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Sayles Team Picks of Must Try Hawaii Foods

Hawaii’s Most Ono (delicious) Foods!

Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures from all over the world! The food in Hawaii is a mix of the familiar and unknown. Many of the foods locals love today find their roots in Asia and to a very small extent Europe. Over the years, the mix of cultures have created a cuisine we call “local food” which can be loosely likened to what fine dining refers to as Asian Fusion. But today, we are going to take a look at what locals like to eat and where you can get it!


Not everyone’s most favorite food, but poi is something many would consider to be a uniquely Hawaii dish. Untainted from modern interpretations, poi is one of the closest dishes you can get to experiencing ancient Hawaii. Although taro (the plant poi is made from) is not endemic to the islands, the native Hawaiians were the only one to turn it into poi by steaming the taro root and then systematically mashing it into poi. Over the years, many taro cultivators have bred different varieties which has now resulted in 80+ different variations. You can eat poi plain just like the native hawaiians, or with a little bit of milk and sugar to cut the acidity.

Where can you try it?

  • Any locally owned grocery chain like Foodland or Time’s Supermarket.
  • For restaurants, try Poi by the Pound in Wailuku and Da Kitchen in Wailuku

Plate Lunch

The plate lunch is a classic Hawaiian meal and the perfect choice for recharging after the beach, a hike, or going about daily activities. The plate lunch is unique to Hawaii due to the Asian influence on Hawaiian cuisine, and its roots in the Japanese bento. Its origins in Hawaii date all the way back to the 1880s when plantation workers were in high demand by the fruit and sugar companies of the islands. Laborers were brought to Hawaii from around the world, including from China, Japan, Portugal, and the Philippines.

Standard plate lunches consist of two scoops of white rice, macaroni salad, and an entrée (usually asian inspired dishes like chicken katsu or teriyaki chicken); a plate lunch with more than one entrée is often called a mixed plate.

Where can you try it?

  • Literally anywhere across Maui, just type plate lunch into Yelp and choose your favorite!

Hawaiian Plate

Very similar to the idea of a plate lunch, but consisting of Hawaiian food rather than the Japanese entree dishes usually associated with the traditional plate lunch. Of course you have your starches which can vary among 3 things or often a combination of rice, chicken long rice (Not quite soup or  stew, but noodles simmered in a ginger chicken broth), or sweet potatoes.

For your mains, they usually are: kalua pig, essentially roast pork; lau lau, cuts of beef or pork wrapped in taro leaves and steamed in banana leaves; luau squid, squid simmered is a coconut and taro leaves stew

Lastly, for your sides, you will always have lomi salmon (similar to pico de gallo but with chunks of salmon), poi as mentioned earlier, and haupia which is basically a coconut custard.

Where can you try it?

  • For restaurants, try Poi by the Pound in Wailuku and Da Kitchen in Wailuku


Introduced by Chinese immigrants and modeled after the char siu bao, the pork stuffed steam buns you find on dim sum carts, the manapua has grown to be as iconic in Hawaii as the spam musubi. Nowadays, you can find manapua all over the island chain and stuff with many different fillings than just char sui pork. One place on the island of Oahu, Chun Wa Kam, is known to fill theirs with pizza style, garlic chicken, kalua pig, and a few others. Another place on Oahu, Honolulu Kitchen has taken it a step further and are actually deep frying their manapuas instead of baking or steaming them.

Where can you try it?

  • Minit Stop, many locations across Maui


Another dish with native Hawaiian roots is poke, pronounced po-kay, which means to cut into little cubes. Poke is the ultimate go to dish for any occasions, bbqs, dinner, lunch, or a snack, everyone finds an excuse to eat this local favorite. Although the raw fish may be intimidating to some because of the texture and possible fishyness, but trust me, it is worth give it a try.

Often described as a fish salad, it usually consists of fresh ahi cut into cubes, green or white onions, and some type of sauce that is either spicy, salty, sweet, or a mix of all three. As a reference, think of a fish carpaccio or a fish tartare to give you a better idea of texture and flavor.

Where can you try it?

  • Any supermarket
  • Tamura’s Market

Spam Musubi

Spam is a very interesting piece of meat, locals love it, while non island residents either refuse to try it or are hesitantly open to it to some degree; but don’t knock on it coming out of a can until you try it! Spam musubi is an ever popular snack or lunch food among those who have grown up in Hawaii. The typical spam musubi finds its roots in the traditional Japanese musubi. Consisting of a block of rice, wrapped in nori, and finished with a slice of cooked Spam on top, it is an incredibly simple dish.

Where can you try it?

  • Pretty much any gas station

Shave Ice

Shave ice is local dessert similar to snow cones; they are made by finely shaving ice off from block, forming it into a cone, and topping it with sweet syrups for flavor. While this might sound similar to a snow cone, shave ice differs because the ice is shaved off from a block and not crushed. Shave is can be thought as very similar to snow in terms of how fine and moldable it is. The syrups that give the shave ice its flavor are limitless; syrup flavors include basically any fruit flavor, plus ones like rootbeer, cream soda, coke, cotton candy, bubble gum, the list is endless. While syrups give the shave ice a lot of its flavor, many opt to add ice cream at the bottom of the shave is for extra creaminess.

Where can you try it?

  • Ululuani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice in Kihei, Lahaina, and Kahului

Contact a Maui Real Estate Specialist

Please consider me to be your trusted Maui real estate and lifestyle adviser. I was born and raised on the island, and spend a considerable amount of time to inform my clients about the best deals currently on the market. Don’t hesitate to call me for your any of your Maui real estate needs as I would be honored to assist you in your home search.


Anthony Sayles R(S)

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