A Guide to Common Hawaiian Foods: Poi, Poke, and More


Set out on a culinary journey to the lush paradise of Hawaii, where flavors blend like the vibrant hues of a tropical sunset. Hawaiian cuisine tells a story of diverse influences, from the indigenous Polynesian roots to the waves of Asian and American traditions that have shaped its delectable offerings. From the iconic Poi, a taro-based staple, to the globally celebrated Poke, marinated raw fish delight, each dish carries a piece of the islands' history and culture. Join us as we explore the tantalizing world of Kalua Pig, Lau Lau, Malasadas, and more, offering a taste of the aloha spirit on a plate.


Poi is a fundamental and iconic element of Hawaiian cuisine, deeply rooted in the cultural heritage of the islands. Made from the starchy taro root, the process of creating poi involves cooking the taro, pounding it into a paste, and allowing it to ferment slightly. The result is a smooth, purple-grayish dish with a texture that can range from thick to thin.

In Hawaiian culture, poi holds both nutritional and symbolic significance. It is a good source of carbohydrates and essential nutrients, making it a sustaining staple in the traditional Hawaiian diet. Beyond its nutritional value, poi is often seen as a representation of the Hawaiian concept of "ohana" (family) and communal values. It's shared during gatherings, luaus, and celebrations, reinforcing the idea of coming together and sharing food as a way to connect.

The taste of poi is subtly nutty, with a slight tang from the fermentation process. While it might be an acquired taste for some, many locals and visitors enjoy its unique flavor and cultural importance. Poi is typically eaten by dipping two or three fingers into a bowl or dish, scooping up a small amount, and then gently rotating the hand to form a small mound. As you explore Hawaiian cuisine, trying poi is a must to truly appreciate the traditional flavors and values it embodies.


Poke, originating from the Hawaiian word "pokē," meaning to slice or cut crosswise, has evolved from a local dish to a global culinary sensation. This traditional Hawaiian dish features bite-sized pieces of raw fish, usually marinated with a blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, sea salt, green onions, and often other flavorful additions. The result is a harmonious blend of textures and flavors, showcasing the freshness of the seafood.

While the classic poke recipe includes ahi tuna, other fish like salmon, octopus, and even tofu have been incorporated to cater to varying tastes and preferences. The marinade infuses the fish with umami richness while allowing the natural flavors of the seafood to shine. In recent years, creative variations of poke have emerged, introducing new ingredients like avocado, mango, seaweed, and various types of sauces and dressings.

Poke has not only become a staple in Hawaiian cuisine but has also become a symbol of fusion, highlighting the influence of Japanese, Filipino, and other Asian culinary traditions in the islands. Its accessibility, customizability, and emphasis on high-quality ingredients have propelled poke to the forefront of contemporary food trends, making it a beloved dish cherished by locals and visitors alike.

Kalua Pig

Kalua pig is a cherished Hawaiian dish that epitomizes the islands' connection to their ancient traditions. The dish is named after the traditional Hawaiian cooking method known as "kalua," which involves cooking in an imu, an underground oven. A whole pig is typically seasoned with sea salt and sometimes other spices, wrapped in banana leaves, and placed on a bed of hot lava rocks. The imu is covered with more leaves, cloth, and soil, and the pig is slow-cooked for several hours, resulting in tender, smoky, and flavorful meat.

This method of cooking imparts a rich, earthy flavor to the pig and creates a memorable culinary experience. The kalua pig is often shredded or pulled apart before serving, and its succulent texture and smoky aroma make it a centerpiece of Hawaiian feasts and luaus. The dish holds cultural significance, as it not only reflects the resourcefulness of ancient Hawaiians but also symbolizes communal gatherings and celebrations.

Today, while traditional imu cooking is still practiced for special occasions, kalua pig can also be prepared using modern cooking methods like slow cookers or conventional ovens. It remains a cornerstone of Hawaiian cuisine, representing the islands' connection to the land, their cultural heritage, and the spirit of coming together to share food and celebrate.

Kalua Pig

Lau Lau

Lau Lau is a cherished Hawaiian dish that showcases the harmony of flavors and cooking techniques influenced by the diverse cultures of the islands. This traditional dish features a combination of succulent pork, fish, or sometimes chicken, wrapped in luau (taro) leaves and then steamed or baked. The luau leaves impart a distinct, slightly earthy taste to the dish, and the slow cooking process results in tender and flavorful meat.

The preparation of Lau Lau involves marinating the meat in a mixture of salt, water, and sometimes seasonings before wrapping it in the luau leaves. The wrapped parcels are then tied with twine and either placed in a steamer or baked in an oven until the leaves are tender and the meat is thoroughly cooked. The combination of flavors and textures in Lau Lau creates a memorable dining experience that reflects the influences of Hawaiian, Polynesian, and Asian culinary traditions.

Lau Lau is often enjoyed during special occasions, gatherings, and luaus, and it holds cultural significance as a dish that fosters a sense of community and togetherness. Its preparation may vary slightly among families and restaurants, making each rendition a unique expression of Hawaiian cuisine. Whether you're savoring the tender meat, the flavor of the luau leaves, or the cultural heritage it represents, Lau Lau is a true testament to the diversity and richness of Hawaiian food.

Lomi Lomi Salmon

Lomi Lomi Salmon is a delightful and refreshing Hawaiian dish that beautifully captures the essence of the islands' culinary traditions. This traditional dish is composed of diced salmon that's been marinated with a medley of ingredients, including tomatoes, onions, and sometimes green onions. The name "lomi lomi" translates to "massage" in Hawaiian, and the dish is prepared by gently massaging and mixing the ingredients together. This hands-on approach ensures that the flavors meld harmoniously, creating a unique blend of tastes and textures.

The dish's simplicity and use of fresh, locally available ingredients reflect the resourcefulness and creativity of Hawaiian cuisine. Lomi Lomi Salmon offers a balance between the slightly tangy tomatoes, the mild bite of onions, and the richness of the salmon. It's often seasoned with sea salt and sometimes garnished with additional ingredients like chili peppers or herbs for added complexity.

Lomi Lomi Salmon is not only a culinary delight but also a cultural expression. It has been a part of Hawaiian feasts and gatherings for generations, where it is shared among friends and family. Its preparation and consumption embody the Hawaiian values of connection, harmony, and the spirit of coming together to enjoy food and each other's company. Whether enjoyed as a side dish, a topping, or even as a dip with poi or other traditional foods, Lomi Lomi Salmon offers a taste of the islands' vibrant flavors and traditions.


Haupia is a delectable Hawaiian dessert known for its smooth texture and rich coconut flavor. This traditional treat has a long history in Hawaiian cuisine and is beloved by locals and visitors alike. Made primarily from coconut milk, sugar, and a thickening agent like cornstarch, haupia is cooked until it reaches a custard-like consistency and then chilled until set. The end result is a creamy and slightly firm dessert that can be cut into various shapes.

Coconut is a prominent ingredient in Hawaiian cuisine, and haupia exemplifies its tropical essence. The dish offers a balance of sweetness and coconut creaminess that provides a refreshing contrast to other rich or savory dishes. While haupia is often enjoyed as a standalone dessert, it can also be incorporated into other desserts, such as layering it with cakes or as a filling for pastries.

Haupia's versatility and popularity have led to modern variations, including flavored versions with additions like chocolate, coffee, fruit purees, or even matcha. This dessert remains a staple at luaus, family gatherings, and special occasions, symbolizing the islands' culinary heritage and the importance of indulging in the simple pleasures of life. Whether you're experiencing the classic version or a creative twist, haupia is a delightful representation of the tropical sweetness that Hawaii has to offer.

Plate Lunch

The Plate Lunch is a beloved culinary institution in Hawaii that embodies the islands' fusion of diverse flavors and cultural influences. This casual and hearty meal consists of a main protein, usually meat or fish, served with two scoops of white rice and a side of macaroni salad. It has its origins in the plantation era of Hawaii, where laborers from different backgrounds shared their foods and created a diverse and flavorful cuisine.

The main protein component of a Plate Lunch can vary widely, ranging from teriyaki chicken, barbecue beef, breaded pork cutlets (tonkatsu), fried mahi-mahi, and more. The rice and macaroni salad components provide a satisfying base and are often accompanied by a flavorful sauce or gravy drizzled over the meat. The macaroni salad is creamy and slightly tangy, typically made with macaroni pasta, mayonnaise, and a mix of vegetables.

The Plate Lunch embodies the spirit of "local food" in Hawaii, reflecting the cultural blend of Asian, American, and Polynesian influences that have shaped the islands' cuisine. It's not only a satisfying and filling meal but also a cultural experience that resonates with both locals and visitors. Whether enjoyed at food trucks, casual eateries, or plate lunch spots, this iconic meal encapsulates the essence of Hawaiian comfort food and the diverse flavors that have come to define the island's culinary landscape.

Plate Lunch


Malasadas are a delightful treat with a history rooted in Portuguese culinary traditions, but they've become an integral part of Hawaii's food culture. These fried doughnuts are known for their light and fluffy texture and are a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Traditionally, malasadas are made from a sweet dough that's deep-fried until golden brown, resulting in a crisp exterior and a soft interior.

The origin of malasadas in Hawaii can be traced back to Portuguese immigrants who brought their recipe to the islands in the 19th century. These immigrants, especially from the Azores, introduced their culinary traditions, and over time, malasadas became a beloved treat that found a permanent home in Hawaiian cuisine. They are especially popular during Shrove Tuesday, known as "Malasada Day" in Hawaii, which is the day before the start of Lent.

Malasadas can be enjoyed in their original form, generously coated in granulated sugar, but they also come with a variety of fillings and toppings. Some common fillings include custard, chocolate, coconut cream, and fruit jams. The combination of the crispy exterior and the sweet, soft interior, along with the possibility of various fillings, makes malasadas an irresistible and versatile indulgence that embodies Hawaii's cultural diversity and its love for indulgent treats.

Huli Huli Chicken

Huli Huli Chicken is a mouthwatering Hawaiian dish that's known for its distinctive and flavorful preparation. The name "huli huli" is derived from the Hawaiian word "huli," meaning to turn over, which is a key step in the cooking process. This dish has a fascinating history, originating in the mid-20th century when Ernest Morgado popularized it as a fundraiser for a local rotary club.

The preparation of Huli Huli Chicken involves marinating the chicken in a delicious blend of ingredients such as soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, and sometimes pineapple juice. This marinade imparts a rich umami flavor and caramelizes beautifully as the chicken cooks. The chicken is then grilled over an open flame or on a rotisserie, with constant turning to ensure even cooking and to create a crispy and charred exterior.

The result is tender and juicy chicken with a delectable combination of sweet, savory, and smoky notes. The dish has become synonymous with Hawaiian gatherings and outdoor events, where the aroma of grilling chicken and the communal spirit it represents bring people together. Huli Huli Chicken embodies the essence of Hawaiian cuisine by celebrating both the flavors of the islands and the spirit of sharing delicious food with family and friends.

Shave Ice

Shave Ice, often referred to as "shaved ice" on the mainland, is a beloved Hawaiian treat that offers a refreshing escape from the tropical heat. This dessert consists of finely shaved ice piled into a cone or cup and generously drizzled with a variety of vibrant and flavorful syrups. The ice is shaved so finely that it takes on a delicate, snow-like texture that allows the syrups to be absorbed evenly, creating a burst of flavor with each bite.

What sets Hawaiian Shave Ice apart is the array of creative and tropical flavors available. From traditional options like strawberry, pineapple, and coconut to more unique choices such as lilikoi (passion fruit), guava, and lychee, there's a flavor combination to suit every palate. Some versions even include sweetened condensed milk or ice cream for added richness.

Shave Ice is a quintessential part of Hawaiian food culture and is particularly popular at beachside stands, food trucks, and local shops. It's not only a delicious treat but also a colorful and playful experience that captures the laid-back and carefree spirit of the islands. Whether you're savoring the classic rainbow combination or trying out exotic flavor fusions, Shave Ice is a must-try when visiting Hawaii, providing a delightful way to cool down and indulge in the island's tropical flavors.


Hawaiian cuisine is a fusion of cultural influences resulting in a diverse array of dishes. Poi, made from taro root, is a traditional staple with a nutty flavor, while Poke, marinated raw fish, showcases Hawaiian-Asian fusion. Kalua Pig is slow-cooked underground, symbolizing communal gatherings, while Lau Lau offers tender meat wrapped in taro leaves. Lomi Lomi Salmon combines diced salmon, tomatoes, and onions, reflecting harmony and hands-on preparation. Haupia is a creamy coconut dessert, while Plate Lunch unites protein, rice, and macaroni salad. Malasadas are Portuguese-inspired doughnuts, and Huli Huli Chicken features marinated, grilled poultry. Lastly, Shave Ice is a beloved icy treat with a snow-like texture and tropical syrups.

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