Hawaii’s Traditional Foods and Flavors from Poi to Poke

Hawaii's Traditional Foods

You’ll probably stumble upon some peculiar looking edibles during your time in paradise and might be tempted to try some of these traditional foods and flavors from Hawaii. But before you indulge in these fabulous foods and flavors of the Hawaiian Islands, perhaps you’d like to know some details about them, like what that mound of purple paste served on ti leaves is, or whether that raw fish is edible. The following are some of the most popular ono (delicious) foods and flavors that we recommend you treat your taste buds to, especially now that you’ll know exactly what to expect.



Poi is a viscous, purple paste made from the root of kalo (taro). The kalo plant is similar to a yam or potato, but instead of baking its roots, they are ground and fermented into a unique, pungent paste. Some say poi is an acquired taste, but it was once, and still is, a nutritious staple in the Hawaiian diet. If the taste is too bitter, add some sugar or ingredients like bananas to cut down on its powerful punch.



Kalo is also used in laulau where smoky-flavored meat is wrapped in layers of taro or ti leaves and steamed in an imu (underground hot rock oven) until soft. This slow-cooking process brings the leaves to the consistency of spinach. Laulau is traditionally made with pork but is also commonly served with fish or chicken.



Although not native to Hawaii, you’d be hard-pressed to find a luau that doesn’t serve this dish. This island favorite is crafted with raw salmon that is cured with salt, and diced with tomatoes, onions and chili peppers. Many people find this dish too powerful on its own (akin to eating salsa) so pair it with poi or another dish for a match made in Hawaii heaven.



A Hawaiian-style beef jerky that was originally eaten by paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys). Pipikaula or “beef rope” was once prepared by rubbing strips of beef with Hawaiian salt and drying them under the sun. These days, you’ll find it on the menu as a contemporary side dish, baked in an oven, broiled, and rubbed or marinated with crushed garlic, shoyu (soy sauce), brown sugar or spices.



Pronounced poh-kay, this dish is created with raw fish cubed into hearty slices and seasoned with a variety of sauces. Ahi (yellowfin tuna) is the most commonly used fish, seasoned with scallions, onions, sesame seed and oil, garlic, ginger and seaweed. The raw fish salad can also be served with salmon, clam and octopus in spicy or soy sauce.



This is a highly sought after and favored dessert across the Islands. The sweet coconut-based confection, which often mingles with chocolate, includes a harmonious blend of gelatin and pudding. These days, it’s fairly simple to make but before cornstarch was invented, the dessert was extremely laborious.

Now that your mouth is likely watering and you know there’s no cause for concern to indulge, it’s time to try some of these traditional foods and flavors.

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