As the most isolated population center on earth — located more than 2,000 miles from the closest continent — the Hawaiian Islands are unique. Everything from our culture to the food we eat is a bit different than the mainland. From traditional Hawaiian dishes to those inspired by other cultures, there are certain dishes abundant throughout the islands you simply can’t find elsewhere. These food combinations are as delicious as they are unique.
1. Mango Slices & Li Hing Mui
Made by pickling plum skins in licorice, salt and sugar, and then grinding the mixture into a fine powder, li hing mui was originally made in China, but has since made its way to the Hawaiian Islands. While it is often thought to be an acquired taste, people from Hawaii simply can’t get enough of the salty, sweet and sour taste, and it tastes the best with mango slices.
2. Meat & Steamed Bun
Manapua translates to "delicious pork thing" in Hawaiian, and that is exactly what it is: diced pork filling inside a steamed white bun. You can substitute other meats, or even bean paste if you would like.
3. Spam, Seaweed & Rice
Hawaiians eat more Spam per capita than any other American state; there is even an annual festival dedicated to the canned meat. The most popular Spam product in Hawaii is Spam Musubi, and it is pretty delicious.
4. Hamburger Steak, Egg, Rice & Gravy
The loco moco: A beef patty nestled into a bed of rice with a fried over-easy egg balanced on top, with a smothering of brown gravy bringing everything together. It’s a shame the rest of the country knows nothing of this mouthwatering comfort food.
5. Shave Ice, Sweetened Condensed Milk & Ice Cream
Shave Ice is absolutely divine, but it’s even better with a scoop of ice cream at the bottom and sweetened condensed milk drizzled over the top. The sweet treat is the perfect complement to an afternoon on the water. You can also add azuki beans for a unique twist.
6. Pork & Taro Leaf
Laulau is a traditional Hawaiian dish that is made with pork wrapped in taro leaves, and steamed on the stove. Native Hawaiians prepared the dish in an underground oven.
7. Japanese Sticky Rice & Ice Cream
Combine Japanese sticky rice and an ice cream filling and you’ve got ice cream mochi. I was introduced to mochi shortly after moving to Hawaii, and fell in love. Yes, you can find mochi in other states, but everyone knows that the best mochi comes from Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert.
8. Chicken Katsu, Rice & Macaroni Salad
A plate lunch is a specific meal consisting of two scoops of rice, an entrée, macaroni salad, and sometimes a generous helping of gravy. While the entree options are seemingly endless, one of our favorites is chicken katsu.
9. Acai Berries, Fresh Fruit & Granola
Ah, the acai bowl. There is nothing quite like an acai bowl after a sunrise hike. This is such a healthy and satisfying breakfast, and I’m still trying to perfect the sweet meal at home.
10. Kalua Pork & Cabbage
This traditional dish is usually cooked in an underground oven, called a Imu, and served at most Hawaiian luaus and traditional eateries. Unfortunately, all you’ll find elsewhere is plain, old, boring pork. Many locals add cabbage and onion to the pork to add a nice sweetness, boost the dish’s nutritional value, and also stretch the amount of servings available.
11. Fluffy Donut Holes & Unique Flavored Fillings
Malasadas — Portuguese donuts without a hole — are wildly popular in Hawaii, and nowhere does them better than Leonard’s Bakery. A crispy golden brown exterior gives way to a soft and chewy inside in flavors like cinnamon sugar — some malasadas are even filled with custard or haupia, and there is a malasada flavor of the month. You can guarantee we dream about these delicious treats when we leave Hawaii.
12. Pineapple & Anything
It’s hard to think about Hawaiian food without talking about pineapple. Hawaii is famous for its pineapple production, though the sweet fruit was not introduced to the islands until the 1500s. While you can buy pineapple anywhere, it’s never as good as it is in Hawaii — and it goes with everything, including both sweet and savory dishes.