Ready for a taste of the Pacific? Hawaiian cuisine is projected to be one of 2016's biggest food trends. Lucky me, I was able to research the trend firsthand recently when I visited Hawaii for a family wedding.
Hawaii's economy is driven by tourism. Until relatively recently, despite the plethora of local ingredients and diverse immigrant cultures who call Hawaii home, most Hawaiian restaurants catered to tourists with typically mainland fare. This changed starting in 1992 when a group of local chefs collaborated to create Hawaii Regional Cuisine, an attempt to stop dependency on imported food and highlight Hawaiian ingredients and inspirations.
And, let me tell you, I was really impressed by the Hawaiian food on our trip! Because Hawaii is such a melting pot — one of the most diverse states in the U.S. — it's easy to find all different kinds of authentic ethnic foods and unique fusion dishes. With its warm climate, produce is plentiful year-round, making Hawaiian food as healthy as it is delicious.
An Introduction to 7 Popular Hawaiian Dishes
- Pork Laulau
This luau staple is made by cooking pork wrapped in taro leaf. It's often served as part of a Hawaiian plate lunch, alongside macaroni salad and rice.
Made from mashed and fermented taro root, poi is definitely an acquired taste. (I did not acquire it.)
- Chicken Long Rice
The Hawaiian version of chicken noodle soup, chicken long rice is made with rice noodles and ginger and often with Asian vegetables such as shiitake mushrooms and bok choy.
This Asian noodle soup was developed by Chinese immigrants as a Hawaiian take on ramen noodle soup.
- Loco Moco
It's not exactly health food, but loco moco is definitely comfort food and absolutely worth trying! Loco moco is made by topping short-grain rice with hamburger patties, gravy and a fried egg. Variations often include fried rice, Spam, Portuguese sausage or seafood.
- Spam Musubi
Did you know Hawaiians eat more Spam than anywhere else in the world? While it's the butt of jokes in the continental U.S., Spam is much loved in Hawaii where it's used in many Hawaiian dishes. Spam musubi is similar to sushi.
- Ahi Poke
Poke is a type of fish salad, usually tossed with an Asian-style dressing. While I saw it made with many different ingredients (including octopus and shrimp), ahi poke, made with raw tuna, is most popular.
Ahi poke was my favorite Hawaiian dish. I ate it almost every day! As soon as I returned home, I knew I had to figure out how to make it myself. Because you'll be eating it raw, it's important to look for very fresh, high-quality fish. Due to sustainability issues, look for pole- and line-caught ahi (or yellowfin) tuna. If you can't find it, try this with another type of local fish, cooked shrimp or octopus.
- 1 pound ahi tuna steaks, cut into bite-sized cubes
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- ¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
- A large pinch sugar
- ¼ large red or sweet onion, sliced
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 2 cups cooked short-grain brown rice
- 1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- ¼ cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped
- 1 avocado, halved, peeled, pit removed and thinly sliced
- 1 0.4-ounce package toasted seaweed snacks, crumbled
- Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
- Flaky or crunchy sea salt (preferably Hawaiian), for garnish
- In a large bowl, mix soy sauce, sesame oil, red chili flakes and sugar. Add tuna and toss to combine. Stir in onion, cilantro and scallions. Cover and refrigerate ahi poke for 2 hours to let the flavors marinate.
- When ready to eat, divide brown rice between four bowls (½ cup in each bowl). Divide ahi poke, cucumber, macadamia nuts, avocado and crumbled seaweed snacks between the four bowls. Serve with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and sea salt for garnish.