While yes, Hawaii is indeed part of the United States, if you were to travel there you would see just how different it is from the Mainland (the continental United States). This is especially true in regards to its local cuisine, since over the past centuries numerous cultures and ethnicities have mingled together to form an even more amazing Hawaiian culture. Having been to two Hawaiian islands now, here are five things I would encourage all visitors there to try!
While I hope you would have eaten your fruits and vegetables before starting on the shave ice, it’s okay if you didn’t. This quintessential Hawaiian ice-based dessert is one you don’t want to miss. Although many people mistake it for a snow cone, it’s not, as a snow cone is made with crushed rather than shaved ice. Shaving produces a very fine ice that appears snow-like and this very fine texture causes syrup that’s been added to it to be absorbed by the ice rather than simply surrounding it. While you can find traditional “American” flavors (what you would find at snow cone or Italian ice places), being Hawaii and home to countless exotic fruits, you can also get very unique local flavors like guava, passion fruit, lychee, and dragon fruit. Although we didn’t have the greatest or most authentic shave ice experiences while on Oahu, if you venture to the island of Maui, be sure to get some from Ululani’s, where two locations are right in downtown Lahaina. Best shave ice ever (and huge portions, believe me when I say a keiki or kids will be plenty big if you’re not sharing). And if you want to sound like a true local, remember, it’s shave ice, not shaved ice.
Kalua is a traditional Hawaiian cooking method that utilizes an imu, an underground oven. Kalua in the Hawaiian language literally means “to cook in an underground oven” and can also be used to describe food cooked in this manner including kalua pig, a dish that is typically eaten at luau feasts. I had some at the luau we attended on our last night on Maui (the roasted pig which is buried and then unearthed is really the star of any luau), and also had a pulled Kalua pork sandwich during our meal at the Maui Brewing Company and this was delicious. Steaks and chickens you can have anywhere in the world but there is something to be said for the deliciousness that is Kalua pork.
This is an extremely popular dish in Hawaii. It consists of a breaded, deep-fried chicken cutlet that has been sliced into bite-sized pieces or strips. To prepare it, it’s usually salted, white-peppered and then dipped in a lightly seasoned flour, dredged in a beaten egg with some Japanese sweet wine, coated in Japanese panko breadcrumbs before being ultimately fried. I had these for my late lunch at Ko Olina Barbecue on Oahu one day. They were delicious and actually were part of a plate lunch comprising your meat entree and scoops of white rice and macaroni salad. The origins of the plate lunch date back to Hawaii’s plantation era days when workers needed cheap and easy lunches.
While there are many variations to this unique sounding dish, the typical loco moco consists of white rice that’s been topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and brown gravy. Variations include chili, bacon, ham, Spam, kalua pork, teriyaki chicken, and many more. The dish is said to have first been created in the 1940s and in addition to its wide popularity on the islands, it’s also made its way to the mainland. I myself have seen it on various menus at restaurants in different states. It’s also something that one could very easily replicate in her own kitchen, even if it is thousands of miles from swaying palm trees and the crystal blue waters of the Pacific.
By fruit I’m not talking about apples and oranges. I’m talking about the fruits that are so exotic you have no idea what their names are. Fruits that completely confirm that Hawaii is 100% exotic and nothing like you would find in the mainland and so exotic that even your supermarket doesn’t sell them. Hawaii became a place where I loved going to the local supermarkets simply to look at all the amazing items in their produce sections. I also adored the two “special” breakfasts we had because at each one, I ordered a fruit plate which was a massive selection of all these bright and beautiful fruits that I just wanted to gaze at. Some fruits you probably have never heard of before-lychees, dragon fruit, passion fruit (its name in Hawaiian is lilikoi), and star fruit (okay, you’ve probably heard of that one but have you ever tasted it)? My biggest piece of advice if you go to Hawaii-try the local fruit whether at a restaurant, a supermarket, or even just a roadside stand!