10 'Ono-licious' Hawaiian Foods You Should Try

Updated on January 6, 2018
punacoast profile image

The author lives in a quiet seaside community in lower Puna on the Big Island. He's an avid gardener, traveler and photographer.

Clockwise from top left: Laulau, macaroni salad, poke, musubi, wakame seaweed salad.
Clockwise from top left: Laulau, macaroni salad, poke, musubi, wakame seaweed salad. | Source

Hawaii is a melting pot of peoples, cultures, traditions, and yes, cuisines. In Hawaiian, ono (pronounced "OH-no") means “delicious.” There are many ono foods to try when you visit Hawaii—from old-style Hawaiian to contemporary ethnic fare that reflects the rich history and cultural diversity of the islands.

This article features 10 tasty foods that are much-loved in Hawaii. They are listed in no particular order, but (warning!) the last four are the most irresistible sweet treats that will make you want to hop on a plane and head straight for the Aloha state!

Ono grind! (Good eat!)

Enjoy poke with a bowl of rice for a fulfilling meal.
Enjoy poke with a bowl of rice for a fulfilling meal. | Source

1. Poke

Succulent, tender bite-size cubes of raw ahi (tuna) marinated in shoyu (soy sauce) and sesame oil, can be eaten by itself or with rice and some wakame salad. Other seafood like salmon, octopus, or shellfish are also used instead of tuna. Local-style poke is usually seasoned with limu (a type of seaweed), Maui sweet onion, and sea salt. Other seasonings may be added depending on cultural preferences: wasabi (Japanese), ginger, green onion (Chinese), or kimchi (Korean). Poke (pronounced poh-keh) is the quintessential soul food of Hawaii. You haven’t truly experienced Hawaii until you try it!


Kalua pork with roasted breadfruit.
Kalua pork with roasted breadfruit. | Source

2. Kālua Pork

This ancient Polynesian delicacy is perhaps the most well-known Hawaiian dish around the globe! A pig is placed in an imu (fire pit in the ground), lined with hot stones and covered with banana leaves. After cooking for a whole day, the pig is removed from the pit, the meat is shredded and served with side dishes like poi (taro root paste) and roasted ulu (breadfruit). Kālua pork is a favorite at many lu’au (Hawaiian feasts), weddings and birthday parties. A modern twist: Kālua pork sandwich (a.k.a. pulled pork sandwich) served with spicy Asian slaw and fresh Hawaiian avocado.


Laulau - authentic Hawaiian cuisine at its best.
Laulau - authentic Hawaiian cuisine at its best. | Source

3. Laulau

Another popular lu’au food, laulau is also traditionally cooked in an imu, but today most Hawaiian families opted for steaming it on a conventional stove top. Salted butterfish and pork (or chicken or beef) are wrapped in layers of taro leaves, and again in ti leaves to form a bundle. After steaming for several hours, the bundles are removed from the steamer and served with rice and macaroni salad. Note: when eating laulau, be sure to discard the tough outer ti leaves wrap! The inner taro leaves layer is edible and adds a nutty, earthy flavor to the wholesomeness taste of this unique dish.


Chicken katsu loco moco is always a local favorite.
Chicken katsu loco moco is always a local favorite. | Source

4. Loco Moco

This versatile Hawaiian lunch plate normally consists of steamed rice topped with hamburger patty, fried egg, and doused with a gooey brown gravy. Other meat variations: grilled Portuguese sausage, Chinese char-sui pork, Japanese chicken katsu, or Korean BBQ galbi. A side of macaroni salad or fried saimin noodles is usually included, making it a very satisfying, hearty meal! Typically served in a Styrofoam container from a local drive-in or diner, loco moco can also be devoured at breakfast or dinner or any time of the day!


A roasted chicken you won't forget.
A roasted chicken you won't forget. | Source

5. Huli Huli Chicken

In Hawaiian language, huli means “to turn”. And that’s precisely how huli huli chicken are cooked – by turning it over and over on a barbecue grill! The result is a perfectly roasted chicken, with crispy skin on the outside, juicy meat inside, and sizzles with the mouthwatering flavors of brown sugar, ginger, and garlic. If you visit a farmers market on the islands, just follow your nose (tantalizing aroma of BBQ smoke!) to the huli huli stall where you will see rows and rows of golden chicken rotating over a huge outdoor grill. Get ready for some finger lickin’ good eatin’!


Size doesn't matter! Musubi will fill you up.
Size doesn't matter! Musubi will fill you up. | Source

6. SPAM Musubi

The ultimate Hawaiian comfort food! And so simple: fried SPAM ham and rice wrapped in a thin strip of nori seaweed. Sometime a piece of fried egg or fresh cucumber are added to make it more substantial. Musubi (pronounced moo-soo-bee) is wildly popular as lunch-to-go for students, office workers, surfers, etc. You may enjoy a musubi while lounging on the beach, or as a quick snack to re-energize yourself after a long trek over the lava field. Fried SPAM doesn’t get better than this, who knew!


The perfect marriage of purple sweet potato, haupia and macadamia nut.
The perfect marriage of purple sweet potato, haupia and macadamia nut. | Source

7. Sweet Potato Haupia Pie

Molokai purple sweet potato is the star of this spectacular dessert! The pie crust is made of crushed macadamia nuts and butter, covered with sweet potato puree and then baked. When the pie is cool, it’s finally topped with a generous layer of coconut haupia – a gelatinous mixture of coconut cream, sugar and cornstarch. Chilled for several hours, the pie then cut into squares to serve. It’s one of the most favorite desserts at many Hawaiian family gatherings, potlucks, and holiday parties. Your taste buds will sing with joy with the first bite!


Eating just one malasada is never enough!
Eating just one malasada is never enough! | Source

8. Malasadas

Originated as a Portuguese pastry – deep fried dough balls coated with sugar – malasada is still as popular today as when it was first introduced to Hawaii in early 19th century during the sugarcane plantation era. Traditional malasadas have no fillings, but nowadays they are filled with anything from luscious chocolate cream to tangy tropical fruit (guava, lilikoi passionfruit, or mango) jelly. You will find this addictive sweet treat at many supermarkets and bakeries around the islands. One of the most famous malasada bakeries is Tex Drive In on the Big Island where you can watch the bakers making their malasadas through a large glass window.


Classic bread pudding with exotic tropical twist.
Classic bread pudding with exotic tropical twist. | Source

9. Bread Pudding

This scrumptious dessert is an example of the British influence in Hawaiian cuisine. Captain James Cook of England first set foot on the islands in 1778, followed by waves of European settlers who introduced to Hawaii, among other things, their own foods. Hawaiian bread pudding is made with sweet bread, coconut cream, shredded coconut, ground nutmeg, and dried pineapple or banana. Moist, custardy and full of tropical flavors, it can be enjoyed hot or cold. Warm up a piece of bread pudding in the microwave, then top it with a scoop of macadamia nut ice cream. Let the ice cream partially melt before you take a bite, it’s divine!


Pretty little rice balls of goodness.
Pretty little rice balls of goodness. | Source

10. Mochi

This Japanese tea cake is made with a special glutinous rice called mochigome which is steamed then pounded – using a large mortar – into small balls. Mochi has a soft, chewy texture and is usually filled with sweet adzuki bean or savory sesame pastes. As if that’s not enticing enough, there’s also mochi ice cream – yes, that’s mochi cake filled with green tea, strawberry, or Kona coffee ice cream! During the last week of December, many lively mocha-pounding ceremonies are held across the islands. Traditionally eaten as part of the New Year celebrations, mochi is also enjoyed year-round as a delightful snack.


About this article

The author’s motto “Life is short, eat mochi” still holds true. It can be applied to all the other foods he writes about in this article!

All photos were taken by the author (in his kitchen) with an Olympus Stylus TG-630 iHS digital camera and iPhone6.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Viet Doan

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, delishably.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://delishably.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)