With its melting pot complexion, Hawaii unfurls a tapestry for foodies into sampling authentic local flavor. “Mom and pop" spots, farmers markets and hole-in-the-walls brim with ono (pronounced oh-no, meaning delicious) grindz (meaning food) that stir in plantation-era influences from the Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Puerto Rican and Hawaiian cultures.
“Mixed Plate Edition” digs into the Islands’ renowned array of multicultural cuisines.
Check out these 10 ono grindz that top the list of Hawaii’s most popular local food favorites.
1) Plate Lunch
An island staple that’s simple in form but varied in flavors, the traditional plate lunch dates back to the 1880s when immigrant plantation laborers brought lunches influenced by their native Japan, China, Korea, the Philippines, Portugal and other destinations. The feast includes macaroni salad and two scoops of rice with a hearty serving of protein like chicken katsu, chicken adobo, Korean barbecue, kalua pork, beef teriyaki or mahi mahi.
A shortened Pidgin English version of the Hawaiian phrase mea `ono pua`a (meaning delicious pork pastry), the coveted manapua is a baked or steamed bun usually packed with salty-sweet minced pork, although other creative fillings are also considered delicious. This easy “grab and go” item made its way to the plantation table with the arrival of Chinese migrant workers and the original version called baozi.
3) Spam Musubi
Another portable snack that can be as filling as a meal, Spam Musubi puts a Hawaiian spin on a Japanese specialty that layers Spam on white rice and is bound by a nori (seaweed) strip. It’s easy to find this favorite at nearly every “mom and pop” shop, grocery store and even at 7-Eleven.
Meaning “to cut or slice,” poke (rhymes with okay) is raw fish that is cubed and seasoned with sesame oil, limu (local seaweed), Maui onions, kukui nuts, Hawaiian salt, green onions and other garnishes. More trendy versions can be found in forms from spicy to California-style. While it was traditionally made with skipjack tuna (aku) and octopus (tako), yellowfin tuna (ahi) is the primary fish – with salmon making its own way into the mix.
This plantation-era soup with a name meaning “thin noodles” in Chinese, saimin is inspired by Chinese mein and Japanese ramen. A bowl of ample soft wheat noodles submerged in broth may be garnished with Spam, char siu pork, meats, green onions and other veggies.
6) Loco Moco
A “he-man” breakfast specialty, the loco moco (pronounced low-ko mow-ko) is a hefty breakfast specialty with a hamburger patty and fried egg heaped onto two scoops of white rice and smothered in brown gravy.
7) Mochiko Chicken
If you’re into crispy and crunchy, look no further than Mochiko Chicken. This local-style Japanese fried chicken dish is covered in a batter made with sweet rice flour. The bite-size morsels are frequently found on menus as a pupu (pronounced poo-poo, meaning appetizer). But they can easily become a full meal since they’re so addicting.
This doughnut that’s free of holes is a Portuguese confection. Generously-sized balls of yeast dough are deep fried until golden brown on the outside, and light and fluffy on the inside, then coated with granulated sugar. At the iconic Leonard’s Malasada, puff fillings include macadamia nut, custard, dobash (chocolate), guava and haupia (coconut).
Found at luaus, potlucks and other local gatherings, haupia (pronounced how-pee-ah) is a traditional coconut milk-based Hawaiian dessert typically served in small gelatin-style blocks. For a tantalizing twist, Ted’s Bakery near Sunset Beach on Oahu’s North Shore creates chocolate haupia pies that are sold in markets across the island. You’ll also find haupia powder packets at local markets so you can make this favorite at home.
10) Shave Ice
Far beyond the ho-hum of a crushed-ice snow cone, this sweet treat of very finely shaved ice is drenched with flavorful syrups. To up the taste bud buzz, add azuki beans and a scoop of ice cream.