From cultural fusions to fine dining and sustainable farming, Hawai’i offers a smorgasbord of dining options guaranteed to satisfy everyone’s taste.
Apr 02, 2023 12:30am
Loosen your belt buckle — or in this case, your wetsuit. While Hawai’i may be famed for sand, surf, sun and aloha spirit, the island destination is gaining momentum on the food scene, and for good reason. There is plenty of dining to be done, from traditional dishes and dining customs to cultural fusions such as Spam musubi.
Her are 9 must-try Hawaiian food experiences for your next trip to the tropics — plus where to stay.
Poke your head down any Aloha state street and you’ll find a poke bowl café. Pronounced ‘po-kay’, poke bowls were traditionally eaten by native Hawaiian fishermen, who would slice up their small reef fish catch, season and serve with whatever foods where on hand.
The ultimate Hawaiian feast, a lūʻau features traditional island fare such as an earth oven (imu) cooked pig, poi (a traditional starchy food paste made from taro), marinated and cooked fish, breadfruit, fresh fruits and other local produce, along with singing, storytelling and dancing.
At the Polynesian Cultural Centre (PCC), chef Graham Elliot is at the helm. As well as Pounders and the entire PCC dining, Elliot has designed a lūʻau menu to write home about, with PCC offering one of the only lūʻaus where you eat the pig that is prepared in the imu (others often feature the imu action just for show), dug out in front of you and carved to order.
Spam. Aussies don’t care for this salty processed canned pork too much, but we do like Japanese sushi. Spam musubi is a fusion of the two – a popular snack and lunch food in Hawai’i composed of a slice of Spam atop steamed rice and wrapped in nori. The novel spin became popular during WW2, with its invention credited to an American-Japanese woman living in Hawai’i named Barbara Funamura. If you can’t bring yourself to sample a Spam musubi, there are other uniquely Hawaiian spins on sushi to try, such as raw fish egg, teriyaki bean curd, spicy cod roe and egg, as well as universally popular picks like Teriyaki chicken.
The ultimate sweet tooth treat, malasadas are an irresistible Portuguese doughnut with a light and fluffy inside and crispy, sugar-coated outside. And no hole. Rather, that hole is replaced with a generously filled flavours such as zesty lemon, custard, chocolate, coconut, strawberry and more. Made to order, you can have your malasadas coated in plain sugar, cinnamon sugar and li hing (a salty, sweet and sour powder coating). Malasadas made their way into the cultural zeitgeist in the ’50s, when original malasada bakery Leonard’s first made them, and they’ve been a hit ever since.
For those who can’t decide, try a plate lunch. Featuring a selection of comfort foods with scoops of rice or fries and macaroni salad, it’s a fail-safe. At the iconic Rainbow Drive-In, a ‘hole in the wall’ low-key and well-worn restaurant and drive through, you can get a mix plate with BBQ beef, boneless chicken, mahi mahi, rice and macaroni for just US$12.50.
Fast-food chain Zippy’s offer a taste of the islands with their melting pot plates, such as the Korean Fried Chicken and Chili Mixed Plate or a Surf Pac, with two pieces of tender, teriyaki marinated and glazed beef, two pieces of crispy golden fried chicken, and a slice of grilled Spam and on a bed of rice. And Sugoi’s (aka: ‘awesome’) has earned a string of awards for its famous garlic chicken plate.
Kona is famed for its high-quality coffee plantations, and the Island of Hawai’i is famed for its myriad coffee menu options, from macadamia nut lattes or a 100% Kona Peaberry to the best cold brews for a hot day.
At the Honolulu Coffee Experience Center in Waikīkī, visitors can taste the full farm-to-roast-to-cup coffee experience. You’ll learn about coffee origins and growing conditions (Kona beans are grown on the beautiful slopes of the Mauna Loa Volcano, located on the Island of Hawai’i), the cultivation process, handcrafted roasting and brewing, and your coffee will taste that much better for knowing.
I still can’t quite understand why it’s ‘shave ice’ and not ‘shaved ice’, but semantics aside, shave ice from the right venue is heaven. That’s right, not all shave ice is created equally. So what is it? Like the name implies, the Hawaiian dessert is made by shaving a block of ice and adding sweet flavoured syrups and other ingredients such as soft serve ice cream, Japanese Azuki beans (shave ice’s origins throwback to early Japanese settlers who would shave ice and add sugar and toppings), mochi balls, condensed milk and fresh fruit, to name a few.
8. Sustainable food and drinks
Foodie neighbourhoods are popping up too, with a local produce menu lens, such as Mud Hen Water. At the helm of Mud Hen Water is Ed Kenney, famed for his farm-to-table movement in Kaimukī. Try dishes such as Beet Poke featuring locally grown avocado, pickled limu, and smoked macadamia nuts, or the Hawaiian Rose Veal with 2Ladyfarmers Pork and sour poi vinaigrette.
Where to stay in Hawai’i
Located on Waikiki Beach, the Outrigger’s recent multimillion-dollar renovation, Club Lounge Access upgrade options, location and views to leading restaurants and shopping make it irresistible.
Right next door to Outrigger Reef Waikiki, this luxurious property also has Waikiki beach access, ample grounds, multiple award-winning restaurants and is walking distance the main shopping strip.
Located in the heart of the shopping strip and opposite Waikiki beach, ‘Alohilani is the first carbon-neutral hotel in Hawai’i. The recent refurbishment has resulted in a grand, decadent and impressive entrance, an Oceanarium, and a plethora of locally sourced menu and dining options.