What I ate in Hawaii: The good and the heavy

Well, I’m back in Canada. The past week-and-a-half was riddled with obstacles and errors. I did not come home feeling very happy, I must admit, even if I think Hawaii is one of the most special places I’ve been to on this planet. I haven’t been very diligent in keeping up with social media/blogging because this jet lag is like something out of a horror movie. One second I’m happy and alert, the next I’m facedown in my pillow with a river of drool leaking from the corner of my mouth.

Someone on my Facebook page requested that I write about food in Hawaii. It’s probably not what you think it is.

I had a weird idea that Hawaii’s food would be nothing but fresh fruits and veggies (cheap!), light fare, and all locally produced. As it turns out, this is only partially true. Hawaiians also love their meaty, heavy foods. This is great if you’re prone to hangovers and binge-eating inclinations.

I didn’t try it all – no, nowhere close. I didn’t eat at fancy restaurants, because I was broke. My favourite meal was actually at a raw-food restaurant named Maka by Mana in the surf town of Paia, Maui. It was the only thing that didn’t leave me feeling bloated and heavy.

VEGANISM! Rhymes with hedonism.

But here’s what I did eat!

Fish Tacos

I was basically obsessed with my fish tacos. I’d had one or two in Canada, but didn’t overly love it. They’re different in Hawaii, as I imagine they are for most of the Pacific coast. The fish is lightly breaded, like tempura. Even if you’re not fussy about seafood, I assure you, this is different.

The best fish taco I had the entire time was at The Fish Market near Lahaina in Maui. I used Yelp a lot to source good food places while travelling around the state, and it pointed me in the direction of this nondescript hole-in-the-wall with my buddy Evan.

This baby marked the start of a taco obsession.

Hawaiian fish tacos

Close runner-up: the fish tacos at the Kona Brewing Company in Kona, Big Island. They were made with moonfish, and I wish I hadn’t Googled what moonfish are.


Coconut, fresh pineapple, dragon fruit, passion fruit. When you have to Google how to eat a particular fruit, you know you’ve latched onto something special.

My favourite was actually the passion fruit, better known as lilikoi in Hawaii. It’s tangy like kiwi, but sweeter. It’s also used as a popular flavouring for ice-cream, desserts, etc.

Malasadas at Leonard’s

My friend Fidel brought me to Leonard’s because the place is famous for its malasadas – a light, fluffy Portuguese donut. Timbits ain’t got nothin’ on this baby.

Leonard's famous malsadas

It’s located not far from Waikiki on Oahu island. They’re only like, $1 each, so buy 30.

Spam Musubi

I have absolutely no idea what the fascination with Spam is all about, but I figure since Hawaii is a big isolated collection of islands (kinda like Newfoundland), its food shortcomings are made up for with easy things like Spam (kinda like Newfoundland and bologna).

One of the most unusual Spam creations: the Spam Musubi. Like the Portuguese, the Japanese have had MASSIVE influence on Hawaii. I wish I could meet the person who thought slapping a piece of Spam inside musubi was a good idea. It’s actually not too bad, if you don’t think about what Spam is.

Spam musubi

There was a Musubi Café next to my hotel in Waikiki, so I went there for a luxe version: Spam, egg, and bacon.

Loco Moco

There’s not much I loved about this dish. I ate one third of it. I mean, it was tasty, but it’s a disaster. What is Loco Moco? It’s a generous portion of rice topped with a hamburger patty (or three), fried eggs, and SMOTHERED in gravy. How the hell do Hawaiians stay so thin?

I tried this dish in Waikiki, in a little off-the-main-drag area with a collection of food trucks. Look up Pau Hana market.

food truck market in Waikiki

Huli Huli Chicken

While on a tour in Oahu, my guide recommended the Huli Huli Chicken at the place we were stopping for lunch. She did not tell me that the dish would include HALF A CHICKEN. I’m not kidding.

It’s slow roasted chicken, served with sticky rice and mac salad. Do not forget the mac salad. Hawaiian mac salad is a staple and cannot be compared to any other mac salad in the world. Mac salad, mac salad, mac salad. Remember.

Kalua Pork

I’m actually not a big pork person, unless it’s in the form of bacon. But I had kalua pig several times while in Hawaii, and it was delightful. Traditionally it’s cooked in an underground oven, like at my luau. But I suspect most restaurants do not have underground ovens, and so it’s slow-cooked instead.

kalua pork nachos

This is kalua pork sitting atop some nachos at the Underdog in Honolulu. Easily one of my favourite meals. Ha.
The Plate Lunch

One of the best ways to sample a little bit ‘o everything is by ordering a “plate lunch.” This will include several different local favourites (like kalua pig), but will also be accompanied with sides like mac salad (MAC SALAD!), sticky rice, poi (a thick paste made from taro root), lomi-lomi (essentially salmon salsa), and chicken long rice (resembling transparent worms). As you can maybe tell, I wasn’t fussed on the last two.

This is not a light meal. I ordered the plate lunch at Verna’s Drive-In in Hilo, Big Island. It fed me for three days.

Shave Ice

I did not expect much from shave ice, I admit. I’m not a fan of syrupy desserts, and I prefer chocolate whenever the occasion arises. But, when in Rome…eat like a goddamned Hawaiian.

It’s not a snow cone. Stop saying it is. Most shave ice vendors offer a shit ton of flavours, or at many places you can just ask for the “rainbow” shave ice and they’ll put something together for you. Sometimes you can put ice-cream on the bottom, but then you won’t be able to slurp up the melted goodness with your straw.

hawaiian shaved ice

This one came from Coconut Cafe in Waikiki.
YOU HAVE TO include condensed milk as a topping. Many people also like azuki beans, although they weren’t my jam. I LOVED the mochi balls though: sweetened bundles of rice, like little marshmallows. Mmmm.

Macadamia Nuts

Hawaii is a big producer of macadamia nuts. And Hawaiians are really good at turning macadamia nuts into awesomely unique flavours. I mean, check out this Spam version.

At the Tropical Farms macadamia nut outlet in Oahu, I wandered in thinking I wouldn’t be too impressed. Like I said, I’m a chocolate person. But that smart outlet had laid out dozens of sample bowls filled with different flavours of macadamia, and I ended up walking away with several bags, including the likes of toffee, pineapple, coffee, and caramel.


Poke is BELOVED in Hawaii. At my hostel in Wailuku, Maui, a local told me that I HAD to try the poke at Takamiya Market, and so I did. It’s like Japanese sashimi, or Peruvian ceviche, but the fish is served in bite-sized cubes. Ahi (tuna) is the most common fish used.

If you like sushi, chances are you’ll like poke. I later had seared ahi in a salad and it was the best thing ever.

Believe it or not, I only regained three pounds while in Hawaii. I am both relieved and absolutely shocked.

What are your favourite Hawaiian dishes?

  • February 23 2015
    Natasha Gordon

    Fantastic, Candice. I’m glad you had the Shave Ice :) Macadamia Ice-cream at the bottom and sweet cream at the top is the cat’s ass though.

  • February 23 2015

    Thanks Candice, this will be very helpful for my trip :)

  • February 24 2015

    I can’t wrap my head around the Hawaiian spam obsession, but fish tacos, shave ice, and poke sound delicious!

    • February 26 2015

      Hahaha, I’m in the exact same boat!

  • February 25 2015

    I LOVE fish tacos – I’ve never been to Hawaii they are all over the place in California too. I love them so much that it was one of four facts I chose to reveal about myself on the About page of our blog. ~ Mel

    • February 26 2015

      LOL that’s awesome! Hahahaha. Yeah, my friend from California said fish tacos are amazing there as well, so now I just have an excuse to go to Cali :P

  • February 25 2015
    Rebekah Crabtree

    Fish tacos are my favorite. I’m surprised. I thought that the food would be super light there, but I guess other similar islands, like Samoa have big problems with obesity due to traditionally heavy foods and less physical labor.

    • February 26 2015

      I think there’s bit of an obesity problem among the natives…at least I had a few people allude to it, but I never really looked into it. Wouldn’t be much of a surprise, though.