The Hawaiian Food and “Local Food” That Will Make You Want to Visit the Islands

From Spam musubi to malasadas and luau stew, these are the iconic Hawaiian foods you must know! Plus, "local food," that's only found in Hawaii.

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Spam Musubi

Spam musubi is Hawaii’s ultimate handheld snack. A small block of rice comes topped with a slice of Spam and wrapped in nori (seaweed). This portable treat is delicious, and enjoyed both hot and at room temperature. It’s found everywhere from convenience stores to potlucks. FYI: This is how Spam wound up in Hawaii.

For a dessert that contains a spam flavor, this spam figgy pudding offers just the meal.

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Mochiko Chicken

Think of mochiko chicken as Hawaii’s version of popcorn chicken. Bite-size pieces of chicken are marinated in a mochiko flour (sweet rice flour) mixture and deep fried. It’s crisp, juicy and just garlicky enough! This dish is served hot, usually with a big bowl of rice or as part of a bento box.

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Loco Moco

Loco moco is a hearty dish, especially craveable after a surf session at the beach or a long hike. A generous portion of rice serves as the base of this dish. It’s topped with a grilled hamburger patty (or two), sunny side up eggs and gravy all over. Let the gravy soak into the rice and dig in!

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Pork Hash

Love Chinese shumai? Then you’ll love pork hash, which is Hawaii’s version of this classic dim sum treat. A mixture of pork, shrimp and water chestnuts are stuffed into a dumpling wrapper (left open at the top) and steamed. Dip in a mixture of soy sauce with hot mustard, and enjoy.

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Hawaii’s famous noodle soup dish is called saimin. Created during Hawaii’s plantation era, this dish combines elements of Chinese wonton mein and Japanese ramen, and comes complete with toppings like char siu pork and kamaboko (steamed fish cake). From old school saimin shops to McDonald’s, saimin is on the menu at many Hawaii restaurants.

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The best doughnut in the world is called a malasada. With Portuguese origins, one of Hawaii’s most iconic desserts are these glorious, puffy orbs of fried dough, generously rolled in sugar. Picture a golden yeast doughnut, but more eggy and without a hole in the center. Order it with fillings of haupia (Hawaiian pudding) or chocolate pudding.

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Manuapa is a local creation that evolved from Chinese char siu baos. It’s slightly sweeter and significantly larger. Manuapa are offered both steamed and baked, and are enjoyed as a snack. Pork is the classic filling but manapuas are also stuffed with everything from chicken curry to sweet coconut.

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Plate Lunch

Plate lunch is both a dish and a concept in Hawaii. A classic plate lunch features two scoops of rice, one scoop of macaroni salad and one type of meat (like shoyu chicken, kalbi, mochiko chicken, etc). Portions are generous and hearty. Every local has their own opinion on where to get the best plate lunch.

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Macaroni Salad

Macaroni salad is a popular side dish (and key part of a proper plate lunch) in Hawaii. It’s made with elbow macaroni, mayonnaise (always Best Foods brand) and grated onion and/or vinegar. Many add their own flourish including kamaboko (fishcake) or ulu (breadfruit).

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Haupia is a classic Hawaiian dessert that is like a cross between coconut pudding and jelly. Lightly sweet and made primarily from coconut milk (best with fresh coconut milk), haupia is served chilled and cut into squares. It’s most delicious after a full Hawaiian feast. Learn how to make the best recipes from cooks in Hawaii.

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Laulau is a traditional Hawaiian dish featuring steamed parcels of pork, butterfish (also called black cod) and vegetables (like carrots and sweet potato) wrapped in luau leaves and ti leaves. Remove the non-edible ti leaf layer and dig in. Laulau is savory and tender, always enjoyed with rice and poi.

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Luau Stew

Luau stew is the ultimate Hawaiian comfort dish. It’s made by slowly cooking luau leaves with sweet Maui onions until the leaves are super tender. This dish is often compared to braised collard greens. Luau stew can be made plain, or cooked with squid, beef, chicken or pork.

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Poi is made from the taro plant and is a key part of Hawaiian cuisine. The root of the taro plant is steamed, then mashed and mixed with water (poi can be made thick or thin depending on personal preference). It has the texture of a sticky pudding and is slightly sweet with a tang. Treat it like a starch and enjoy with Hawaiian dishes like laulau and luau stew. You can also find taro on the menu at McDonald’s in Hawaii.

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Furikake Chex Mix

Furikake Chex Mix is a sweet and salty snack popular with both kids and adults. Commonly found at local bake sales and snack shops, Furikake Chex Mix includes a variety of cereals, pretzels and chips, all tossed with soy sauce, furikake and butter. It’s baked low and slow until crisp.

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Shave Ice

In Hawaii, it’s called “shave ice” (or “ice shave” if you’re on the island of Hawaii), but never “shaved ice.” The delicate ice is topped with your choice of syrup including flavors like lilikoi (passion fruit), mango and guava, and toppings like fresh mochi balls, ice cream and sweet red beans. It’s refreshing on hot island days!

Onolicious Hawaii
Onolicious Hawaii is a blog by Kathy YL Chan, a born and raised Hawaii local. From recipes to food and travel guides, Onolicious is a celebration of beautiful Hawaii!