Up until the 18th century, Hawaiian cuisine was almost entirely defined by flora and fauna found on the Hawaiian islands. Native Hawaiians planted root vegetables, sugarcane, pineapples, coconuts, potatoes, and yams; they fished the vast oceans surrounding the islands and farmed cattle and pigs. It all began changing once workers from other parts of the world showed up on the shores of the different islands and introduced their own cuisines. Today, Hawaiian food features flavors and techniques…
that originated in China, Japan, Portugal, the Philippines, and other countries. Before Hawaii became a state, American and British missionaries would travel there and they, too, introduced their cuisines. Today, some of the biggest influences in Hawaiian recipes are Asian spices, like teriyaki, soy sauce, and bagoong, a type of condiment made of salted fermented fish.
Traditional Hawaiian Recipes
There is a category of regional cuisine from Hawaii developed by chefs for the purpose of promoting the islands and their fusion cooking style. Some home chefs mention that Hawaiian recipes often include long lists of spices, but preparing these meals is pretty easy. Poi is one of those dishes you will find in homes on Oahu, Maui, and other islands. It's often one of the first foods Hawaiian babies learn to eat, and nursing moms can even add breast milk to the recipe. To make poi at home, you will need taro root (or sweet potatoes if you can't get your hands on taro), coconut oil, lard or butter, fermented vegetable juice, and broth or water. The taro root is baked and then covered with salt and fermented vegetable juice. Wrap it securely in a towel and leave it out to ferment overnight. Then mix melted butter with taro root from a food processor. If it's too thick, add some broth or water.
After "aloha," the second-most recognizable Hawaiian word is "luau." You don't even have to have visited the islands to know that a luau is a big bash and a feast. But this luau is considered one of the best Hawaiian recipes and fuses traditional culinary styles with flavors and techniques from newer migrants. It's typically made with squid, taro leaves (luau), red sea salt, baking soda, butter, onions, coconut milk, and sugar. After boiling the taro leaves, reduce heat and cover for about an hour. Separately, sauté onions and squid and then combine all ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes.
Poke is a traditional Hawaiian dish and has some obvious characteristics of Japanese-style cooking. To make ahi poke (also called tuna poke), combine sashimi grade ahi tuna with a variety of seasonings, including sweet yellow onion, green onion, soy sauce, sesame oil, sweet chili sauce, ginger, and sesame seeds. Serve it with sticky white rice and seaweed salad.
Hawaiian Recipes with Foreign Influences
Spam -- the canned ham, not unwanted email -- is very popular in Hawaii. In fact, based on population, Hawaii is the largest consumer of Spam only behind one other country. Not surprisingly, the meat product was originally introduced to Hawaiians by American troops, especially during times of fishing prohibition after World War 2. But several decades later, there are lots of different ways to eat Spam while on the islands. You can fry it and eat with white rice, put it in baked macaroni and cheese, or place grilled slices on a bed of rice wrapped with nori -- a dish known as Spam musubi and looks a lot like sushi.
Another recipe that never would have been here if weren't for those American servicemen is loco moco. Many visitors to the island enjoy the original version made with Spam. But one of the latest recipes offered to locals and travelers is the kind made with hamburger meat. First, you fry the patties, so they're firm and then remove from the pan. Add onion and water to the meat drippings until the onion is soft and then stir in mushrooms. Add gravy to the skillet. Once it's hot, place meat patties back in the pan and let all the ingredients simmer together. Assemble by placing a layer of white rice on a dish, then a beef patty, a fried egg, and top it off with gravy.
In the 2000s, a dish like Huli Huli chicken is considered a classic, but back in the 1950s when Islanders only just started combining grilled chicken with pineapple, ginger, and soy sauce marinade, you could more easily identify the Asian influences. This chicken recipe is made by sealing boneless chicken fillets in brown sugar, ketchup, soy sauce, sherry, ginger, and garlic marinade overnight and then grilling the chicken the next day. Once the chicken is nearly cooked all the way through, baste it once more with excess marinade. This recipe also works well with pork chops. And if you don't have a grill, or it's winter where you are, you can make this healthy recipe at home using a skillet.