Understanding the Flavours of Hawaiian Cuisine


Use the word 'Hawaiian' in reference to cooking and a lot of people might think about Hawaiian pizza. There’s a whole debate on that but we’ll leave that for another day. When it comes to traditional Hawaiian cuisine, pizza is nowhere to be seen.

But some super tasty and unique dishes hail from this island state and they’re so mouthwatering that we’d really love to introduce you better. In this guide to traditional Hawaiian food, you’ll learn about some of the most common and well-loved dishes from this idyllic part of the world.

Table of contents

What Is Hawaiian Cuisine?

A traditional Hawaiian feast has a rich and diverse past and isn’t based on any one period of time. Hawaiian regional cuisine can be distinctly split across five different styles, from different eras.

During the pre-contact time of Ancient Hawaii which was from around 300 AD up until the late 1700s, there was a Polynesian influence especially where plants and livestock were concerned. Things like taro were heavily used as well as sweet potatoes, coconuts and sugarcane. Meats would be cooked in earth ovens alongside various types of fish.

In 1778, the first contact with Europe and America happened and this brought an influx of new foods such as salted fish. There was a lot of influence from northern parts of the US particularly New England from which Christian missionaries would bring new culinary delights to the island.

As time went on, sugarcane and pineapple plantations boomed in Hawaii which brought the need for more workers. These people were brought in from all over the world including the Far East, South America and Portugal. Again, these immigrants brought with them new foods and ingredients that would soon play a role in Hawaiian cuisine as a whole.

This coming together of ingredients from all around the world makes Hawaii one of the most diverse places on earth when it comes to food. Once the Second World War was out of the way, there was a real call for Hawaiian food and as such, restaurants around the world began to open up serving this unique cuisine.

Best Hawaiian Dishes

Kalua Pig

When you think about Hawaiian cuisine, you might think of the Kalua pig without even realising what it is. This is one of the most traditional Hawaiian dishes and involves roasting a pig in what is known as an imu; a type of underground oven.

This oven is heated by fire over a volcanic rock while the food inside is wrapped in plants and leaves, for example, banana leaves with Hawaiian salt. It takes several hours to produce a beautifully cooked kalua pig but the end result is rich, smokey and incredibly juicy meat.


Poi is one of the most common foods in Hawaii and is found in almost every home on the island. The flavour is a little starchy but when it is fermented, poi becomes a little sweeter. It’s perfect as an accompaniment to other dishes like kalua pork.

It is made from taro root which is steamed, boiled or baked and then pounded with water to ensure correct consistency. While there is something of a personal preference to this as to whether you prefer it runny or more firm, it’s diverse enough to ferment or eat right away.


If you have a sweet tooth then you’ll likely be interested in the desserts that hail from Hawaii and haupia is one of the most well-loved. This traditional Hawaiian dessert is made from a combination of arrowroot and coconut milk. It’s usually a soft dessert that is cut into chunks but the consistency is determined by how much arrowroot is used. Most Hawaiians sprinkle some dried coconut on top for added flavour.

Poke Salad

Poke salad comes in a lot of forms but the most traditional type is a raw fish salad that is seasoned or dressed in a marinade.

Where the Japanese may use thinly sliced fish for sushi, the Hawaiians opt for cubes. While there are different types of fish used in a poke salad, the most common option is tuna. Or as they say in Hawaii; ahi.

Lomi Lomi Salmon

One of the dishes considered to be among the most important staples of the Hawaiian diet is lomi lomi salmon. This dish comprises raw salmon along with tomato, green onions and Maui. In some variations of the dish, chillies are used to add a little heat but this depends on how you like to take your food.

Normally, lomi lomi salmon is served alongside other famous Hawaiian dishes like kalua pork and has a bright and fresh taste.

Loco Loco

Loco moco has become one of the go-to dishes for Hawaiian food fans and is commonly found in Hawaiian restaurants around the world. It’s a simple dish made up from rice, gravy, fried egg and a hamburger. The key is to serve the ingredients in the right order; first comes the boiled white rice, followed by the hamburger then gravy and topped with a fried egg.

That said, global restaurants have certainly put their own stamp on this recipe so you will find a lot of variation depending on where you go. Some will add a bit of kalua pork while others include other influences like teriyaki chicken from Japan or sausage from Portugal.

Final Thoughts

Cuisine from around the world comes in all shapes, textures and colours but when we arrive on the shores of the Hawaiian islands, it’s not difficult to be surprised by what you’ll find. This is an island that has been influenced by cuisines from around the globe as well as some traditional foods from pre-contact times.

As such, this beautiful paradise is home to a wide variety of dishes using a vast array of fresh ingredients. Traditional Hawaiian foods are so popular that restaurants are popping up around the world to delight the taste buds of anyone waiting in line.
Back to blog