Because Hawaii is a place of such diverse cultures, it became inevitable that elements of these cultures would overlap – particularly in the food. Because of it, quite a few new dishes have been created, so, if you are ever in Hawaii, you should be sure to try them. Without further ado, here is a Hawaii food bucket list (from a local).
Everyone makes fun of Hawaii locals for eating Spam. Well wait until you try it in musubi form. A musubi is traditionally a spam and rice roll wrapped in seaweed, but recently I’ve seen other items added to it, like egg, avocado, and even smoked eel. While locals prefer to get their musubis from 7/11, you can also get some from the nearby ABC stores.
Fun fact: Spam is actually made in Minnesota.
Passion Orange Guava Juice. It’s delicious. You can find it at almost any grocery store on the island.
I’ve already written quite extensively on the four best poke places to go to on Oahu, so check out this blog post if you’re interested.
Punaluu Bake Shop Bread
This item may be a little harder to find, but trust me, these loaves of heavenly dough are worth it. Baked at the southern-most tip of the United States on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Punaluu Bake Shop sells sweet bread in a variety of my flavors – my favorites being traditional, guava, and taro. If you are on any island other than the Big Island, check the local Costco, or, if you are on Oahu or Kauai, check the Island Country Market.
Poi in Some Form
I’m not really a fan of the sticky gooey form of taro known as poi. But if you bake it into bread or even mochi donut form, I’m about it.
The most famous places to get malasadas, a type of Portuguese donut, in Hawaii is either at Leonard’s Bakery or Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery (Check out this post, where I compare the two bakeries – all we decide a winner?). These treats are definitely a local favorite worth trying. I would recommend the original, the cinnamon sugar, or, if you are feeling a bit adventurous, the li hing mui one.
Manapua are meat-filled steamed buns. Heavily influenced by the Chinese dish cha siu bao, the local manapua dish has incorporated a bit of Hawaiian flavor as well.
Hawaiian Chili Pepper Water
Hawaiian chili pepper water is less of a food and more of a seasoning. Back in the day, ancient Hawaiians used to combine water, sea salt, and Hawaiian chili peppers to add a little kick to their dishes. Today, that seasoning is known as Hawaiian chili pepper water.
Over the years, many variations of this spicy seasoning have popped. The Hawaiian hot sauce from Kauai Juice Co. — one of the best Kauai restaurants, by the way — has tried to keep things as close to the original version as possible. Then, there’s the popular Maui-based Adoboloco hot sauce brand, which has come up with a dozen variations on this ancient Hawaiian spice.
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck (Oahu-specific)
Many lists will tell you any North Shore shrimp truck will do. That is not the case. You must go to Giovanni’s (I promise this is not a sponsored post lol).
My go-to is always the garlic shrimp – and I recommend that for everyone. For those of you who are going to walk up to the shrimp truck and order the extra spicy shrimp to seem extra macho, don’t do it. I have never met a single person who could tolerate the spicy shrimp. But we all know that’ll make you want to order it more. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Haupia in Some Form
Haupia is a coconut-pineapple pudding dessert that you definitely need to try. Ted’s Bakery has some in pie-form for ya, ready to go!
If you’re looking for more of Hawaii’s sweet treats, this Hawaii desserts article is a fantastic read.
I’ve noticed that on the mainland (also known as the continental United States), many ice cream places are trying to pass off their version of the dole whip. But nothing will compare to the original dole whip of the Dole Plantation of Oahu.
Pro Tip: if you have a local friend, have them come with you. They can get a bit of a discount on this delicious treat for ya.
Loco Moco is composed of a scoop of rice topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and gravy. Don’t knock it until you try it (hopefully at L&L).
This typical luau food is a must-have. If prepared traditionally (which is still sometimes done), the whole pig is actually cooked in a hole in the ground. While it’s quite the extensive process, the result is worth it.
To get the best kalua pig in the islands, be sure to visit one of these fantastic Hawaiian restaurants in Hawaii.
You’re most likely to find huli-huli chicken at a school fundraiser or a random grill on the side of the road. Because the term “huli-huli” was trademarked, you aren’t about to see this teriyaki-infused, constantly-turned, grill-flavored chicken on any menu, so keep your eyes peeled for those alternative options.
Just about everyone else on the entirety of the internet will tell you go to go to Matsumoto’s Shave Ice. However, as I mentioned in a previous post, I think that place is a tourist trap. The shave ice there is a little too sweet even for my taste – and I have a serious sweet tooth.
Instead I recommend Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice, because they use all-natural fruity flavors and a smooth ice texture. As a matter of fact, Ululani’s is my favorite shave ice spot anywhere in Hawaii! For now, they have locations on Maui and the Big Island.
Pro Tip: It is shave ice. Not shaved ice. If you are going to go around calling it shaved ice, you better get used to iced cream too. Any place that says shaved ice isn’t making it right.
I just recently came to realize that saimin is a local dish. It’s kind of like a combo between Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino pancit. And surprisingly this combo works quite well.
Li Hing Mui
Li Hing Mui is kind of like a sweet, spicy, sour plum powder. You put it on shave ice, malasadas, and fresh or dried fruit. Honestly, you have to try it to understand how good it is.
To get a whole guava, you’ll have to go to either a local farmers market or a Foodland (a local grocery store). Usually, you’ll get to buy some pink guava, but on occasion you may come across some white guava as well.
Mochi with and without ice cream
I found out that many mainlanders think that mochi is mochi ice cream. In other words, the ice cream is a part of the mochi. No, that is not the case. There is mochi without ice cream, and it is bomb. You can easily buy some at Foodland. But if you are committed to your mochi ice cream, Bubbies is a great place to get some (and in tons of flavors too!)
Homemade Butter Mochi
You have to have some local connections to get this one, but there is a third kind of mochi that’s absolutely fantastic. Butter mochi. And it’s best if it’s homemade. I’ve tried buying it at local grocery stores or farmers markets, but it’s just not the same cake-y, butter-y flavor.
As mentioned in a previous post on the local dialect in Hawaii, lilikoi means passion fruit. And you can’t leave Hawaii without getting something lilikoi-flavored. Lilikoi shave ice, lilikoi mochi ice cream, lilikoi cheese cake, or if you go to fancy restaurants, sometimes they’ll add lilikoi sauces to their dishes.
Honolulu Cookie Company’s Fruit-Flavored Cookies
Yes, I know, fruit-flavored cookies sound odd. But trust me on this one. Where else are you going to be able to try pineapple, guava, or mango cookies? And they also make a great souvenir to take home.
But What If I’m Not Coming to Hawaii Any Time Soon? How Can I Try These Hawaii Food Bucket List at Home?
Want to try some of these foods while you’re at home? I HIGHLY recommend purchasing Maui local, Alana Kysar’s cookbook, Aloha Kitchen. In it, Kysar documents all of the recipes that Hawaii locals love! Written by one Hawaii local, and recommended by another – how much better could this Hawaii cookbook get?
Guess what?! Because you enjoyed this post so much, I decided to make a PART 2 of the Hawaii Food Bucket List!!
Do you have any more items to add to this Hawaii Food Bucket List? Write them below in the comments!
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58 Replies to “A Hawaii Food Bucket List (From a Local)”
I’m all about the spam. Was just in Maui recently and somehow didn’t get any the entire trip. I legit made us stop at Foodland so I could grab some before we had to go return the car and go to the airport, ha.
Lol love that!!
I love trying out new foods and Hawaii seems so exotic! There is a huge list of things to try out 🙂 Hope I can try them all one day!
I know, right?! I actually cut a few items of this list because it was getting way to long lol.
Made my mouth watering. Will definitely be eating all of this when I go to Hawaii
Yay!! I’m excited for you!
Wow, such incredible details here, it’s so incredible how much Japan has influenced Hawaiian cooking!
It really is!
A food bucket list! There’s so many things I want to try like Mochi, POG, Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, Dole Whip, Loco Moco and Shave Ice! I’m a huge foodie and I love trying out local stuff when I travel!
So glad you liked the list! I just added a part two of the Hawaii food bucket list today, if you want to check it out :).
The saimin sounds pretty interesting as it’s a fusion of food from 3 different cultures. Will ensure I taste it if I visit Hawaii.
Yeah it’s quite the interesting dish. I didn’t even know it was a local thing until just a couple of months ago!!
Wow what a selection of weird and wonderful foods! I did not see hardly any of these when I visited Hawaii. To be fair it was a long time ago…. so, perfect excuse to visit gain and feast on all those treats you’ve recommended 🙂
Oh yeah, for sure! You can always find another great excuse to come visit Hawaii again :).
Oh, this brings back great memories when we visited Oahu – the pineapple plantation, the wonderful traditional Hawaiian vegetables – mmmh
Aw so glad you enjoyed your trip :).
This is the best thing ever!! Hawaii is a top bucket list for me and all yoru suggestions are going in my mouth!! YUM!
LOL glad that you loved it so much!! And yes, you should definitely find a way to make it to Hawaii!
OK I’m officially hungry!! The food looks really amazing and I can’t wait to try it!
I’ve never been to Hawai’i!! *insert crying face emoji here* Oh my days, the food makes me wanna extra go now. You know, all this while, I’ve been referring to it as “shaved ice”…whoopsies! Lol. As for the spicy shrimp…girl, in my country, there’s a soup aptly named “peppersoup” and I can assure you that it ain’t sweet. If I survived that from childhood till today, I can handle Hawai’i spicy shrimp. Lmao. This post is mouth-watering!!!!!
You should try to make it here one day!! And lol if you survive Giovanni’s spicy shrimp, PLEASE let me know 🙂 !!
A great post to read for a foodie like me! Seems like Hawaii is the place to visit for people with a sweet tooth right? I want to try a Huapia!!
Thank you! And lol I guess I did focus on the sweet stuff – there’s probably a few more savory things to try that I forget about because I definitely love sweets :).
Some of these sound so strange!!! I’ve heard about the Hawaiian obsession with spam, but I just don’t understand, ecspecially is sushi form!! LOL. But some of the other things I could definitely get behind, like the sweet bread and that shrimp truck!
LOL I guess they would sound strange to someone who’s not local. I think spam musubis are delicious, but it’s a 50-50 shot that someone who visits will like it (in my experience).
Wow! I have never been to Hawaii, would love to go though!
You definitely should!
Wow, I have never heard about the Hawaii local food from a local. This article is so interesting and so are the captures 🙂
Thank you so much! So glad you enjoyed the list :).
Wohooo! are you kidding me? 🙂
Lol, no, all of these are 100% real!!
A very comprehensive list – makes me hungry reading it though!
Lol that’s the goal (well, and it to get you to try some of the foods eventually 🙂 ).
I love trying new food … some of these are super interesting and they have such strange shapes and colours!!!! Love it
Lol yeah I guess our foods do like kind of odd (especially that poi mochi donut lol).
I now really want to order the spicy shrimp ???? Haha. What a great list! Almost all of them are new to me, but will definitely be trying them out when I finally make it over!
Yay! So glad I added a bunch of new foods to your list!
I have only associated spam with Hawaii. The spicy shrimp looks wonderful, thanks for sharing your list!
We have so much more! I’m happy that I was able to expand your horizons a bit.
I love food in Hawaii! I can’t decide if kalua pork, dole whip, or spam musubi are my favorites. I suppose they will all have to tie.
They are all so delicious!
Mouth watering. On our trip to Hawaii, not sure of other things but these are definitely on the checklist. Thanks for sharing.
I dream about going back to Leonards. I mean melt in my mouth malasadas. We loved Oahu and look forward to returning to Hawaii for the all the mentioned food
Leonard’s malasadas are SO good!!
My travel itineraries are usually guided by food, if I’m ever lucky enough to go to hawaii is going to be no different, these foods looks amazing!
Lol I love doing food-centered trips.
The guava chiffon pancakes at Cinnamon’s- yum!
Haha those are fantastic too!
This is super great! Hoping to get to Hawaii asap!! thank you!!
Hope you can visit soon, Theresa!
These are all my faves too… I learned about poke bowls there too..
Poke bowls are one of the best foods that Hawaii has to offer!
If you can find Mountain Apples, they are my favorite while in Hawaii. The red ones are sweeter.
Ooh mountain apples are so good! Thanks for reminding me, Laronna! They’re so hard to find that I forgot about them, but, if you’re lucky, you might be able to find them at a farmer’s market.
I love coconut candy. I don’t know that it’s specific to Hawaii but I first had it on Maui. It’s melt in your mouth delicious!
Hi Danna! Ooh coconut candy is a fun treat!