9 Popular Hawaii Street Food


People say the best way to experience the authentic food culture of a place is not by wining or dining in its best hotels but by engaging with food vendors on the streets. This is because what they serve is the authentic local food eaten in their houses. That way, you can experience the truly local flavors.

If I go to a new place, I always make sure to sample the local cuisine from street vendors, small shops or food trucks.

In this article, we’re taking a step into one of the best places to be in the United States and we’re looking into the authentic street food you must try whenever you get there. Dear readers, we have Hawaii Street Food! (You’re supposed to applaud at this point. Let me give you a minute for that).

First, let’s talk about Hawaii.

About Hawaii

Hawaii is an island state in the United States. It is located in the Pacific Ocean and is about 2000 miles away from the U.S mainland. Its capital is Honolulu in Oahu and it consists of 8 main islands and 137 volcanic islands.

Hawaii is a destination spot in the United States because of the water and climate. It is a go-to place for swimmers and surfers and for everyone who wants great beach time, mild weather and some peace and quiet. Hawaii attracts millions of tourists from all over the United States, Canada and other countries in Europe and Asia.

Aside from that, Hawaii also has wonderful cuisine that wows tourists all the time, as it is a delicious blend of Polynesian and Japanese flavors.

Because Hawaii is a tropical region, there is an abundance of fruits and homegrown food. The food is mostly organic and tastes so good compared to all the processed food on the U.S. mainland; it is also cheaper, healthier and won’t make you gain unnecessary weight.

Hawaii Street Food

Like I said earlier, street food is an authentic way to experience the local cuisine of a place, so, here are a few foods you must try from Hawaii street food.

1. Poke

Bowl of tuna and salmon poke on the wooden table

Have you ever eaten raw fish before? No? Are you put off by even a suggestion of raw fish? Well, hold on first. Let me tell you all about it and then you can decide whether you want to try it or not.

Poke is one of Hawaii’s popular dishes. It is made up of cubed raw fish (or any seafood such as shrimp) seasoned with seaweed, sweet onions, herbs or mayo in soy sauce and sesame oil. The most popular fish used is tuna but you could also find salmon or ono. I haven’t tasted one before but I hear it feels like chicken and if it does taste like they say, I’m definitely going to go over my fear of raw foods and try it out any time I find myself in Hawaii.

You know what I also find lovely about poke? You don’t have to eat it alone in a street vendor or local restaurant. You could get a box of poke and enjoy cookouts with your loved ones at any time you like. However, there can be no leftovers because it’s fresh, raw fish.

2. Spam Musubi

This food is heavily influenced by the Japanese. The Japanese influx to Hawaii occurred during the period of sugar shortage in the world and they’ve either remained on the island or returned regularly as visitors.

Spam Musubi is a handheld snack made from cooked Spam which is placed on top of rice and held together by a band of nori (like the Japanese onigiri or rice ball). And just in case you’re wondering what Spam is, it is pork or ham that has been processed into cans.

The chefs normally use the Spam can to mold the Spam Musubi. The spam is sliced thickly, fried or grilled and packed into the can with rice, after which it is wrapped in nori.

So this food basically looks like a sandwich of rice between two slices of grilled, canned pork, tied with a band for easy holding. I think the thought of a rice sandwich is delightful and I’m definitely open to trying it out. Spam Musubi cannot be missed, as it is available all over the island.

3. Huli Huli Chicken

Homemade Hawaiian Huli Huli Chicken on a white plate on cloth, side view. Copy space.

Chicken, chicken, chicken. I love chicken. Anyhow you cook it, I’m in for it. I believe this is one food I’ll look forward to having.

Huli Huli chicken is made by slow-roasting a whole chicken over hot coals until the chicken falls off the bone. It is usually seasoned with pineapple, citrus and salt and marinated in teriyaki sauce. The sauce has ginger, garlic, soy sauce or vinegar in it that goes deliciously well with the chicken.

Oh my, I’m definitely tempted. The way it is cooked shows that the meat would be so tender and the spice mix? Oh my. Sign me up. I vote for you to try this food.

Fun fact about Huli Huli chicken

This food can be traced to 1955, when a local businessman shared the meal with local farmers. His name was Ernest Morgado and Huli Huli chicken was his grandmother’s recipe. “Huli” means “turn” in Hawaiian. The chicken is grilled between two racks that turn as it cooks. He then marketed it under the name Huli Huli chicken because of the way it was prepared. Genius, right?

4. Garlic Shrimp

Garlic shrimp is another popular street food, especially in the Hawaiian Oahu. The shrimp are cooked in a buttery sauce spiced with garlic and served with coconut rice.

This is a delicacy you’ll find all over the island and you will love it because of the blend of the garlic and sauce. It’s definitely worth a try.

5. Poi mochi

Poi mochi is a kind of donut found in Hawaii. It is made of poi, rice flour, baking powder and sugar. It has a thick texture but is very soft to chew. It is also fried to be very crispy. As with lots of fried foods, it is best eaten hot. For those who love quick snacks, you should definitely give this a try.

6. Lau lau

Lau Lau is an ancient, traditional Hawaiian food. It is made from cubed pork (especially the fatty pork belly) wrapped in taro leaves and steamed until tender.

It is wrapped in tea leaves before steaming and the tea leaves are removed after. The resulting food is soft and easy to eat and the taro leaves taste like spinach. It is a delicious meal to try.

7. Kalau pig

This is an authentic Hawaiian meal. A whole pig is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an underground oven called imu. This is simply a hole in the ground filled with hot coals into which the wrapped pig is laid and buried. It cooks for hours before it is dug up.

When brought out, the meat falls off the bone and you can have your choice of parts. It is usually served with rice, macaroni salad or poi. I’ve heard lots of wonderful stories about slowly cooked, underground food—a delight.

8. Poi

Poi is a paste-like food made from mashed taro root that is pounded until it is smooth and creamy. It can be eaten alone or with an accompanying dish. It goes very well with Kalia pig.

9. Shave Ice

This is the perfect food to cool off on a hot day. Shave ice is made by shaving ice into fluffy flakes and topping it off with flavored syrups.

Simply, you shave ice and carve it into a flaky, snow cone, then drench it in flavored syrups. The syrups have no artificial coloring or preservatives so they’re perfectly healthy for you to eat and a wonderful reprieve from the sunny weather.

The syrup flavors could be from coconut, mango, passion fruit, guava, pineapple and star fruits, and you can mix them as you like.

Preparing ice could be a perfect activity for children, as they would totally love anything that has to do with getting busy with hands and choosing your own flavors.

Street food is a way to experience the soul of a community. The preparation, the talks and the laughter that follow immerse you in the culture quietly. You feel like one of them and enjoy the deliciousness of food. You can’t say you know a culture until you’ve eaten their food on the streets.

This article set out to show you Hawaii street food and has described nine wonderful local cuisines to try out. They are perfectly healthy, have fewer calories and are good for your body. The food also shows you the rich, blended culture of the Hawaiians, both from their Polynesian heritage and the Asian influences and the American food styles too. An authentic infusion at its best.

My favorites among them are the Kalua pig, Huli Huli chicken, garlic shrimp and, of course, shave ice. Which of these offerings would you be willing to try on your next visit to Hawaii?




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