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Make a Hawaiian Plate Lunch-Style Macaroni Salad

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Hawaiian macaroni salad

Hawaiian macaroni salad

Hawaiian-Style Macaroni Salad

The most loved macaroni salad in all the Hawaiian Islands is a plain and simple dish that tastes so "ono" (delicious) that you quickly get addicted to it. Once you've eaten it, no other macaroni salad ever tastes as good.

This original recipe I will share with you was kept secret for many generations. As far as I know, it may still not be in print. In the old days, if the recipe was given to anyone other than a family member, either one ingredient was left out or one ingredient that didn't actually belong in the recipe was added in.

That way, the recipe could not be duplicated, but the feelings of the recipient who asked for it wouldn't be hurt by a refusal either. That is why people leave Hawaii with what they think is the right recipe, only to get home and find it doesn't taste the same. That is also why you will find so many sweet or sour "Hawaiian Macaroni Salad" recipes that just aren't right, as well as many "pickle" recipes.

I have been using this recipe for 45 years with only a few additions, and they are not pickles, pickle relish, or vinegar. Those ingredients are a NO-NO!

Learn what ingredients are used and how to make this mouthwatering dish below!

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

20 min

10 min

30 min

Serves 8 to 10 people


  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Hawaiian or Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 2–4 dashes Aji-No-Moto
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • 1 stalk celery with leaves, minced
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 carrot, finely shredded
  • 3 tbsp Napa cabbage, finely shredded
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely minced
  • 3–4 heaping tbsp mayonnaise, Best Foods (West Coast) or Hellman's (East Coast)


  1. Fill a Dutch oven or large pot with water, leaving several inches of boiling room. Add 1 tablespoon of Hawaiian salt (or Kosher salt) and one tablespoon of olive oil to the water. Cook the elbow macaroni according to the package directions.
  2. Mince and shred the vegetables.
  3. When the pasta is done, drain it in a colander and rinse it thoroughly with cold water. Then, drain it again.
  4. Pour the macaroni into a large mixing bowl.
  5. Add salt, white pepper, and Aji No Moto. Stir to combine everything together.
  6. Add the minced vegetables and parsley and stir to combine.
  7. Add the mayonnaise and fold until the dish is well blended. Keep adding mayonnaise until everything is coated well.
  8. Refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours. Check the level of mayonnaise and add more if too much has been absorbed by the pasta. Hawaiian plate lunch macaroni salad calls for a lot of mayonnaise.

Kona Girl's Macaroni Salad Additions

The recipe I just shared makes the basic original plate lunch macaroni salad. The following ingredients are my additions. I've been making this version for 45 years, and people love it.


  • 1/2 lb large shrimp, cooked
  • 6 oz frozen petite green peas
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika, to taste


  1. Use the original recipe and then add these next ingredients:
  2. If shrimp, crab or lobster is available, I use one of them, chopped. If not, canned albacore tuna can be substituted. I use one whole can of white albacore tuna, drained.
  3. Peel, devein, and cook large shrimp until just pink and opaque. Immediately remove them from the boiling water and put them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Drain them in a colander and leave to chill in the refrigerator. Cut each piece of shrimp into two or three pieces, and then add it to the salad.
  4. Add frozen peas for a little color and nutrition. Run cold water over them in a colander until they separate. It only takes a few minutes.
  5. Add black pepper, white pepper, and cayenne, to taste.
  6. Cover the salad with plastic wrap and chill.
  7. To serve, cover the bottom of the serving bowl with washed pieces of butter leaf lettuce or green leaf lettuce. Remove the macaroni salad from the refrigerator. Check the salad for mayonnaise content, add more if needed, and stir gently to combine. Taste test. Spoon the macaroni salad onto the lettuce leaves. Gently sprinkle smoked paprika on top, and enjoy!
What is a Hawaiian Plate Lunch?

What is a Hawaiian Plate Lunch?

The Original Secret Plate Lunch Recipe

If you find a cookbook claiming to be from Hawaii that has a macaroni salad recipe calling for pickles or vinegar, you'll know it was likely written by a mainland or Japanese transplant and not written by a long-time island local. Another possibility is the author is trying to keep the original recipe a secret.

I have found that many restaurants on Oahu are no longer serving the real plate lunch style macaroni salad anymore because they are now catering more to mainland customers (or because they never knew the old-style secret recipe).

Plate lunch restaurant on Oahu - Pearl's Place

Plate lunch restaurant on Oahu - Pearl's Place

What Is a Plate Lunch?

A plate lunch in Hawaii is a plate full of food that usually costs under $10.00, usually around 5 bucks unless you get a mixed plate, which makes it closer to $10. There are two things that are always on every plate lunch; two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad.

If there are two things local island people love to eat, it is rice and macaroni salad on the same plate along with the entrée. I will often ask for two scoops of salad and one scoop of rice. I just love my macaroni salad!

The other main ingredient included in a plate lunch is the main entrée. It is usually some sort of protein:

  • Teriyaki beef
  • Kalua pig
  • Shoyu chicken
  • Beef curry stew
  • Fried fish
  • Shrimp
  • Pork adobo
  • Hawaiian laulau, chili
  • Loko moko
  • Korean kalbi short ribs

You'll also find vegetable side dishes, such as the following:

  • Bean sprouts
  • Kimchi
  • Shredded pickled daikon
  • Lomilomi salmon
  • Steamed kai choy
  • Shredded pickled Napa cabbage

What's With the Mayonnaise?

The mayonnaise used in Hawaiian macaroni salad has to be Best Foods brand (or Hellman's on the East Coast). It can't be any other brand if you want it to taste right. It has to be full fat and not canola, low-fat, olive oil, or a balsamic kind if you want the authentic taste.

The salad uses a lot of mayonnaise. In the recipe, I call for 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons, but in reality, I use 2–3 heaping serving spoonfuls to start. The macaroni tends to absorb mayonnaise when chilling in the refrigerator, so you will usually need to add more.

Even though I am now living on the mainland, this is the macaroni salad that I always make, per request. True to form, I am now the one that is always elected to make macaroni salad and/or Hawaiian-style potato salad for parties, and everyone that tries it wants the recipe. No matter where I go, people love this salad. I hope you do too!

Questions & Answers

Question: Your Hawaiin plate lunch calls for cabbage and parsley. I lived in Hawaii for years and ate plate lunches daily. I never saw celery, cabbage or parsley in the macaroni salad. Only carrot and occasionally onion. And as I look at your photo, there are none of these ingredients in your salad either. Why?

Answer: The cabbage is sliced very, very thin, almost paper-thin and not a lot is added. Same with celery. It is minced very small. I use the leaves of the celery too. I always add the celery. Cabbage, if I have on hand. If you no like then don't use. Mainly it is more for a wee bit of color and a slight crunch than anything else. The one thing I gotta stress is neva, neva, neva use vinegar, sugar, or pickles of any kind. Everything you add is mixed in and it's not a lot so it looks more like specks of color rather than bold chunks. For example, I mince a couple of tablespoons of fresh parsley. Sprinkle in last and mix in. With the quantity of salad being made, it only adds speckles of green. Here in the mainland, when I only have what I dried from my summer harvest, I use less of the dried. Believe me. When it's all put together you don't see everything so clearly, but if the celery, onion, carrot, and Ajinomoto is not there, then it tastes different. You know right away something is missing. Now, this is old school Hawaiian kine mac salad. My auntie use to make this kind at the plate lunch place by the Natatorium in Honolulu in the '50s and '60s. It's been passed down for generations. I don'y know who taught her. You try, and I'm sure you'll like. If you are a seafood person try with the shrimp. BTW. I'm not a good photographer but if you look real close you're gonna see small light green speckles. That's the celery. I hope this helps. I'm here if you need more help. I just can't always get to you immediately but will soon as can

Question: Do you have a good teriyaki steak recipe (food truck-style)?

Answer: Depending on the quantity you need, start with this amount: 1 C. Aloha shoyu (you can get it on Amazon), 1/4 C. water, about 1/2 C. brown sugar (to taste for sweetness desired) 1 thumb-size piece fresh ginger root smashed, 2 cloves fresh garlic smashed, 3 capfuls dry sherry (not cooking) or whiskey, freshly ground black pepper, and 2 thinly sliced green onion (scallions). Optional is sesame seeds and 1 chopped long red hot chili.

Mix shoyu, water, and brown sugar. Taste for sweetness desired. If not sweet enough add more sugar. If too sweet add a tablespoon more shoyu at a time and taste. Smash the ginger root and garlic, add to the sauce. Add the rest of the ingredients and taste again. Adjust to taste. Marinate your meat at least 2 hours. Better if overnight!

For teriburgers, it only takes a little sauce (maybe 3 tablespoons) mixed in with 1 lb. ground beef then baste the patties on the grill with the rest of the sauce.

© 2011 KonaGirl