Twelve Heavenly Snacks and Desserts of Hawaii
Hawaii is a melting pot of not only people but great food. I was fortunate to live in this paradise and experience the richness the islands have to offer. Polynesian and Asian cultures blended to create a distinctive and delicious cuisine—and the snacks and desserts, in particular, are otherworldly. Here are twelve of my favorites that I enjoyed for years while living in Hawaii.
1. Chinese Almond Cookies
The Chinese almond cookie has a full, sweet, buttery almond flavor when you bite into it. The richness you taste when you take a bite does not disappoint and gives you the feeling of wanting another. Characteristically, this cookie has an almond sitting in the center of it. Although this cookie can be made soft, most locals in Hawaii prefer it crisp.
2. Hawaiian Shave Ice
A favorite in Hawaii is shave ice. A large block of ice is shaven using a block ice shaver into thin slices to enhance the soft texture of the ice. This ice is shaped as it falls into a bowl or a cup into a dome. Once that is done, a variety of flavored syrups can be chosen from to flavor the ice. After that, many more condiments can be added, including Azuki beans, hand-cut mochi pieces, shredded coconut, and condensed milk.
To make mochi, sticky short-grained rice, called mochigome, is pounded into a sticky dough until it is soft and chewy. Once the sticky dough is ready, the dough is formed into the desired shape, usually a small cookie shape. From there, it is roasted, dipped into water and coated with sugar. A variety of flavorings and fillings can be added to the mochi as well. There are so many varieties of mochi that you may never get bored with this treat.
4. Li Hing Mui
This snack is an acquired taste. Li hing mui is a dried salted plum that has a distinctive sweet-salty-sour flavor. It is one of those snacks that you either love or hate. You can buy it with the plum seed or without. The moment you put it into your mouth, the salty-sour flavor can seem overpowering—but once you get to the sweet plum, it is worth the initial flavor shock.
The malasada originated in Portugal and found its way to Hawaii. It is similar to a doughnut but without the hole or fillings. It is fried heaven in a ball and coated with granulated sugar. The texture of the malasada is such that it melts in your mouth with sweet deliciousness.
Haupia is an authentic Hawaiian dessert. It is a Hawaiian Island favorite at luaus and other gatherings. Haupia is a blend of coconut milk and cornstarch that is mixed together until it thickens. This mixture is poured into a pan and chilled like gelatin. A popular variation to the traditional haupia is to add a crust on the bottom and a layer of chocolate on top, which makes it more like a pie. Usually, it is made in a pan and cut into squares.
7. Guava Cake
Guava cake is the quintessential Hawaiian cake. Its unique flavor comes from guava juice and strawberry cake mix. Once baked, the cake is topped with whipped cream cheese and guava gel. The combination of flavors is divine.
8. Sakura Arare
These Japanese rice crackers are a local favorite; their name comes from their cherry blossom shape. They are covered in soy sauce flavoring and are deliciously crunchy and a slightly salty.
9. Wasabi Coated Peanuts
This snack will be sure to cause your eyes to water and nose to burn, but it is so good that you will not want to stop eating them. Wasabi is Japanese horseradish made into a paste, and when it's added to whole sweet peanuts, you arrive at an ideal snack.
Manupua is Hawaii’s version of Cantonese char sui bao. The bun is soft and tasty with a hint of sesame seed oil. Inside is a pork filling flavored with char sui, brown sugar, hoisin sauce, and oyster sauce. The combination of flavors explodes in your mouth, leaving you wanting more.
11. Hawaiian Layered Jello
A Hawaiian favorite, especially with the children, is layered jello. In true Hawaiian style, you have the colors of the rainbow for gelatin layers. The in-between layers are clear gelatin and condensed milk.
Bibingka is a Filipino dessert made from sweet rice flour and cream of coconut. Its texture is unique and custard-like, but it's delicious. The topping on this dessert can be either granulated sugar or brown sugar for a caramelized crunch when you bite into it.