Sometimes, there is a little confusion about exactly what Hawaiian food is. Basically, there are three categories: food that native Hawaiians have traditionally prepared; local food that developed from the ethnic mix unique to Hawaii; and Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, a gourmet fusion style of cooking by top chefs. I'll start this post with traditional Hawaiian food, and blog about the others in future posts.
Traditional Hawaiian food consists mostly of selection that have their roots in the Polynesian culture. Most of the time, we identify Hawaiian food with the feast known as the luau. Often, a luau will consist of some or all of the following:
Poi is taro - kalo in Hawaiian - that has been pounded into a paste and eaten as a staple, like rice. Some complain that it has no taste, but it has a delicate flavor. Poi is not ordinarily meant to be eaten by itself (unless it was your baby food, as it was for my wife Becky, and both of my daughters) but eaten with other savory foods. Some prefer poi that has fermented a few days, so that it is more sour. If you are new to poi, you may prefer fresh poi. If you are in the latter category, I would recommend Hanalei Poi, which is made by a special process that keeps the poi fresher much longer.
Kalua Pig, salted, smoked, and pulled pork that has been roasted in the underground oven known as an imu. It is sometimes sauteed with cabbage as a stretcher.
Laulau is pork, fish, or chicken that is combined with luau leaves (young taro leaves) and wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.
Squid or chicken luau is a stew-like dish made from simmering luau leaves with coconut milk and adding the squid or chicken to it. It kind of has the consistency of thin creamed spinach, and it doesn't look very appetizing, but it is absolutely delicious.
Poke is usually raw (or sometimes flash fried) fish that has been but into cubes and highly seasoned. Ahi tuna is most commonly used in poke, but au, or marlin, is also commonly used. Sometimes other ingredients are used, such as crab, tofu and even steak (all are terrific!). Limu, or seaweed, is a common ingredient, as is inamona, a condiment made from kukui nuts, which most people recognize as the black stone-like objects made into lei. Modern poke is often made with shoyu, onions, sesame oil, and sometimes tomatoes.
At a very traditional luau, you might see opihi, limpets, that are eaten raw. These are very precious delicacies, as they are dangerous to harvest. Harvesters must look for them among seaside rocks. Because they usually have to turn their backs to the surf, they risk being pounded into the rocks.
Pipikaula is Hawaiian style beef jerky, smoked and salted, but not quite as dry as the beef jerky you might find at a supermarket.
Haupia is a dessert made from coconut. You will find it served by itself in squares, or added to pies or cakes, such as the justifiably famous haupia custard pie from Deluxe Bakery in Kaneohe or the chocolate haupia pie from Ted's. Haupia cake is also great. I have to say that the best one I've ever had is actually from Ishigo Bakery in Gardena, California.
Chicken long rice is luau food, but I question if this made its way from Polynesia to Hawaii back in the day. The ingredients are chicken, broth, long rice (aka maifun, or rice stick noodles, which were invented in Asia), ginger, green onions, and salt. My guess is that Chinese cooking influenced Hawaiian homes, and this dish emerged.
Lomilomi salmon is another dish that I question as purely Hawaiian food. It is made from salt salmon, onions, tomatoes, and salt. I am guessing that salt salmon, a preserved fish, was one of the few seafood items that could be shipped to Hawaii safely, before air freight became more common.The salmon is squeezed and pressed to make smaller pieces, or in other words, massaged. The Hawaiian term for this is lomilomi, which is also why you would want to receive lomilomi if your back is sore (the massage, not the food).
Today, my family and I discovered Haili's Hawaiian Food, a dining truck in the parking lot next to Ward Warehouse and across from the Ward Entertainment Center. I learned that they had previously been at the Ward Farmer's Market but lost their lease. Good Hawaiian food at pretty good prices. Becky had a pulehu (Hawaiian style grilled) steak plate with a romaine and mesclun (mixed baby greens) salad for $7.50. I had a Hawaiian poke bowl for $5.50: a generous portion of ahi shoyu poke over rice with two pieces of Okinawan sweet potatoes. We'll go back again.
Aloha pumehana (warm love to you),
P. S. There is something very special about Hawaii and the work of the Holy Spirit. Just being here can't help but evoke something very powerful about the creative work of God. Take a moment to give thanks for this incredible place that is evidence that a great God exists and loves us very much!