands.

With the introduction of these plantations, brought the need for cheap labor, which drew Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Filipinos, Portuguese immigrants, who each brought their own cultural and culinary influence to the islands. Japanese flavors have been thoroughly incorporated into the Hawaiian cuisine, including soy sauce, wasabi, teriyaki and sushi. The Portuguese, who came from the Azores islands, brought sweet bread and linguica sausage. These influences have helped to create the various types of fusion cuisine that are found on the islands.


The canned ham product made by the Hormel Corporation became an important part of Hawaiian cuisine during World War II, when it was introduced to the islands by members of the military who were stationed there. It was marketed as an all-American dish, and with limited supplies of fresh meat during the time of war, along with its low cost, Spam was a big hit.

Spam can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner in Hawaiian cuisine. Fried eggs and spam are a classic Hawaiian breakfast dish, while Spam musubi is a very popular lunch. Spam musubi is a sushi-like snack made from a slice of Spam and a block of rice, wrapped with nori, which is a thin, papery strip of seaweed, used to wrap sushi.

While much of the population of the United States considers Spam an inferior food, Hawaiians have made it a staple of their cuisine. Hawaii is one of the top consumers of Spam in the United States, and the dish is so loved that the annual Spam Jam festival takes place during the last weekend of April in Waikiki to celebrate the food.


Fish are, of course, an essential part of life in the islands, especially tuna, which is the main fish of Hawaiian cuisine. Several varieties of tuna are found around the Hawaiian islands, but ahi has become one of the most popular. Ahi was easily dried and preserved to be brought along on ships during long voyages. It is also served as sashimi or seared


 The Hawaiian version of poi is made from taro root, which is cooked, mashed, and mixed with water to create a paste. Poi is served as a side dish to fish dinners during luaus or sometimes eaten for breakfast. Poi goes sour fairly quickly, and sour poi usually needs to be served with milk or sugar to sweeten it. Many people do not enjoy poi the first time they taste it.

Poi is historically a sacred dish, as Hawaiians believed that the taro plant was an ancestor of their people. They believed that when they ate poi, the spirit of their ancestors (Haloa) was present.

Loco Moco

Loco Moco is a distinctly Hawaii meal made from white rice, hamburger, fried eggs, and gravy. Invented on the islands as a cheap alternative to a steak entree, this dish has become a favorite that has spread around to Hawaiian restaurants around the country.


Poke is a Hawaiian appetizer, made from raw fish like ahi, octopus, or salmon and cured with sea salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, chili pepper. Poke is often mixed with vegetables like tomatoes, maui onion, and cabbage, and is served with wasabi. Poke is similar to carpaccio or tartare, but differs from seviche, which is also a medley of raw fish, in that it does not use citrus or vinegar to tenderize the meat.