Hawaii is an extremely popular tourist attraction; though it’s one of the fifty United States, it’s so different from the Lower 48 that it can seem like a whole other world—and it is. From the tropical blue seas and the active volcanoes to the Polynesian culture and truly multicultural cuisine, the islands are a totally unique place. If you’re planning a trip to Maui, here are some foods to keep an eye out for; they’re deliciously, distinctly Hawaiian.
This tuber in the Araceae family is native to Southeast Asia, but has been introduced to many other parts of the world and is thought to have been brought to the Hawaiian islands by the very first Polynesian sailors in 300 AD. When they arrived, Taro became a staple part of their diet, so important that it became a part of their cultural mythology. The primary food made from the corms (or bulbo-tubers) of this plant is poi; it’s made by mashing the cooked corms until they become a thick liquid. This ancient dish is still a popular meal in much of Hawaii today.
Hawaiians consume the most Spam per capita in the United States; it’s so overwhelmingly popular that the local McDonald’s restaurants feature it on the menu. The potted meat was introduced to the islands during the Pacific Theater occupation in World War II, when American soldiers were issued the tins as rations and ate it for every meal. Surpluses were sold or traded to the local population, who loved it and made it a fundamental part of their cuisine. Be sure to try Spam musubi, a snack that consists of a grilled slice of the meat that is bound to a block of rice with nori seaweed like a sushi dish.
The breadfruit’s name comes from the taste it acquires when it’s been cooked; it has a flavor similar to potatoes, and has been described akin to freshly baked bread. The trees were brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians, who spread it wherever they traveled, and it’s a staple food in many regions in the tropics. Recipes vary from family to family, but the cooked mash is often mixed with poi, the pulpy taro tubers that are also a fundamental part of Hawaiian diets. They can be cooked on an open fire and filled with coconut milk, sugar, butter, and other fruits.
This native dish is an excellent example of the many influences that come together to form Hawaiian cuisine. The essential version of this dish consists of a bed of white rice, which is topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and brown gravy. Some restaurants will include pork, chili, spam, teriyaki beef, shrimp, or oysters. It’s massively popular all over Hawaii, and many restaurants have their own special versions. Loco Moco was thought to be created at one of two diners in the 1940s in the town of Hilo.
This raw fish salad is often served as an appetizer. It usually consists of yellowfin tuna (or ahi) sashimi, which is marinated in soy sauce, sea salt, sesame oil, chiles, and oils. It is similar to the European carpaccio and tartare dishes, but only in concept. Like many Hawaiian dishes, it’s heavily influenced by Japanese and Asian tastes and ingredients.