Hawaii is an extraordinary place with a mélange of climate, geography and culture found nowhere else. And when it comes to food, Hawaii is truly one of a kind. Being so close to the equator with endless sunshine, with plenty rain and wildly varied altitudes – Hawaii can grow almost anything, from tomatoes to pineapples, coffee to macadamia nuts.
Found in the middle of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by thousand of miles of ocean, Hawaii is also rich in Seafood, including endemic species found only there. Throw in an ethnic mix of Pacific Islanders, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Portuguese, European and American mainlanders, and you get a unique cooking style with diverse roots found nowhere else.
The raw Hawaiian fish dish poke is spreading to the mainland of America and Europe like wild fire these days, but the Aloha State’s most famous native dish is arguably the Hawaiian plate lunch. A go-to meal for Hawaiians that’s both cheap and filling, it’s served at roadside stands, drive-ins, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants all over the state. A plate lunch consists of a choice of meat entrée and two starchy sides, usually one scoop of white rice and another of macaroni salad. It is often served in a divided three-section clamshell takeout box, and makes an ideal instant picnic. The uniquely local spin is the meat course, with typical choices including teriyaki beef or shrimp, fish tacos, Japanese-style fried chicken, lomi-lomi salmon, shredded kalua pork, and most always loco moco – a hamburger patty topped with thick brown gravy and a fried egg, ubiquitous throughout the Island State.
Hawaii is world famous for its wide selection of seafood, and almost every restaurant will offer an array of fresh fish served grilled, blackened, steamed, and cooked every which way. Ahi (“yellowfin tuna”) is the most common and used world famously for a seafood dish called poke, a raw salad distantly related to sashimi, with chunks of raw seafood tossed with sea salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, hot pepper and chopped Maui sweet onions. Like conventional salads, there are many variations of poke, and poke specialty shops usually offer a dozen styles, with different seafood and additions. It is often spicy and can be an entrée on a plate lunch.
One of Hawaii’s weirdest yet most beloved snacks is Spam musubi sold everywhere from convenience stores, grocery stores to gas stations. Spam is a canned, processed block of pork, spices and binders developed in World War II to preserve and transport meat. For someone not born and raised on Hawaii, this might not sound very appealing but let me tell you it is in fact very tasty. It is extremely popular on the Island, with Hawaiians consuming more than anywhere on earth. A beloved snack, Spam musubi takes a sushi approach, topping a block of sushi rice with a slice of grilled Spam wrapped in nori (seaweed).