The 15 best things to eat in Hawaii

ShutterstockShave ice.
  • Modern Hawaiian cuisine is influenced by a number of diverse cultures, from Polynesian to Japanese and Chinese.

  • There’s a local Hawaiian dish called saimin that closely resembles Japanese ramen or soba noodle dishes.

  • Poke has recently grown popular on the mainland US, but it has Hawaiian roots.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

With its white sand beaches, turquoise waters, beautiful sunsets, and lush green mountains, it’s hard to imagine what could make Hawaii into an even more perfect paradise.

That is, until you sample the food.

Influenced by a number of diverse cultures, modern Hawaiian cuisine combines Native Hawaiian ingredients with Polynesian, Japanese, Chinese, European, and mainland American flairs.

There are few other places outside of the islands where diners can try out these traditional Hawaiian treats. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to taste at least a few of these 15 dishes on your next trip.

Kālua pork

The word “kālua” literally means “to cook in an underground oven,” so it isn’t difficult to guess exactly how this dish was originally made. Often the star of Hawaiian luaus, the tasty pig is traditionally salted, wrapped in ti leaves, slow cooked for several hours, and shredded up to eat.

Plate lunch

ShutterstockHawaiian plate lunch.

Once you’ve tried kālua pork, try putting the dish on a platter alongside macaroni salad and some rice. This popular combo makes up a Hawaiian plate lunch, a common and beloved afternoon meal on the islands that combines many of the best local dishes.


Flickr/Sodai GomiA seafood laulau.

Laulau is pork, beef, chicken, or seafood wrapped in a taro leaf and steamed to perfection. It often appears as a part of the Hawaiian plate lunch.

Loco moco

Often appearing atop a Hawaiian plate lunch, loco moco usually consists of rice, a hamburger steak, fried eggs, and gravy, all stacked on top of one another. The dish might also come loaded with Maui onions, other meats, and seafood.



Poke has recently grown popular on the mainland US, but it has Hawaiian roots. Made primarily of cubes of raw fish – usually ahi tuna – poke often comes with toppings like soy sauce, salt, green onions, and sesame oil.



Hawaiian saimin closely resembles Japanese ramen or soba noodle dishes. Many of the ingredients remain the same – wheat noodles, broth, scallions, various meats, and nori – but on special occasions, dumplings may be added in.

Spam musubi

Spam musubi – a slice of grilled Spam stacked on rice and wrapped in seaweed – is a must-eat Hawaiian dish. The salty snack is a common comfort food not just in Hawaii, but throughout the Pacific.

Shave Ice

iStockShave ice.

Made of shaved ice stacked on ice cream and topped with flavored syrups, shave ice is sometimes considered the primeHawaiian dessert. Perfect for cooling off in the Hawaiian heat, the sweet treat is easy to enjoy all year long.



Manapua is essentially Hawaii’s version of char siu bao, also known as a Chinese pork bun. The dish is simple but delicious: barbecued pork stuffed into a thick and fluffy bread shell.

Lomi lomi salmon

ShutterstockLomi lomi salmon.

Lomi lomi salmon is a classic Hawaiian side dish. Basically a small salad made of tomato and salmon along with onions and scallions, it is regularly served cold alongside larger entrées like poke and kālua pork at luaus.

Chicken long rice

Flickr/Arnold GatilaoChicken long rice.

Chicken long rice is actually closer to a noodle dish. The recipe consists of long bean threads or vermicelli noodles combined with broth, shredded chicken, scallions, soy sauce, and seasonings.


Paderia BakehouseMalasadas.

Originally from the Azores, a territory of Portugal, malasadas are delicious balls of fried dough rolled in sugar and occasionally stuffed with fillings like custard or haupia. They closely resemble French beignets.


Wikipedia/Bshams (Public domain)Poi.

Made from the root of the taro plant, poi is mashed and watered down to create a delicious paste traditionally eaten with the fingers. The easy-to-make dish can either be eaten fresh so that it tastes sweet, or left to ferment for up to a week for a more tangy taste.



The influence of the South Pacific islands on Hawaiian cuisine shines in this tasty treat. Originally from Polynesia, the coconut milk-based dessert is highly popular at weddings and luaus.

Li Hing Mui

ShutterstockLi Hing Mui (dried plums).

Li Hing Mui, at its most basic, is salted dried plum. The Hawaiian snack can be served in a number of ways when presented whole, including dried, glazed with sauce, or with or without the pit. It can also come crushed into a powder, which is then dusted onto other foods and drinks.

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