Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Five-0 on Hawaiian Food

I have to say that one of the things I was most excited about on our trip to Hawaii was the food (and the fact that I wasn't at work of course.  And visiting the beaches.  Oh, and the shopping - natch)!

Along with your typical American food that you can find anywhere in the USA, Hawaii has its own unique offerings thanks not only to its Polynesian culture, but also the large Asian population that inhabit the islands.

The Boy and I did our best to try nearly everything uniquely Hawaiian, or even kind of Hawaiian.  All in the name of research...and food blogging. 


Although Pineapple technically isn’t Hawaiian (it hails from Brazil) they grow some pretty awesome Pineapple in Hawaii. 

The pineapple here is so sweet and juicy that I inhaled a tub of it nearly every morning of our 10 day trip.  Luckily it is easily found in one of the multitude of ABC stores that litter Waikiki (ABC stores are Hawaii’s answer to the 7-11, only better I think as they also sell clothes).

The best thing about Hawaiian pineapple from the ABC store is that it comes with a cute little you can eat your pineapple and pretend you're a pirate all at the same time.

I was told, for the record, that it is just not Hawaiian to put pineapple on pizza, sandwiches etc and call it "Hawaiian". I wonder if you can even find an Hawaiian pizza in Hawaii?  Guess we'll just have to go back and find out.

Baked Manapua

The Boy and I tried the Baked Manapua on our Hawaii Food Tour.  I’m so mad at myself for not going back to Royal Kitchen to get myself another one as I think this has to be one of the best things I ate in Hawaii. And, I ate a lot so I’m speaking from experience here.

Manapua is a baked bread bun traditionally filled Chinese BBQ Pork, although the one in the picture below has a Kalua Pig filling as I LOVE Kalua Pig.  The bread is sweet and fluffy and really really good.

Baked Manapua is of Chinese origin and was introduced to Hawaii in the 19th Century when thousands of immigrants flooded the islands looking for work on plantations.

A Baked Manapua is basically Hawaii’s answer to the donut.  Whilst you won’t find a Donut King or Krispy Kreme anywhere in Hawaii, you wouldn’t have to look too far to find someone, somewhere, selling a Baked Manapua.  I’ve been told that it’s not uncommon to see a van at the beach selling Manapua (though, unfortunately there wasn't one at the beach where we swam each day). 

Kalua Pig

OMG – this stuff is amazing!

Kalua Pig would traditionally be found at an Hawaiian lu’ua where the pig is cooked for hours in an underground oven called an “imu” which gives it an amazing smoky flavour.  If you live in an “condo” where you can’t dig a hole in the floor to bury a pig you can create the same smoky affect using a product called Liquid Smoke…which is hard to find in Australia, but you can get it at or some gourmet grocers.  We are still hunting it down.

The Boy and I tried the Kalua Pig a few different ways, at a lu’au along with 850 other tourists (yes, we ate a meal with 850 tourists), served with cabbage and rice and in a Baked Manapua.  My favourite would be Baked Manapua…but that might be more to do with the awesome bread bun, rather than the pork. 

The Boy and I loved Kalua Pig so much we’re going to have a go at making some at home.  Once we track down some Liquid Smoke that is.


Hawaiian kids grow up eating Poi, just like Aussie kids grow up eating Vegemite.  So it’s little surprise then that for the uninitiated Poi is an acquired taste that takes a little getting used to.  I didn’t care about Poi’s bad reviews from other travelers though…I was determined to give it a red hot go. 

Poi is a Polynesian food made by mashing cooked taro until it resembles a thin, and slightly watery, mashed potato (water is added to the mashing process…so its runny consistency is no accident).

Hawaiian’s eat Poi as the starchy component of their meal…just like we’d eat mashed potato.  As it is much more runny than mashed potato I wasn’t quite sure how to eat it…I just piled some on top of my fish and said “ahhhhh” and then “ummmm”.  Like I said, it’s an acquired taste. 


Whilst technically not being an Hawaiian food, the Hawaiians love of Spam is legendary so it would be remiss not to give it a shout out in this post.  In fact, Hawaiians eat more than FOUR MILLION cans of a year…really.

During WWII Hawaiians embraced Spam as there weren’t a lot of other choices to eat meat.  That said, Hawaii’s distance from well…anywhere, also meant that “back in the day” canned meat was at least one way of getting meat into your diet.

Locals eat SPAM as a delicacy.  No, I'm not kidding.  Really I'm not.  We saw it on various restaurant menus where it was added to soups and stews.

The Boy sampled a McDonalds Spam and rice place for breakfast, and we both had some Spam Musubi (ie Sushi) on our Hawaiian Food Tour. 

Ahi Poke

This is another yummy dish we tried on our Hawaiian Food Tour.  Poke is a raw fish salad made from Ahi (yellow fin tuna) that is marinated with sea salt, soy sauce, roasted crushed candlenut, sesame oil, limu seaweed, and chopped chilli pepper.  Very very good if you like raw fish…which luckily I do.

Lomi Salmon

Lomi-lomi salmon had its beginnings in Hawaii and is made by mixing salted, diced salmon with tomatoes, crushed ice, and green onions.

We tried some of this at the lu'au we went to. I really liked it, but thought the addition of crushed ice was a tad...interesting.  That's it in the plastic counter on my (over filled) plate below.

Shave Ice

The Boy and I (very) stupidly tried our first shaved ice about 2 days before we were flying back home. Stupid stupid stupid.

At first The Boy and I thought a Shave Ice would be just like the Snow Cone's we have back here in the Land of Oz Oz…but they are TOTALLY DIFFERENT. TOTALLY.

I’m pretty partial to the old Snow Cone, but I have to tell you that the Shave Ice kicks its butt into next week. 

As the name suggests a Shave Ice is literally a shaved block of ice – whereas a Snow Cone is just crushed ice.  Beware though as some Shave Ice vendors in Hawaii do crush their ice and it is nowhere near as good.  Trust me, I know from experience.

Because the shaved ice is so super fine the syrup is actually absorbed into the ice, rather than just sitting in a pool around it.  Shave Ice usually comes with three stripes of syrup...and sometime shave ice sits atop of scoop of ice cream. My favourite flavour was Pina Colada (along with walks in the rain) and The Boy loved Vanilla. It seemed like the entire population of Waikiki loves Watermelon as it was always sold out when we tried to get it.  Grrr. 

Hula Pie

The Boy's friend from work, The Peanut Gallery, urged us to go to Duke's Canoe Club and have us a piece of Hula Pie.  As we always do what Peanut tells us to we heeded her advice and wandered down to Dukes one day for a buffet lunch and a piece of this legendary pie.

If I'd actually had any inkling of what this pie would be like I would've skipped the buffet lunch altogether and saved all of my tummy room for the enormous ice-cream cake that was about to descend on our table. 

Hula Pie is simply as awesomely amazing as it looks.  The "pie" is made from macadamia nut ice cream which sits on top of an Oreo cookie crust. As if that wasn't enough to give you type 2 diabetes, the pie is topped with chocolate fudge sauce, whipped cream and more macadamia nuts.

We did our best to finish our slab of Hula Pie, but it got the better of us I'm afraid.

Crack Seed 

Crack Seed and the concept of a Crack Seed Store was one of the things that most intrigued me about Hawaiian food.  I was eager to hunt one down asap just so I could see what all about.

In short, I'd say that a Crack Seed Store is a bit like the Asian grocery stores we have here in Sydney, although they are primarily dedicated to all things snacky.  A Crack Seed Store is our version of the local corner shop, where kids would take their spare change and pocket money to buy tasty treats.

"Crack Seed" actually refers various dehydrated and preserved fruits which are "cracked" to expose the seed as this enhances the flavour.  You'll also find things such as rice crackers, gummi bears, Asian candies, sunflower seeds, salted plums and dehydrated seafood's at your local Crack Seed Store.

The Boy and I tracked down the Crack Seed Center at the popular Ala Moana Shopping Center.  This place had a constant stream of customers whilst were in there snooping about, so it was obvious that Crack Seed consumption in Hawaii is serious business.

We wandered around for awhile and oohed and aahed at all of the strange and wonderful delights on offer. In the end we decided to try the Dried Cuttlefish.  Sadly, after a munch on a cuttlefish leg each, we decide that chips and chocolate are more our crack seed of choice. 

Royal Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Duke's Restaurant & Canoe Club (Waikiki) on Urbanspoon


  1. Wow thanks for that interesting food tour of Hawaii!!

    I have run across Liquid Smoke here in Sydney in several strange places - I may be able to find some for you at my local (don't know as I havent had to look for it for a while!) Essential Ingredient may have it - I will keep my eyes open and let you know it I find any!!

  2. That's interesting! I've never been to Hawaii so wouldn't have guessed what kind of food they would serve there. The first thing that comes to my mind is cocktails! Haha

  3. *sigh* so much foodie goodness and they're things that we just don't get here aren't they! Good on you for doing the research for us! ;)

  4. So happy that you enjoyed so many of my favourite places! I'm so ready for my next visit and will be doing that food tour for sure!

    I have a bottle of liquid smoke for you (you can get it from The Essential Ingredient too – I checked). I'll give it to the Boy at work tomorrow. I'll get a hold of my Mom's Kalua pork recipe too. I get her to make it for all or special occasions as well as any other time I can talk her into it. We had it and Turkey for Christmas. She also does the Lomi Salmon but without the ice. Poi is definitely an acquired taste, it has no real flavour which is why you mixed it with the Kalua pork or fish etc.

    I got to celebrate my birthday with dinner at Duke's a few years ago. Gotta love that Hula Pie! We go every time we get to Hawaii. Love Hawaiian Shave Ice...lots of great flavours. Definitely better then crushed ice here.

  5. The manapua sounds amazing and argh I'm dying to try kalua pig one day! Crack Seed Store sounds so different to Western ears. lol. I used to love sitting around at home with a big bowl of watermelon seeds watching the telly!

  6. Great that you could sample so many traditional foods! I really don't think there are Hawaiian pizzas there, haha. IMO, being proud of consuming that much SPAM means they have serious health issues. Good luck in your search for liquid smoke!

  7. so much interesting food in hawaii! that seems like a good guide for us when we head there to travel. thanks for sharing!

  8. Hi Cate - so much interesting food in Hawaii...great mix of Asian, American and Polynesian. We've nabbed some Liquid Smoke from a friend...but let me know if you see it anywhere else.

    Hi Maria - OMG! I forget a whole section about Hawaiian cocktails...and there are lots.

    Hi Lorraine - the bad part about travel is finding food you love that you cannot get at home....makes me sad.

    Hi Peanut - thanks for the Liquid Smoke - you are a star! Although, I don't get why we just cannot come to your mums for some proper Hawaiian Kalua Pig. Lomi Salmon would be nicer without ice I think. Thanks for all of your tips - was so helpful.

    Hi Helen - I'm dying for a Manapua. We'll put up the recipe for Kalua Pig once we make it...soon!

    Hi Lateral Eating - poor Spam, it gets such a bad wrap. But you're right, it cannot be all that healthy.

    Hi Melissa - my pleasure!

  9. I have the best memories of Hawaii when I went on a Family holiday when I was little - but I cant wait to getaway there soon. I still remember the ABC stores, they were awesome.

    Funnily enough, spam and egg with rice is my fave brekky dish!
    soo bad for you, so i save it hangover mornings!

  10. Nice round up. I loved ABC stores (I even have a logo fridge magnet). I remembered that I liked the manapua SO much (esp the kalua pig), my friend and I went back the day after to stock up on them for a few days!

  11. Hi Tina - IF we weren't flying out of Hawaii the next day I would've gone back to get more Manapua...I miss Manapua.


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