Hawaii’s exotic mix of ethnicities, including Polynesian, Asian and Portuguese, has led to a cuisine all its own. In fact, the Hawaii Regional Cuisine culinary movement blends Hawaii’s ethnic flavours with world cuisine, using fresh local produce, and you can sample it in restaurants across the state. Meanwhile, Spam – or ham in a can – is the state’s most iconic dish. Originally brought to Hawaii by American servicemen in their rations, it became an important source of protein for locals when fishing was forbidden during World War II. It is often fried and served with rice and is easily available.
Local produce, farmers markets, farm-to-table dining and food trucks abound in Hawaii. Organic farms are dotted across Kauai, and farmers markets take place every day except Sunday. Oahu is food truck central, and farm-to-table cuisine has been fostered by countless farmers, chefs, restaurants and diners, using produce as diverse as Tahitian limes and Kahuku sea asparagus.
Look for coffee, macadamia and purple sweet potato farms on Molokai, and fruit and vegetables grown in the volcanic soil of upcountry Maui. And on Hawaii, The Big Island, there is a wide variety of farm produce, including cattle raised in upland pastures, plus farm-to-table cuisine, farmers markets and more than 100 food-related festivals throughout the year.
Duke’s Waikiki’s Barefoot Bar in Honolulu is a great place to head for Cajun fish tacos or fresh ahi poke – raw fish served with Maui onion and sesame soy sauce. For cocktails, check out Lava Lava Beach Club on Hawaii, The Big Island for a Lava Lava Flow On The Rocks with strawberries, banana, coconut cream and rum or a Gilligan’s Girl cocktail with vodka, ginger liqueur, pineapple juice and coconut water.
Our top picks
933 Kapahulu Avenue, Honolulu
A firm fixture in Hawaii since 1952, Leonard’s Bakery is a must-visit for malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts - like a regular doughnut without the hole). Leonard DoRego began baking malasadas as part of the Portugeuese tradition for Shrove Tuesday. The bakery has been at its current location since 1957.
Romy's Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp
56781 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku
Oahu’s North Shore is dotted with shrimp stands, but Romy’s is the one to check out. Its shrimp are harvested from a farm right beside the roadside stand. The queues can be lengthy, but the butter and garlic sauteed prawns served with rice and shoyu spicy sauce are definitely worth the wait.
Eat like a local
Heeia Pier General Store
46-499 Kamehameha Highway, Kaneohe, Oahu
Owner Russ Inouye caught his first fish as a child on the pier where this store is located and called the previous owners aunty and uncle. When they retired, he bought a 35-year lease. Fish is bought fresh from the fishermen as they come in, with a different type served each day.
9691 Kaumualii Highway, Waimea, Kauai
This no-frills eatery at Waimea on Kauai offers tasty comfort food at an affordable price. You order at the counter and eat off paper plates. Favourites include the loco moco, which consists of a hamburger patty, a scoop of rice, egg and gravy, or the homemade coconut pies.
Matsumoto Shave Ice
66-087 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, Oahu
Established as a grocery store by a Japanese immigrant at Haleiwa on the North Shore of Oahu in 1951, Matsumoto is the place to go for shave ice – a popular specialty throughout Hawaii. There are a range of flavours and combinations to choose from, including guava, mango and pina colada.