Hawaiian cuisine is one of the most special in the world because of its variety and unique cooking style. Hawaii, an island in the Pacific Ocean that is more than three thousand miles away from the US west coast, has an incredibly rich and diverse history.
Not only did Hawaii already have a rich culture before the arrival of settlers, but it has been enriched by other cultures for centuries. Because of the great influx of Asian (mostly Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino) immigrants to the island, the cuisine in this country has a little bit of everything- it resembles Latin cuisine, Asian cuisine, as well as traditional western cuisine.
Let’s look at some of the most popular Hawaiian dishes and Hawaiian cooking style.
Top 5 Hawaiian Foods
If you’ve ever tried sashimi, then you’ll love poke. It is, essentially, the same idea: fish are eaten raw. But when sashimi -or carpaccio for that matter- is raw and sliced thinly, poke chops into cubes instead.
This way, it’s much easier to season and eat by the spoonful. You’ve never truly lived until you’ve had spicy mayo poke.
Chicken Long Rice
Originally a Chinese recipe, this dish consists of noodles that are made from mung bean starch. The beans are ground, and then the starch is extracted, cooked, and left to dry out in the sun. Once it’s dry, it is cut out into a noodle shape. The result is a transparent noodle that does a phenomenal job at soaking the flavor of whatever dish it’s in.
The noodles are cooked into a Chinese-style chicken stew and left to soak in their flavor. To slurp these noodles is absolute bliss.
Somewhat strangely, SPAM is incredibly popular in Hawaii. It happened back in World War II: fishing became dangerous because of potential enemy attacks. Therefore people had restricted access to protein. SPAM was brought along with the military, and the people of Hawaii quickly fell in love with it.
IT’s amazing how quickly they incorporated SPAM (canned pork) into their cuisine. It is a beautiful mix of Japanese and American food that is uniquely Hawaiian. Essentially, it is SPAM nigiri. If you’ve never had it, you don’t know what you’re missing!
Maui-style potato chips
Potatoes make the world go round, and Hawaii is no exception. They love potatoes just as much as anyone else: the best example of this is their famous Maui-style potato chip.
Using russet potatoes, they are cut into chunky slices with their skin intact and then thoroughly fried. The result is a might chip that is crunchier than any you’ve had before.
Mochi is a traditional Japanese sweet made from glutinous rice. It is incredibly popular in Hawaii, and you can find it almost anywhere- one example of original Hawaiian mochi is their strawberry mochi.
While bean paste is usually used as a filling, this mochi uses half a strawberry (or a whole strawberry, if you’re lucky) as filling. The extra texture, juices, and slight acidity of the strawberry make for a uniquely delicious mochi.
Cooking Hawaiian Style
So what have we learned from some of Hawaii’s most popular foods that could help us cook a little for Hawaiian?
Raw fish, as in poke, is a very popular food in Hawaii. By introducing raw fish into your diet, not only are you getting a lot of protein without the carbs, but also vitamins and important nutrients such as omega-3 oils.
The good news is that poke is the best way of introducing raw fish into your diet. It’s cube-shaped and bite-sized. It’s easy to make and goes well with a lot of different seasonings like guasacaca, tabasco, soy sauce, and -most importantly- spicy mayo. Seriously: try the spicy mayo poke!
Yes, SPAM is a great Hawaiian food that doesn’t get the credit it deserves in mainland US. You can have SPAM in many different ways- SPAM musubi only takes white rice and nori, for example. But it also goes great in stews and maybe most famously in Hawaiian-style fried rice, which uses SPAM instead of, say, chicken or beef. Or you can use both!
The great thing about SPAM is that it’s readily available and keeps for a very long time. You can so get it in sodium-reduced presentations if you want.
If we’ve learned something about Hawaii is that it’s all about taking something foreign and making it better with what you have around you. In the case of Hawaii, with a tropical climate, that ends up being a quite tropical influence in foreign cuisine.
Tropical fruits and tropical seasoning can be a great surprise ingredient- you don’t have to add chunks of mango or pineapple to an already existing food but think of pineapple BBQ and other such condiments that are quite popular in combination with western foods (like chicken wings).
Since we’re at it: what about Hawaiian pizza?
It might surprise you to know that it wasn’t actually created in Hawaii but in Oregon. An owner of a local pizzeria was experimenting with new flavors and stumbled upon canned pineapple (from Hawaii), and thus Hawaiian pizza was born.
Ironically, it’s still a great example of how Hawaiian cuisine happens: take something yours and add it to something that already exists to make something unique and delicious.
As you can see, cooking Hawaiian isn’t so difficult after all. Although we like to imagine Hawaii as a place with a very detached culture from ours, the truth is that Hawaiian cuisine is still American cuisine, in a way. Their world isn’t so different from ours.
So the next time you’re craving something Hawaiian, maybe don’t go right ahead and order a Hawaiian pizza but try to cook something unique like the dish you read about here. Or make your very own dish by applying the principles of Hawaiian cooking style! And remember: it doesn’t matter if you don’t get it right the first time. But maybe don’t just limit yourself to slapping pineapple slices on top of everything.