Hawaii may be part of the United States, but its local cuisine is just as much of an ethnic melting pot as the residents.
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If you’re traveling to Hawaii this summer, be sure to open your mind to new adventures, including new experiences for your taste buds! Here are five local favorites you absolutely must try:
Poke consists of chunks of raw fish prepared with oils, soy sauce, sesame oil, limu (a local seaweed) and chili pepper, though ingredients vary.
Local-style poke can be found in restaurants, grocery stores and some convenience stores. It usually comes in a wide range of variations that could include seaweed, onions, avocado, and spicy mayonnaise. You can pick up some delicious poke at stores such as Tamashiro Market, Foodland and Alica’s Market.
Is a delicious bun, filled with a variety of goodies such as pork, curry chicken, black bean sugar and other fillings. It’s a close relative to the Chinese char siu bao – a steamed pork bun. The manapua is the larger, Hawaiian version.
It’s best to eat your manapua while it’s straight from the steamer, fluffy and hot. You can find these delicious buns at specialty manapua shops, on bakery shelves and at many convenience stores.
Check out Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery, Chun Wah Kam, and Royal Kitchen.
3. Spam Musubi
This is the ultimate picnic food for locals in Hawaii. It originates from Japan – basically, a rice ball, sometimes salted, with a slice of grilled Spam on it, wrapped in seaweed and sometimes glazed with a dash of soy sauce and sugar.
The rice can be formed into a triangular or rectangular patty with a musubi maker. The crunch of the nori (seaweed) that wraps around the Spam has satisfied many a hungry kamaaina.
Spam musubi can be found in most convenience stores, grocery stores and lunch counters in Hawaii. Check out 7-11 Stores.
Now this would definitely be considered Hawaiian comfort food, although the noodle soup idea comes from Asia. It all started on Hawaii’s plantations where workers from a wide range of immigrant groups worked and lived together. So naturally, they shared their recipes and meals, creating a delicious montage of cuisines that make up local fare.
Hawaii’s version of noodle soup starts with a salty soup base, fresh noodles, topped with a variety of meats and vegetables. The meats may include spam and char siu. The vegetables could include choi sum, green onions and others. And don’t forget the fishcake!
You might try the award-winning Hamura’s Saimin Stand on Kauai, Zippy’s and L&L Barbecue.
These fluffy, sugar covered doughnuts originally arrived in Hawaii with Portuguese immigrants. They are now part of the menu for locals. The traditional malasada is a simple ball of dough made with eggs and butter, deep-fried and rolled in sugar. They do not have a hole in the center.
Malasadas are best eaten warm, crispy and coated with sugar, while fluffy on the inside. The treats are now offered with cream fillings such as chocolate and custard.
Visit Leonard’s Bakery and Punaluu Bake Shop on the Big Island.
6. Shave Ice
Shave ice is like a delicate snow cone, consisting of lighter, fluffy flakes of shaved ice that better absorb the syrupy flavoring than crushed ice does. There’s nothing worse than crushed ice without any syrup! But with careful patting of the fluffy ice, the syrup flows through nicely, adding to every delicious spoonful.
Shave ice stands offer a wide range of flavors, such as strawberry, vanilla and rainbow, but there are also local favorites such as lilikoi, li hing mui and matcha tea. And don’t forget the add-on options that are served under the fluffy ice, such as ice cream and azuki beans. Try it!
Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore, Waiola Shave Ice, Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha.