Whether you’ve had these staple Hawaiian foods already or not, you’re going to need them at your Hawaiian themed party to make it feel authentic. Food is a massive part of Hawaiian culture, with lots of different tastes and flavors. That means there’ll be plenty of mouthwatering options for all of your guests’ tastes.
Keep reading for the top six most important Hawaiian foods you need to have at your next party!
You’ve probably seen this trendy food item in the states, but did you know it originates in Hawaii?
Poke bowls (pronounced poh-keh) feature super fresh fish cut up into one-inch squares, marinated in sauce and placed atop a bowl of sushi rice. Also included are fresh veggies like seaweed, avocado, and scallions.
You’re probably used to dousing yours with spicy mayo and soy sauce (who can blame you?), but the traditional Hawaiian setup is a little different. The poke is seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt (pa’akai) and combined with seaweed and candlenuts (inamona) in the bowl with rice.
While most poke shops will offer Americanized toppings like teriyaki and spicy mayo, they’ll also feature this traditional setup. If you want the real taste of the islands at your party, stick to tradition it’ll bring out the fresh flavor of the fish superbly!
What’s the deal with Spam and Hawaii?
Here’s the history: after WWII, Hawaii still had a big military presence. We’re talking big. Like, big enough that it was difficult to feed them all.
Enter: SPAM. It was easy to transport to the island, and provided enough meat for all the military men who were seriously lacking in protein. Eventually, so much SPAM was shipped in that it ended up being sold at local supermarkets.
Fast forward to today, and SPAM is considered an essential part of Hawaii’s culinary history. It’s not looked down on as a lesser-than meat like it is on the mainland. In Hawaii, it’s a staple.
Since there were so many Japanese migrant workers after WWII, it’s only natural that they’d influence the cuisine. Spam Musabi is the tasty fusion of Japanese sushi and Hawaii’s love for SPAM.
It’s essentially fried spam atop a square of sushi rice, wrapped together by nori, sashimi-style. Your guests will love it. Pro tip: make sure you cook the SPAM first SPAM straight from the can is the ultimate no-no in Hawaiian culture.
Yes, it sounds like the name of one of Peter Pan’s lost boys. Yes, it’s just as magical.
Poi is a thick, sticky paste made from the root of the taro plant, an ancient and seriously revered vegetable in Hawaiian culture. The leaves can be eaten, too (see laulau below). Poi uses just the root.
Traditionally, the taro root is cooked and then pounded with a big, stone pestle on a wooden surface. Water is slowly added to create a thick paste.
It’s simple to make, but is a hot commodity in Hawaii since there are frequent taro shortages.
Laulau is the main use for the leaves of the taro plant. First, a fatty piece of meat or fish is heavily salted, and then wrapped with the leaves.
Traditionally, the wraps were then placed into underground ovens called “imus” to slowly cook for hours. Today, though, they’re simply tied with some string and steamed.
Laulau is usually served with a side of lomi salmon, another traditional Hawaiian dish, and a big scoop of rice. Taro leaves can be hard to find stateside, but you might have luck at your local Asian or farmer’s market. If not, you can always order frozen lau lau online and reheat for the party!
Lomi salmon: part poke, part salsa.
Lomi salmon doesn’t actually originate in Hawaii, but was brought to the island from other Pacific Islander migrants. Despite this, it’s become a Hawaiian staple.
It’s made by mixing diced tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions with raw salmon that’s been cured with salt for a few hours. It’s essentially a simple, fresh salsa with salmon mixed in to create a salty topping for any dish.
Locals love it atop poi, or on any fatty meats that need some brightening up!
If you’re a BBQ pulled pork lover, kalua pork is for you. It’s essentially the best pulled pork you’ll ever have so good you won’t even need the BBQ sauce. You can find it on almost every lunch and dinner menu on the island, as well as on all the luau menus.
It’s a labor of love, for sure a full pig is cooked in an imu (an underground oven, remember?) for hours, giving it a super unique, earthy, and smoky flavor that other pulled pork just can’t replicate. The long cooking time and lack of oxygen during cooking keeps the pork incredibly moist, too.
You probably don’t have an imu, but you can roast a whole pig on a spit at home, luau style. If you’re hosting a daytime party, pair it with pasta salad, cabbage, and sticky rice for a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch offering. For dinner, top it with lomi salmon and serve with rice and a side of poi.
Pro tip: this is an especially popular dish at weddings because it feeds so many!
Now that you’ve read up on all the most important Hawaiian foods to include at the party, you need to plan your florals! There’s nothing more Hawaiian than a lei.
If you’re having a graduation party, it’s tradition to place a lei around your grad’s neck. Even if no one’s graduating, your guests will love wearing the fresh flower necklace!
Questions? Get in touch to talk all things Hawaii!