Cuisine of Hawaii

A plate lunch of lau lau, kalua pork, lomi lomi salmon, poi, haupia, and rice

The cuisine of Hawaii incorporates five distinct styles of food reflecting the diverse food history of settlement and immigration in the Hawaiian Islands.[a] In the pre-contact period of Ancient Hawaii (300 AD–1778), Polynesian voyagers brought plants and animals to the Islands. As Native Hawaiians settled the area, they fished, raised taro for poi, planted coconuts, sugarcane, sweet potatoes and yams, and cooked meat and fish in earth ovens. After first contact in 1778, European and American cuisine arrived along with missionaries and whalers, who introduced their own foods and built large sugarcane plantations. Christian missionaries brought New England cuisine[1] while whalers introduced salted fish which eventually transformed into the side dish lomilomi salmon.

As pineapple and sugarcane plantations grew, so did the demand for labor, bringing many immigrant groups to the Islands between 1850 and 1930. Immigrant workers from China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Portugal arrived in Hawaii, introducing their new foods and influencing the region. The introduction of new ethnic foods, such as Chinese char siu bao (manapua), Portuguese sweet bread and malasadas, and the Japanese bento, combined with the existing indigenous, European, and American foods in the plantation working environments and in the local communities. This blend of cuisines formed a "local food" style unique to Hawaii, resulting in plantation foods like the plate lunch, snacks like Spam musubi, and dishes like the loco moco. Chefs further refined the local style by inventing Hawaii Regional Cuisine in 1994, a style of cooking that makes use of locally grown ingredients to blend all of Hawaii's historical influences together to form a new fusion cuisine.


Pre-contact period

See also: Ancient Hawaii
Taro, Colocasia esculenta was brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians

When Polynesian seafarers arrived on the Hawaiian Islands in 300–500 AD,[b] few edible plants existed in the new land, aside from ferns (Hāpuʻu ʻiʻi, whose uncoiled fronds are eaten boiled) and fruits that grew at higher elevations. Botanists and archaeologists believe that the Polynesian voyagers introduced anywhere between 27 and more than 30 plants to the islands, known as canoe plants, mainly for food.[2] The most important of them was taro.[3] For centuries taro, and the poi made from it, was the main staple of their diet, and it is still much loved today. In addition to taro the Polynesians brought yams and sweet potatoes. The latter are believed to have come from Polynesian contact with the New World.[4] The Marquesans, the first settlers from Polynesia, brought breadfruit and the Tahitians later introduced the baking banana. These settlers from Polynesia also brought coconuts, candlenuts (known in Hawaiian as kukui nuts), and sugarcane.[5] They found plenty of fish, shellfish, and limu in the new land.[2] Flightless birds were easy to catch and nests were full of eggs for the taking.[2] Most Pacific islands had no meat animals except bats and lizards, so ancient Polynesians sailed the Pacific with pigs, chickens and dogs as cargo.[6] Pigs were raised for religious sacrifice, and the meat was offered at altars, some of which was consumed by priests and the rest eaten in a mass celebration.[6] The early Hawaiian diet was diverse, and may have included as many as 130 different types of seafood and 230 types of sweet potatoes.[7] Some species of land and sea birds were consumed into extinction.[8]

Kukui foliage, flowers, and nut (candlenut) was brought to Hawaii by Polynesians.

Sea salt was a common condiment in ancient Hawaii,[9] and Inamona, a relish made of roasted, mashed kukui nutmeats, sea salt and sometimes mixed with seaweeds, often accompanied the meals.[9] At important occasions, a traditional feast, ‘aha‘aina, was held. When a woman was to have her first child, her husband started raising a pig for the ‘Aha‘aina Mawaewae feast that was celebrated for the birth of a child. Besides the pig, mullet, shrimp, crab, seaweeds and taro leaves were required for the feast.[10] The modern name for such feasts, lū‘au, was not used until 1856, replacing the Hawaiian words ‘aha‘aina and pā‘ina.[11] The name lū‘au came from the name of a food always served at a ‘aha‘aina — young taro tops baked with coconut milk and chicken or octopus.

Prior to cooking, pigs and dogs were killed by strangulation or by holding their nostrils shut, in order to conserve the animal's blood.[12] Meat was prepared by flattening out the whole eviscerated animal and broiling it over hot coals, or it was spitted on sticks.[12] Large pieces of meat, such as fowl, pigs and dogs, would be typically cooked in earth ovens, or spitted over a fire during ceremonial feasts.[6][12] Hawaiian earth ovens, known as an imu, combine roasting and steaming in a method called kālua. A pit is dug into earth and lined with volcanic rocks and other rocks that do not split when heated to a high temperature, such as granite.[13] A fire is built with embers, and when the rocks are glowing hot, the embers are removed and the foods wrapped in ti, ginger or banana leaves are put into the pit, covered with wet leaves, mats and a layer of earth. Water may be added through a bamboo tube to create steam. The intense heat from the hot rocks cooked food thoroughly — the quantity of food for several days could be cooked at once, taken out and eaten as needed, and the cover replaced to keep the remainder warm.[9] Sweet potatoes, taro, breadfruit and other vegetables were cooked in the imu, as well as fish. Saltwater eel was salted and dried before being put into the imu.[14] Chickens, pigs and dogs were put into the imu with hot rocks inserted in the abdominal cavities.[9] Men did all of the cooking, and food for women was cooked in a separate imu; afterwards men and women ate meals separately.[c] The ancient practice of cooking with the imu continues to this day, for special occasions.[15]

Post-contact period

A Hawaiian man pounding taro to make poi. Taro plants can be seen growing behind him

In 1778, Captain James Cook visited the island of Niihau, leaving a ram goat, ewes, a boar, an English sow, and seeds for melons, pumpkins, and onions.[16] In 1793, Captain George Vancouver brought the first cattle to the islands; longhorns from California were presented to King Kamehameha I.[17][18] With no natural predators, the new cattle multiplied out of control; the king hired an American man named John Parker to capture and domesticate cattle.[18] Many of the cattle were butchered and beef was introduced to Hawaiian cuisine.

In 1813, pineapple was first cultivated in Honolulu by Don Francisco de Paula Marin,[19] a Spanish botanist and advisor to King Kamehameha I. Although grape vines were introduced by Captain Vancouver around 1792, Marin is credited with the first Hawaiian vineyard in 1815 and planting the now rare Mission grape variety.[20] Marin also brewed the first beer in 1812,[21] and planted the first coffee crop in 1817, but his plantings failed.[22] Marin, called "Manini" by the Hawaiians, experimented with planting oranges, limes, beans, cabbages, potatoes, peaches, melons, maize and lettuce.

By the late 19th century, pineapple and sugarcane plantations owned and run by American settlers took over much of Hawaii's land, and these two crops became the most important sources of revenues for the Hawaiian economy.[23]

Ethnic foods

As the plantations of the Big Five expanded, the demand for labor grew, so the plantation owners hired immigrant workers, which included Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Filipinos, and Portuguese. Each ethnic group wanted its own food in workplaces, and farms and grocery markets were established. The Chinese immigrants brought Cantonese cuisine, cooking the first stir fry, sweet and sour, and dim sum dishes in the islands,[24] and replaced poi with rice, adding their own herbs and spices.[23] Chinese rice growers imported familiar fish varieties from Asia to stock local streams and irrigation ditches.[25]

Korean immigration to Hawaii brought kimchi and built barbecue pits to cook marinated meats. Korean style bulgogi or boneless meat with moderately-sweet garlic sauce and galbi or meat with bones and moderately-sweet garlic sauce as well, and another Korean favorite bibimbab or mixed rice with seasoned vegetables, namul, sweet and spicy gochujang and bulgogi topping also became an integral part of Hawaiian cuisine.[26]

Hawaiian shave ice, believed to have been introduced to Hawaii from Japan by Japanese immigrants who ate kakigōri

The Portuguese immigrants came to Hawaii from the Azores in the late 19th century,[27] introducing their foods with an emphasis on pork, tomatoes and chili peppers, and built forno, their traditional beehive oven, to make Pão Doce, the Portuguese sweet bread and malasada.[3] Whalers brought in salted fish, which ultimately became lomi-lomi salmon.[13] The Japanese brought bento and sashimi, and, although many of their vegetable seeds would not grow in the climate of the islands, they succeeded in making tofu and soy sauce.[3] The homes of Japanese immigrants lacked ovens, so their cooking relied on frying, steaming, broiling, and simmering, leading to the popularization of tempura and noodle soups in Hawaii.[24] By the early 20th century, the Japanese were the largest ethnic group and rice became the third largest crop in the islands.[28]

Puerto Rican immigration to Hawaii began in 1900, contributing spicy, Spanish-seasoned thick soups, casseroles, pasteles, and meat turnovers.[24] Filipinos reached Hawaii in 1909, bringing peas and beans, the adobo style of vinegar and garlic dishes, choosing to boil, stew, broil, and fry food instead of baking, and eating sweet potatoes as a staple instead of rice.[24] Samoans arrived in 1919, building their earth ovens above ground instead of below like the imu, and made poi from fruit instead of taro.[24] After the Vietnam War ended in 1975 immigrants from Southeast Asia arrived,[29] bringing lemongrass, fish sauce and galangal popular in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.[24]

Territorial period – statehood

Royal Hawaiian Hotel was one of the first hotels built along the shores of Waikīkī

The first restaurant in Honolulu was opened in 1849 by a Portuguese man named Peter Fernandez. Situated behind the Bishop & Co. bank, the establishment was known as the "eating house" and was followed by other restaurants, such as Leon Dejean's "Parisian Restaurant" at the corner of Hotel and Fort Streets.[30] In 1872, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel opened on Hotel Street, and as one of the most refined hotels in the Pacific, it catered to wealthy clients. The Royal Hawaiian dining room served dishes on par with the best restaurants in Europe, with an 1872 menu offering dishes such as mullet, spring lamb, chicken with tomatoes, and Cabinet Pudding.[31]

The massive pineapple industry of Hawaii was born when the "Pineapple King", James Dole, planted pineapples on the island of Oahu in 1901.[3] In 1922, Dole purchased the island of Lanai for a large-scale pineapple production. By 1950, his Hawaiian Pineapple Company was the largest pineapple company in the world.[3]

In 1905, George R. Carter, Territorial Governor of Hawai'i, promoted increasing local agricultural production, saying that "there was a time when Hawaii supplied California with flour, also potatoes and other vegetables. Now California produces her own and sends part of the surplus here." Newspaper editorials of the time also questioned why locally-grown guavas were rotting on the ground while agribusiness were planting non-native pineapples in Hawaii. These concerns were not addressed until almost a century later, when the regional cuisine movement began encouraging the food industry to "grow local, buy local, and eat local."[32] Since the 1970s, pineapples have been grown more cheaply in Southeast Asia, so Hawaiian agriculture has taken a diverse approach, producing a variety of crops, including squash, tomatoes, chili peppers and lettuce.[3] From 1978-1988, chefs who came to Hawaii would avoid Hawaiian-grown ingredients like their European counterparts, preferring to ship everything in from the U.S. mainland, or as far away as Australia, New Zealand, and Europe.[33]

Japanese-American baker Robert Taira, came up with a recipe for the Hawaiian version of sweet Portuguese bread in the 1950s. Taira began to commercially produce the bread in Hawaii, and it became successful in Honolulu bakeries and coffee shops, with plant production expanding to California and South Carolina. By the 1980s, Taira's company, King's Hawaiian Bakery, was grossing US$23.2 million annually.[27]

Hawaii regional cuisine

Seared ahi and wasabi beurre blanc sauce

In August 1991, a group of chefs in Hawaii came together to form an organization to create a new American regional cuisine, highlighting Hawaii's locally grown ingredients and diverse ethnic styles.[33] In 1992, twelve chefs including Sam Choy, George Mavrothalassitis, Alan Wong, Peter Merriman, Philippe Padovani, and Roy Yamaguchi, came together to sponsor a charity cookbook called The New Cuisine of Hawaii (1994) by Janice Wald Henderson.[34] The goal of this new group of chefs was to link local agriculture with the restaurant industry, making Hawaii Regional Cuisine a reflection of the community. For this, they took an uninspired international hotel cuisine based on imported products and replaced it with a cuisine based on locally grown foods.[5]

Contemporary times

The continued popularity of Hawaii in the 21st century as a tourist destination has helped spawn Hawaiian themed and Hawaiian cuisine restaurants in the contiguous United States such as Ono Hawaiian BBQ and L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. Its popularity is also reaching Europe, with the restaurant POND Dalston opening in 2014 as first New Hawaiian Cuisine in the United Kingdom.[35] There are also branded items such as Mauna Loa macadamia nuts. sugarcane producer Alexander & Baldwin continues to operate and has diversified into other businesses. Dole Food Company is based in Hawaii and still has a pineapple operation on Oahu. Maui Land & Pineapple Company ceased production in 2009. Some of its assets and employees are involved in the Haliʻimaile Pineapple Company startup and Kapalua Farms organic pineapple operation was taken over by Ulupono Sustainable Agriculture Development with backing from Pierre Omidyar. Beer producer Kona Brewing Company and the Volcano Winery are active. Local eateries include the Zippy's chain. Foodland Hawaii is a grocery chain. There are also distinctive and historic business operations such as Kanemitsu Bakery, Helena's Hawaiian Food, Common Ground Kauai, Anna Miller's, Nisshodo Candy Store, Maui Tacos and Waiʻoli Tea Room & Bakery at Salvation Army Waiʻoli Tea Room. Roy Yamaguchi's Roy's and various cookbooks promoting Hawaiian regional cuisine have also helped popularize Hawaiian cuisine and Hawaiian fusion cuisine.


Vegetables, fruits and nuts

Hala, the fruit of the Pandanus tectorius tree


Spam musubi, a fusion of Japanese sushi that uses fried Spam instead of raw fish. Spam was brought to Hawaii with American GIs and popularized on the islands. Spam musubi was developed in the 1980s

The Hormel company's canned meat product Spam has been highly popular in Hawaii for decades. Hawaiians are the second largest consumers of Spam in the world, right behind Guam.[37] Originally brought to Hawaii by American servicemen in their rations,[38] Spam became an important source of protein for locals after fishing around the islands was prohibited during World War II.[5] In 2005, Hawaiians consumed more than five million cans of Spam.[37]

Spam is used in local dishes in a variety of ways, most commonly fried and served with rice. For breakfast, fried eggs are often served with spam.[37] Spam can also be wrapped in ti and roasted, skewered and deep fried,[5] or stir-fried with cabbage.[37] It is added to saimin and fried rice, mashed with tofu, or served with cold sōmen or baked macaroni and cheese. It is also used in chutney for pupus, in sandwiches with mayonnaise, or baked with guava jelly.[37] Spam musubi, a slice of fried Spam upon a bed of rice wrapped with a strip of nori, is a popular snack in Hawaii which found its way onto island sushi menus in the 1980s.[37]


In the 19th century, John Parker brought over Mexican cowboys to train the Hawaiians in cattle ranching.[18] The Hawaiian cowboys of Kamuela and Kula came to be called paniolos. Cattle ranching grew rapidly for the next one hundred years. In 1960, half of the land in Hawaii was devoted to ranching for beef export, but by 1990 the number had shrunk to 25 percent.[39] The paniolos chewed pipikaula ("beef rope"), a salted and dried beef that resembles beef jerky.[40] Pipikaula would usually be broiled before serving.[41] With the influence of Asian cooking, beef strips are commonly marinated in soy sauce.[40] When beef is dried in the sun, a screened box is traditionally used to keep the meat from dust and flies. Dried meat could often be found as a relish or appetizer at a lū‘au.[40]

Fish and seafood

Tuna is the most important fish in Hawaiian cuisine.[42] Varieties include the skipjack tuna (aku), the yellowfin tuna (ahi), and the albacore tuna (tombo). Ahi in particular has a long history, since ancient Hawaiians used it on long ocean voyages because it is well preserved when salted and dried.[43] A large portion of the local tuna fishery goes to Japan to be sold for sashimi.[42] Tuna is eaten as sashimi in Hawaii as well, but is also grilled or sautéed, or made into poke.

The Pacific blue marlin (kajiki) is barbecued or grilled, but should not be overcooked due to its very low fat content.[42] The broadbill swordfish (shutome), popular and shipped all over the mainland United States, is high in fat and its steaks may be grilled, broiled, or used in stir-fries. The groupers (hapuu) are most often steamed. The red snapper (onaga) is steamed, poached, or baked. The pink snapper (opakapaka) has a higher fat, and is steamed or baked, served with a light sauce. The Wahoo (ono) is grilled or sautéed, and the dolphin fish (mahimahi) is usually cut into steaks and fried or grilled. The moonfish (opah) is used for broiling, smoking, or making sashimi.

Tako (octopus) poke with tomatoes, green onion, maui onion, soy sauce, sesame oil, sea salt, chili pepper

Poke is a local cuisine that originally involved preserving raw fish or other seafood such as octopus with sea salt and rubbing it (lomi) with seasonings or cutting it into small pieces. Seasonings made of seaweed, kukui nut, and sea salt were traditionally used for the Hawaiian poke. Since first contact with Western and Asian cultures, scallions, chili peppers, and soy sauce have become common additions to it.[44] Poke is different from sashimi, since the former is usually rough-cut and piled onto a plate, and can be made with less expensive pieces of fish.[45]

During the early 1970s, poke became an appetizer to have with beer or to bring to a party.[46]


Showing the island's Asian influence, teriyaki has become the most popular way of treating meats, including Spam.[28] Other common Asian spices include five-spice powder from China, wasabi and Shoyu (soy sauce) from Japan, and bagoong from the Philippines. Types of spices local for Hawaii cuisine include aloha shoyu, huli-huli sauce, and chili pepper water.



Alcoholic beverages

A Mai Tai cocktail

See also

Wikibooks Cookbook has a recipe/module on


a. ^ Food historian Rachel Laudan (1996) on four distinct types of food plus a new, fifth type known as "Hawaiian Regional Cuisine" (HRC) that began in 1992. Because HRC was so new at the time of Laudan's book, she only briefly touches upon it: "I came to understand that what people in Hawaii eat is a mixture of four distinct kinds of food, introduced at distinct periods, but now all coexisting. The first three reflect the three diasporas that have terminated in Hawaii: the great marine diaspora of the Pacific Islanders that probably reached the Hawaiian Islands sometime in the third century A.D..; the European voyages of discovery that finally came upon the Islands in the late eighteenth century; and the long migration of the Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Koreans, Filipinos, and lately, Southeast Asians, most of whom came to work on the plantations. From these diverse traditions, a fourth, an East-West-Pacific food, is now being created, known in the Islands as Local Food.[50] [...] But there is another cuisine in the Islands that attracts attention, Hawaii Regional Cuisine...[it] was created by forces quite different from those that drive Local Food...although the forces creating Hawaii Regional Cuisine and Local Food were different, their current cross-fertilization can be nothing but mutually beneficial, creating a firm regional base for the cuisine of the restaurants and increasing sophistication for the cuisine of the home and the street."[51]

b. ^ The early settlement history of Hawaiʻi is not completely resolved. One theory is that the first Polynesians arrived in Hawaiʻi in the third century from the Marquesas and were followed by Tahitian settlers in 1300 AD who conquered the original inhabitants. Another is that there was an extended period of contact but not necessarily for a Tahitian invasion.[52]

c. ^ Men and women ate their meals separately to preserve the distinction between male and female mana, which was thought to be blurred by both sexes handling the same food. In addition, some foods were forbidden to women, such as pork, certain kinds of fish and most types of bananas.[9]


  1. Laudan 1996, pp. 173-175,
  2. 1 2 3 Laudan 1996, p. 216.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Nenes 2007, p. 478.
  4. "Gardening at the Edge: Documenting the Limits of Tropical Polynesian Kumara Horticulture in Southern New Zealand", University of Canterbury
  5. 1 2 3 4 Nenes 2008, p. 479.
  6. 1 2 3 Brennan 2000, pp. 135–138.
  7. Adams 2006, pp. 90–92.
  8. Brennan 2000, p. 139.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Kane 1998, p. 53.
  10. Choy & Cook 2003, pp. 12–13.
  11. Pukui & Elbert 1986, pp. 214.
  12. 1 2 3 Schwabe 1979, p. 171.
  13. 1 2 Choy & Cook 2003, p. 16.
  14. Brennan 2000, pp. 271–273.
  15. Corum 2000, p. 3.
  16. HRHAS 1850, pp. 45–46.
  17. Loomis 2006, p. 8.
  18. 1 2 3 Barnes 1999, pp. 27–28.
  19. Paul 2003, p. 253.
  20. Miller, Bazore & Robbins 2002, p. 30.
  21. 1 2 Adams 2007, The Honolulu Advertiser
  22. Miller, Bazore & Robbins 2002, pp. 25–26
  23. 1 2 Nenes 2007, p. 477.
  24. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Henderson 1994, p. 18.
  25. Gabaccia 2000, p. 66.
  26. Poet Paul Lee's commentary for this article, May 14, 2008
  27. 1 2 Laudan 1996, p. 134.
  28. 1 2 Laudan 1996, p. 5.
  29. Corum 2000, p. 194,
  30. Rea & Ting 1991, p. 30.
  31. Rea & Ting 1991, p. 48.
  32. Adams 2006, p. 10
  33. 1 2 Henderson 1994, p. xvi
  34. Laudan 1996, p. 7.
  36. Brennan 2000, pp. 252–267.
  37. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Adams 2006, pp. 58–59.
  38. Kulick & Meneley 2005, p. 187.
  39. Miller, Latham & Flynn 1998, p. 83.
  40. 1 2 3 Adams 2006, p. 98.
  41. Choy & Cook 2003, p. 63.
  42. 1 2 3 Nenes 2007, p. 480.
  43. Laudan 1996, pp. 265–276.
  44. Piianaia 2007, Waimea Gazette
  45. Nenes 2007, p. 485.
  46. Long 2003, pp. 116.
  47. Top 10 Hawaiian food to try Fodor's
  48. Brennan 2000, pp. 230–231.
  49. 1 2 Schindler & Schindler 1981, p. 14.
  50. Laudan 1996, p. 3.
  51. Laudan 1996, pp. 7–8.
  52. Kirch 2001, p. 80.


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