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Hawai‘i: A Taste of Paradise

The food in the Hawaiian Islands has been “fusion” for decades, ages before chefs in white toques cooked up the concept of “Pacific Rim cuisine.” Thanks to the culinary traditions of the indigenous people blending with foods brought by immigrants from throughout Asia, Western Europe, Puerto Rico, and the Azores, today you can eat around the world in just one meal while visiting Hawai‘i. Embark on an appetizing adventure by trying some of these unique-to-Hawai‘i foods during your next trip.


The Freshest Catch

To taste of the essence of Hawai‘i, you’ve got to try some poke (pronounced POE-kay): fresh, locally caught ‘ahi that’s cut into cubes, served raw and seasoned. It’s a Native Hawaiian dish that’s recently made it to the mainstream on the West Coast. See how poke is made at its source; it can be found at any supermarket in the Aloha State,like Foodland  or small grocery stores, where bins of it are on display in the seafood department, ready to be bought by the pound and taken to a beach or backyard barbecue.

Native Hawaiians traditionally made poke with just limu (seaweed) and ‘inamona (roasted kukui nuts mashed with salt). Most people in Hawa‘ii now enjoy their poke with soy sauce, sweet onions, sesame oil, and red chili thrown into the mix, and everything from tofu to smoked tako (octopus) can, and will, be made into poke. On O‘ahu, Highway Inn has simple poke bowls and traditional Hawaiian foods in a family diner setting, whereas fine dining institution Alan Wong’s wraps poke in a “tree” of crispy wonton, and MW Restaurant elegantly stacks the fish on a rice cracker. For a quick lunch, head over to Aloha Cones and Ono Seafood, casual poke counters close to Waikīkī, where you can build your own bowl with rice. If you’re visiting Hawai‘i’s Big Island, stop by the award-winning Da Poke Shack for the “poke bombs” and Umekes for poke bowls and plate lunches.


For the Adventurous Eater

Poi, a creamy paste made from steamed taro roots, is a Native Hawaiian food many visitors are reluctant to try. Even fearless eater Andrew Zimmern didn’t like it when he visited Hawai‘i, but try it for yourself and make up your own mind. Poi is a gluten-free starch that’shigh in protein and low in carbs, and pairs well with something salty, like kalua pork.


Oodles of Noodles

The humid tropical weather doesn’t stop kamaʻāina (Hawai‘i residents) from enjoying a steaming hot bowl of noodle soup for a meal. Saimin, the islands’ twist on Japanese ramen, is a comfort food of chewy noodles and meaty toppings swimming in a light, clear broth, and it’s so ubiquitous in Hawai‘i that even McDonald’s has a version on its menu there. On O‘ahu, get your slurp on at any mom-and-pop saimin stand, Zippy’s restaurant (a regional chain), or try the modern version at Monkeypod Kitchen topped with kālua pork, sprouts, and cilantro. Don’t miss Hamura’s Saimin Stand if you plan to visit Kaua‘i—the small family restaurant holds a James Beard Award—and take the time to visit Migrant on Maui, owned by Hawai‘i’s only Top Chef contestant, for fried versions of the noodle dish.


Decadent Desserts

After sampling these salty and savory foods, you’re going to need something sweet: How about a deep-fried donut? Malasadas are a Portuguese hole-less donut that’s adored in the islands and should be on your must-eat list. Get them at the famous Leonard’s Bakery on O‘ahu, where they’re covered with plain or cinnamon sugar and can be filled with chocolate, custard, or coconut pudding.

Speaking of coconut, anyone who’s crazy about the fruit will fall in love with haupia, a Native Hawaiian coconut pudding. Served chilled and cut in a square much like Jell-O, it’s usually served at any lūʻau. Ted’s Bakery on O‘ahu’s North Shore took haupia to the next level by adding it to a pie with chocolate cream, and the pie is so popular there’s always a line (but it’s worth the wait!). If you can’t get to the bakery, most supermarkets also carry Ted’s pies.


Tropical Tidbit

The Saturday farmers’ market at Kapi‘olani Community College has locally raised produce, meats, seafood, and foods cooked by O‘ahu’s top restaurants all in one picturesque spot near Diamond Head. Go for breakfast while shopping for gifts.

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