Waves crashing on golden beaches, shaggy palms swaying gently, bright sunshine, azure skies and emerald jungle mountains crowned with waterfalls. Most people visit Hawaii to enjoy the beach, to ride the rolling hills through volcano country, to swim and to kayak in the cerulean ocean and to sponge up the aloha spirit, but all that becomes so much better when Hawaiian food is part of the adventure!
Technicolor shave ice. Heaping piles of kimchi fried rice. Sushi omakase from some of the world’s most renowned chefs. Sweet, fresh papayas sliced open at roadside stands. Just-caught poke served with soy sauce and spicy, sweet and crunchy accoutrements. The world is filled with beautiful places and amazing food, but tropically inspired, farm-fresh, flavor-forward food like this can only be found in Hawaii.
The Hawaiian dining experience goes far beyond luaus, kalua pig and poi. In fact, something of a food revolution has long been underway here, compelling the mainland to play catch-up to the responsible farming practices, chefs’ loyalty to local purveyors and the ever-evolving fusion of Asian cuisines that Hawaii has been practicing for decades. The revolution isn’t limited to fine dining either. From vibrant, cosmopolitan Honolulu to the sleepiest surf town on Kauai, delicious flavors are available and can be found in every corner, shave ice shack and sushi bar across the islands. This complex, fascinating and sophisticated food culture isn’t based on trends but, rather, on layers of immigrant influences and millennia of Hawaiian food traditions.
Here, ancient cultures and customs collide. International influences brought to Hawaii over hundreds of years give depth and complexity to any delicious Hawaiian meal. It’s important to note, however, that many foods labeled as “Hawaiian” didn’t actually originate here. Skilled Polynesian navigators landed on the Hawaiian Islands nearly one thousand years ago, and they stocked their canoes with pigs, chickens and dogs, along with the cuttings, tubers and plants necessary to grow taro, sweet potato, breadfruit, bananas, coconuts and sugarcane. Those ingredients became integrated into an agricultural land management system based on the concept of ahupua‘a, wherein land was divided into pie-shaped slices of earth and ocean. These subdivisions yielded everything the ali‘i (chief) and his people needed, from fish to freshwater. At the heart of this cuisine was the staple poi—taro mashed with a carved lava rock and then thinned with water—along with sweet potato, breadfruit, all kinds of seaweed, fruit and some fish (eaten raw, dried or steamed).