- Hawaiian cuisine is a delicious amalgamation of many cultures and experiences. Hawaiians have merged the Polynesian, Chinese and Japanese influences of their culture with the plentiful local crops the islands provide. Through their painful history of colonization, Hawaiian cuisine has prevailed and adapted with the preservation techniques and new ingredients brought with each wave.
- The dishes we recognize as traditionally Hawaiian- kalua pork, loco moco, laulau- are examples of cultural mergings made with ingredients used since the Kingdom of Hawaii began. The food has been around so long that you can see various waves of Hawaiian cuisine created over decades. The now-retro classics of the 1960’s and 1970’s tiki cuisine can still be found but there are fresher, more modern preparations increasingly popping up.
- Fruit is a major part of Hawaiian food, and not just for snacking. The pineapple is not just a symbol of hospitality here- it is used in a number of dishes, sweet and savory. The tart fruit is an amazing tenderizer, and is often used as a marinade for meats and vegetables.
Taro (or kalo, in Hawaiian) is an abundant crop on all of the Hawaiian islands, and the starchy tuber has been used as sustenance for decades. Most commonly, taro is turned into poi, a ubiquitous addition to many a two-scoop plate lunch. The root is fermented and then pounded thoroughly into a gluey purple mash. Sticky and slightly bland, it admittedly is an acquired taste, but speaks to the history of the islands more than any other dish.
STEP AWAYYY FROM THE RESTAURANT:
If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a Hawaiian home, you will be greeted with unending hospitality– and you’ll probably get to try some Spam. Though the canned meat mix has gotten a bad rap on the mainland, talented Hawaiian cooks use this as a versatile and thrifty ingredient in many iterations. Try spam musubi: seasoned sushi rice topped with seared Spam and wrapped in seaweed. You can find it in any grocery store or roadside stand, and it’s somehow much more than the sum of its parts.
BRING IT HOME:
This recipe is inspired by native Hawaiian Keoni Chang, the executive chef of Foodland. The supermarket chain on the islands is a well-known, if unexpected, poke mecca. You can read more about his approach to traditional Hawaiian cuisine here.
Poke is a traditional Hawaiian preparation and showcases the stunningly fresh fish available just about everywhere. The quality of fish here is imperative- make sure you tell your fishmonger you are planning to eat raw and get sushi grade. This light, flavorful dish is great as an appetizer or light lunch over greens.
1 tbs. hijiki (dried seaweed, available at most grocery stores)
16 oz. sushi grade tuna, diced evenly into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 sweet onion (Vidalia), diced fine
2 scallions, finely chopped
4 tbs. soy sauce
4 tbs. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Steamed white rice or mixed greens, for serving
Place hijiki in small bowl and cover with hot tap water. Let stand for 5 minutes to soften seaweed and drain. Combine all ingredients, including hijiki, in medium bowl and mix well. Let stand for 15 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Serve immediately over steamed white rice or greens.