Food for Thought: The Traditional (and not so traditional) Foods of Hawaii

by Austin Weihmiller / Mar 12, 2013 /
Austin Weihmiller's picture

Food for Thought: The Traditional (and not so traditional) Foods of Hawaii

Ono(licious) adjective - Hawaiian vernacular for describing something with taste and quality. Derives from our quirky pigeon language.

Aina noun - Hawaiian for 'land'

 

When people think of Hawaiian food, they probably think of big, flamboyant luaus with fire tossers and pigs with apples in their mouths. They most likely assume that we drink milk exclusively from coconuts, go spear fishing in the wee hours of the morning, and that we relax eating freshly picked mangos or guavas on our world famous white sand beaches. Yeah. That pretty much sums up island life. Everything except the luaus. The only 'luau' I've been to was at my Auntie's 50th, up on the North Shore. Otherwise, they're an event saved for the tourists.

 

I've lived on the island of Oahu for the past 10 years. I consider it my home, even if my family moved from the DC area. The Aloha spirit pumps through my blood. The aina is my one true home. Hawaii is a very special place indeed, in a spiritual way, and a natural way. Its beauty is unmatched, its beaches world class. It's the only chain of islands in which you can find towering and dramatic volcanic mountains and blissful, tranquil beaches on the same patch of land. What most people probably don't realize about this oasis in the sea is that it's a very quirky place. It's quirky in many aspects, including in how we approach food.

 

Beach, Hawaii

 

Hawaii is renowned for its fresh fish. Caught daily by local fishermen, we see a large variety from Mahi Mahi to Ahi to Opakapaka to Moi. We know the best ways to slap a fish on the cooktop or grill and create a masterpiece. Hawaii has a huge Asian influence. Many local traditions are adopted from China and Japan. With that in mind, we make some mean sushi. Lucky for me, one of my favorite places for these small delights is only but a 10 minute bike ride from my house.

 

Something visitors always wonder about is traditional Hawaiian food. I personally run very hot and cold on classic Hawaiiana foods. One of my all time favorite meals my mother cooks is Kaula Pork, or pulled pig. Conventionally, the Hawaiians would get a slab of meat from the pig, and slow cook it in an emu pit (a hot coal filled pit), wrapped in banana leaves. They'd bury it, and let the meat cook to perfection overnight. We don't have an emu pit in our backyard (our neighbor does though, and he cooks our Thanksgiving turkey in it every year), so we stick with an oven. Cook it for 5 to 6 hours with salt, pepper, and liquid smoke, So ono! I could never bring myself to eat poi, though – comprised of a paste made from taro. It's a favorite of many here; kids eat poi the way mainlanders would eat apples or oranges. What really can get to me with poi, though, is the fact that it's purple.

 

Call me a hypocrite, but one of my favorite treats I eat while on island are Acai (ah-sah-EE) Bowls. At this point you could be thinking, 'Aren't Acai berries purple, too?' Yup, and they're more purple than an eggplant. You're probably also thinking, 'Why are you listing Acai here?It's not uniquely Hawaii.' You would be absolutely correct. The Acai Berry is a native to Central and South America, growing in Belize and southward to Peru and Brazil.

 

The deep purple, grape-sized berry is blended into fruit smoothies and other culinary dishes; the palm of the tree it grows upon is used to weave hats, bowls, clothing, thatch roofing, etc. It's demanded on a global scale nowadays, loved for its sweet and exotic taste. Hawaii, along with the rest of the globe, adopted it and added its very own flair to the coveted berry. 

 

Lanikai Juice

 

Here in the islands, a favorite breakfast or snack are Lanikai Juice's Acai Bowls. With three locations on Oahu, it's easy for locals to find these onolicious fruit bowls. Walking into the colorful storefront, you're hit by a tsunami of tropical smells, pop music, and a symphony of blenders. A long line to the cash register is something one must usually endure to grab this refreshing treat.

 

Lanikai Juice

 

Lanikai Juice

 

I order my Acai Extravaganza with extra mixed berries. The tattooed girls working behind the counter get to work, chopping bananas and shaving coconuts. The Acai Berry is blended into a thick paste, and poured into a logoed bowl. Granola and coconut shavings are layered on top. Then comes a healthy dollop of sliced strawberries, blueberries and bananas, a drizzle of honey. It's served up cold, a refreshing delight on a hot summer's morning.

 

Lanikai Juice

 

Lanikai Juice Acai Bowl

 

Lanikai Juice is a part of Hawaii pop culture, and is a great meeting place for business or pleasure. Not only do they serve up a variety of Acai Bowls, but a large selection of smoothies is there for your choosing. I recommend a Guava Breeze if you're parched and in search of a beverage. A healthy and alternative purchase from Lanikai Juice can be acquired for less than 10 bucks a head!

 

Lanikai Juice

 

Acai is definitely not a Hawaiian specialty. But it has been adopted by our culture, and written into our local menus. Acai, even though it's consumed globally, can be harder to come by than one may imagine. If one asks someone in the middle of Kanas for an Acai Smoothie, don't be surprised if their reaction is one of confusion. All and all, Acai has become a part of Hawaiian living just as much as surfing or hiking. It comes with the Aloha spirit, and it's a great and very healthy way to start, or end, your perfect day in paradise.

 

Lanikai Juice

 

 

 

 

 

Austin Weihmiller is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Austin Weihmiller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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