There are plenty of creature comforts for those that come to simply laze on the white sands of Waikiki, Oahu. Including the food.
It would be easy to visit from mainland America (or Australia) and eat the same food as home. Want to dine at upmarket steak houses, swish burger joints and fancy Japanese restaurants every night? You can, that sounds amazing, delicious… and expensive.
Prefer to explore further than the sanitised tourist strips (and traps)? For those of us who wish to eat local and save money for activities, here are some places to get your munch on.
It’s was certainly a blast exploring the island of Oahu on my (expanding) gut.
A Plate Lunch
Two large scoops of rice, macaroni or leafy salad and a meat entree often make up this quintessential meal. Rumoured to have been borne out of the influence of Japanese Bento, what looks a little like a plate of leftovers can be found on every corner of the Hawaiian islands.
Rarely pretty, always delicious and generally costing under $10. A plate lunch will fill up your belly as well as landfill, as they are often served in styrofoam. It is worth noting a shift to many places offering recyclable or biodegradable plates though.
Fatty pork wrapped in taro leaves and steamed till it all falls apart in your mouth like butter. This native Hawaiian dish is traditionally placed in an underground oven and served with sweet potato (yam) and butterfish.
After the leaves have been cooked for a possible eternity they taste a little like mild collard greens, spinach or silverbeet. The sweet and smokiness of the pork diffuses through the leaves and is quite possibly the loveliest marriage of meat and greens on earth.
Puce grey-purple goo, with the consistency of clag. Mmmm.
Poi certainly makes up for its lack of aesthetic appeal with it’s sweet, sour and sticky taste. It’s pounded, baked or steamed taro root, that is traditionally meant to be eaten with your hands. The consistency meant to be gluggy and sticky enough to scoop with fingers alone.
While many can’t handle the taste on its own claiming a grey, musty flavourlessness. Poi is most often served as a dipping accompaniment to traditional foods like laulau and salty Kalua pig.
A dish that has arguably taken over the world. The humble poké bowl has become a trendy lunch staple in food courts across the world.
The traditional Hawaiian version often consists of white rice and fresh, raw Ahi Tuna, limu (seaweed), inamona (candlenuts), salt, onions and a few different dressing options, like spice your personal level. You can find poké almost everywhere, like Poke Bar on the main strip of Waikiki. However, if you venture further out from the main drag to places like Ahi Assassins (Honolulu) or to the back of markets like Kahuku Superette (North Shore) the dish is arguably more “authentic”, cheaper and undoubtedly more fun to find and order from.
A dish made from only 4 simple ingredients (coconut milk, cornstarch if you don’t have arrowroot, sugar and water), Haupia is a staple of any luau, cookout or local Hawaiian restaurant. It’s even served in a pie at McDonald’s across Hawaii instead of the traditional apple version.
With a consistency of slightly underset jelly cut into squares, haupia is deliciously sweet and extremely… well… coconutty. If you don’t like coconut, you’ll hate haupia. It’s served complimentary at places like Helena’s alongside the traditional dishes and is the perfect dessert to end a hearty local meal.
Not technically a traditional Hawaiian dish, it’s worth mentioning the abundance of fresh shrimp. Or if you’re Aussie… prawns.
Hawaii is the shrimp breeding capital of the world. Which means a heck of a lot of fresh, local, inexpensive shrimp around. The North Shore of Oahu boasts some of the freshest shrimp, with Fumi’s Kahuku Shrimp Truck being a popular destination for fresh off the net catch, sitting literally next to the farm.
The ultimate comfort breakfast food, Loco Moco usually consists of a hearty beef patty atop a mountain of rice, smothered in rich gravy and topped with a fried egg.
It’s not a dish for someone wanting a light meal, with quite a rich combination of flavours. From fancy restaurants in Waikiki to McDonald’s and everything in between, you can get Loco Moco for your morning meal pretty much everywhere. However, if you want the true local taste experience, add some fried spam.
Spam is absolutely everywhere across Hawaii.
According to the Spam website “The true root of the island’s love for Spam products goes back to World War II when the luncheon meat was served to GIs.
However, spam musubi, a slice of grilled Spam on top of a block of rice, wrapped in sushi seaweed is the ultimate snack food. If you disagree, fight me. It’s cheap, tasty and readily available from pretty much any convenience store in Hawaii.
Leonards bakery was founded in 1952 and is hands down one of the best doughnut experiences you will ever have. In. Your. Life.
Serving up piping hot Portuguese doughnuts called Malasadas, it’s worth getting there early to beat the inevitable queues. And there will be queues because they are just that good.
Bonus: Shave-Ice, Acai Bowls and Coffee
Almost every food recommendation for Hawaii will include trying out Shave Ice, Acai (and Pitaya) bowls, and the coffee.
All of which are readily available and ultimately instagrammable. Head to the north shore to Matsumoto’s for the most popular shave ice and make sure you get it with the sweetened condensed milk and all the trimmings. A hearty heart attack will follow but it’s totally worth it for the gram.