Every region has its own flavor when it comes to music, culture, and food. One of the best parts of traveling to an exotic location is to try and taste new things – but if you really want to discover the real flavor of any town, state, or region, you have to try the street food. This type of food is what the locals typically eat and share. Hawaii is no different, you will find small shops, food trucks, and street vendors selling their tasty dishes. Hawaiian food is a delicious blend of Polynesian and Japanese flavors. So when visiting the islands, lookout for the best street food you must try in Hawaii, the USA – trust us, you’ll be glad you did.
1. Huli Huli chicken
Huli huli chicken is grilled chicken marinated in teriyaki sauce. This Hawaiian staple dates back to 1955. A local businessman, Ernest Morgado, shared the first Huli Huli chicken with some local farmers. The sticky, sweet sauce was his grandmother’s recipe and is still a trade secret today. Ernest decided to market his creation under the name Huli Huli to describe the method used to cook it. Huli means “turn” in Hawaiian and the marinated chicken is grilled between two racks that turn it as it cooks. While the original recipe is a closely guarded secret, some of the ingredients seem to include ginger, soy sauce, garlic. The sweet flavor may be honey or brown sugar.
Poke, pronounced “poh-keh”, is a native dish of the islands. Fishermen would cut up the small reef fish they had caught and mix it with things they had on hand, such as sea salt or seaweed. When the Japanese made it to the islands in the 1800’s they brought them the ability to fish further out to sea. Then poke became a dish made from ahi tuna or octopus. Today, you can find shops all over the globe selling this raw fish delight. But authentic Hawaiian poke is not made from salmon or pineapple. To put it simply, it is marinated raw fish served over rice.
3. Spam musubi
Nowhere on Earth is Spam as loved as much as it is in Hawaii. Spam musubi is a take on the Japanese dish omusubi. Spam musubi is a slice of grilled Spam on a bed of rice. Then the two are wrapped together with a piece of nori or seaweed. The dish is one of the locals’ favorite snacks. They love the dish for the taste and the portability. Don’t be surprised to see displays of Spam musubi near the cash registers in most convenience stores.
4. Then mochi
Poi mochi is one of the sweetest treats you will find in Hawaii. These lovely little donuts are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. They are a simple combination of poi (taro), rice flour, baking powder, and sugar. In most cases, they are finished off with a sticky glaze. You can find plenty of shops that specialize in making these donuts but some of the tastiest places to buy them are from the street vendors. You will find some variations of poi mochi also that include fruit, nuts, and spices.
Andagi is another example of how Japanese and Hawaiian cultures have blended over the years. Andagi, or Okinawan donuts, are crisp little fried balls of dough. The recipe is simple, just flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar. The batter is then dropped by small spoonfuls into hot oil until it cooks up all golden brown and delicious. Over the generations, Hawaiians have added vanilla and milk to their version making these treats lighter and even tastier. You can find them at any carnival or street festival as well as buy them from street vendors throughout the islands.
6. Garlic shrimp
Garlic shrimp is a popular street food originating on the north shore of Oahu. Plump shrimp are cooked in a rich, buttery sauce and served over coconut rice. You can find shrimp trucks on every island and in every city of Hawaii today. This dish is fabulous if you love the bold flavor of garlic combined with the subtle sweet taste of shrimp. This is one Hawaiian street food that is a must-try.
7. Waffle dog
The waffle dog has been a Hawaiian treasure for over 90 years. It originated in Oahu’s first drive-thru diner, KC Drive Inn. For generations, folks would drive for miles to satisfy their craving for the waffle dog. It starts with a smoky hot dog that is wrapped in a slightly sweet batter then cooked so it has all the ridges and grooves of a traditional waffle. KC’s closed in 2005 but the owner’s grandson still caters to waffle dog lovers by selling them at fundraisers and the annual Bon festival. Be prepared for a long wait to taste one of these interesting treats.
8. Acai bowl
The acai bowl is a popular breakfast item with the locals. The acai berry originated in Brazil but once it was introduced in Hawaii it took off. There really is no right or wrong way to prepare them. An acai bowl starts with a layer of acai berries. Then more fruit, such as papaya, pineapple, and mango is added and it usually has a sprinkling of some crunchy granola. You can get them in various sizes – everything from a small cup to a large platter for sharing.
9. Crazy mucus
Loco moco is a tasty concoction that can be eaten at any time of day. Traditionally, the dish begins with a layer of rice, topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, then smothered in a rich brown gravy. You can find many variations on this dish, from fried chicken in place of the hamburger or some without the gravy. Many of the upscale restaurants also serve a fancier version of this home-style dish.
Source: Photo by user _e.t used under CC BY-SA 2.0
Malasadas originated in Portugal. The yeast dough is fried up to crunchy goodness on the outside while still being soft on the inside. The traditional malasadas were then coated with cinnamon sugar. In Portugal, they do not make their donuts with holes in the middle or add any type of filling. But the Hawaiians have taken this tasty treat a step further. Hawaiian malasadas are more like the classic donuts you find on the mainland.
Comfort food at its best
While visiting the islands you really must try these Hawaiian comfort foods. None of them are hard to find as many local shops, diners, and restaurants specialize in making one, or more, of them. If you are attending any of Hawaii’s fun festivals you will surely find plenty of vendors serving up hot, fresh andagi or malasadas. Or, grab a true Hawaiian treat like the Spam musubi to nibble on while you enjoy the sights.