If you’ve ever found yourself frustrated while trying to explain to a friend from the mainland what a Spam musubi is (or why you’d even eat one), or that you don’t drink mai tais every day and eat pizza topped with pineapple and ham, then this list is for you.
With a diverse blend of cultures and a rich culinary history that began long beforeHawaiian Regional Cuisine became a buzz term in the ’90s, Hawaii residents are lucky to have a ton of choices when it comes to local grinds. And every local worth their Hawaiian salt who’s pined for a poke bowl or knows exactly what causes a kanak attack will identify with these 31 food things that only people from Hawaii would understand.
The Manapua Man was an integral part of your childhood.
The only place where you can get char siu-filled manapua, fried noodles, candyAND a couple cans of Hawaiian Sun juice for under $5. Yup, we’re pretty sure these guys started the food truck craze.
We don’t pay for papayas. Or mangoes. Or avocados. Or coconuts.
We get ’um free from our aunty’s yard. Or our cousin’s cousin’s yard. Or our coworker’s. Or from the tree down the street (shhhh).
You love Aunty Marialani and her perfectly cooked chicken.
Rap Reiplinger nailed it as a lovable lush in the best (only?) cooking show skit to ever come out of Hawaii. It’s “not too sweet, not too rancid” but juuuuuus’ right, eh? Go check ’um now, go.
THIS is real Hawaiian food.
Obligatory components include: lau lau, kalua pig, squid luau, lomi salmon, pipikaula, poi and haupia. And an appetite the size of the Pacific Ocean.
When there’s a new restaurant coming to town, EVERYONE knows about it before it opens.
For at least a few weeks, or sometimes months. And there’s ALWAYS a line to get in once it does. For at least a few weeks, or sometimes months.
You have at least one of these on your kitchen counter.
When you packed for college, this was at the top of your checklist. Seriously, is it even possible to cook rice another way?
It’s not sushi, it’s poke. And it’s pronounced PO-keh.
No matter where you are, you’re always only five minutes away from a poke place. And everyone has their favorite go-to spots for those tender marinated cubes of fresh ahi (tuna), but we can’t not mention the poke bowls from Tamura’s in Honolulu,Fish Express in Lihue, or Da Poke Shack in Kona, which Yelpers rated the top spotto eat… ahem… in the country.
Speaking of bowls, breakfast just isn’t breakfast without an acai bowl.
Artfully arranged, drizzled with honey, and perfectly refreshing — is there anything better after a sunrise hike?
It’s totally normal to eat Spam musubi bought at a gas station.
Or at any 7-Eleven. We love our Spam so much, we have an annual festival to celebrate its existence. Boom.
Nothing is safe from li hing mui powder.
From pineapples and gummy bears to margaritas and cupcakes. There’s nothing we won’t put it on. Even foie gras.
Passion. Orange. Guava. The taste takes you back to your hana butta days, or your last interisland flight on Hawaiian Airlines. We’re pretty sure it’s addicting since we buy more than 1.3 million gallons of it EVERY MONTH.
You take your shave ice seriously.
Shave ice (or ice shave if you’re from Big Island) is WAY more than just picking out a syrup flavor or two. You need a scoop of ice cream, azuki beans, mochi balls and sweetened condensed milk. And no, it’s not shaved ice. It’s shave ice.
But you know there’s more to life than shave ice.
Who cares how much food coloring is in Samurai’s bright red and blue strawberry-vanilla soft serve? You’ve gotta get your fix. And we won’t even try to figure out how the Tasaka Guri Guri Shop creates its creamy cross between sherbet and ice cream or how OnoPops turns butter mochi into a popsicle. We accept their greatness.
You’ve got no problem standing in a loooong line for ice cream.
It gives you more time to decide which of the 20 flavors of mochi ice cream you want at Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream and Desserts in Honolulu — the only place that gets the ice cream to mochi ratio right. Even Oprah agrees.
Forget spilled milk — just the price of milk makes you want to cry.
A single gallon can cost more than $9 at the supermarket. Want to go organic? You might as well buy a bottle of wine.
Which reminds us, there’s only one place to shop for groceries.
Costco. Who cares if our fridge looks like you’re about to host a Super Bowl party for 50. Do you know how much we SAVED?!
It’s also where you stock up on treats to bring to mainland friends and family.
Kona coffee and chocolate-covered mac nuts, anyone?
You’re cuckoo for coco puffs. (NOT the cereal. )
The little chocolate-filled puffs of magic from Liliha Bakery are at every office party, birthday party and family party. There’s a reason why they sell between 4,800 and 7,200 of them every. day.
No one will ever understand our mania for Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
Maybe because there’s only one Krispy Kreme in the entire state. Regardless, we’ll never stop selling those glazed goodies for school fundraisers or sneaking a warm dozen in our carry-ons for the flight home from Vegas. Maui basically won the lottery.
Actually, we kind of have a thing for all doughnuts…
If you put them on a stick, even better, like the sugary glazed nuggets at T Komoda Store & Bakery on Maui.
And don’t even get us started on malasadas.
From Honolulu’s Leonard’s Bakery, which cranks out a mind-boggling number of malasadas daily, to Kamehameha Bakery’s bright-purple taro doughnuts (aka, poi malasadas), we love them all.
We’re proud to be the Asian food mecca of the U.S.
And we’ve got a pho restaurant, Korean barbecue joint and Thai food eatery on every block to prove it.
Everyone knows that Shirokiya’s beer garden is the best place for cheap beer.
Who cares that it’s a food court? The Japanese superstore’s second-floor has fake green vines, good pitchers and perfect pau hana munchies.
But when you are willing to splurge, you risk being yelled at.
Because it’s SO worth it. At Sushi Sasabune (home to Honolulu’s “sushi Nazi”), their motto is “trust me.” And we do, which is why we order the omakase. We just make sure NOT to be late for our reservation. Or use extra shoyu or wasabi when the server specifically says not to. Or take a call on our phones — otherwise, we’ll get an earful.
Speaking of being yelled at when eating out, we also don’t mind doing our own dishes.
Though some say she isn’t all that angry, Won Lam, owner of Angry Korean Lady (aka Ah-Lang) Restaurant, makes sure we don’t disturb her while she cooks our delicious Korean food. If we do, we’ll be washing our own dishes. Our favorite of her strict house rules: “BYOB! Bring me some, or there is a bottle fee. No Coors light, it gives me a headache. No Yellowtail, it gives me a stomachache.” (Tip: See the beer in her hand? That’s her favorite brand.)
You can get plate lunch in a lot of places, but there’s only one Rainbow Drive-In.
The no-frills Honolulu institution may be overrun with tourists, but it’s the only place where you know to ask for “gravy all over”… and a slush float freeze. Cue the post-meal kanak attack.
Zippy’s is Hawaii’s version of Denny’s, only way better.
Whether you’re ending a night of fun with a Zip Pac at 3 a.m. or slurping saimin on a Sunday, there’s always a reason to stop at the place where chili on spaghetti makes sense. Plus, you gotta redeem all those chili tickets you bought from your coworkers at some point!
Saimin is the cure for everything.
You’ve considered flying to Kauai just to get a bowl at Hamura’s Saimin. Or heading out to Honolulu’s Palace Saimin or Jane’s Fountain. And whenever you go, there MUST be chili pepper water.
You eat your popcorn with mochi crunch and furikake.
Isn’t that how everyone does it?
You get how dessert can tie you to your aina.
Kulolo, the chewy-dense sweet made from local taro, coconut milk and sugar, reminds us that even our most ono foods can have a rich history steeped in tradition.