Think of a Hawaiian meal and you'll probably think traditional Hawaiian luau food. But the island's cuisine goes far further than the banquet cooked in an underground oven, usually served with music and dancing. From fine dining to food trucks, fabulous feasts to fresh fish and fruit, if you want to know 'what’s good here' the best answer is probably 'everything'.
There's an entire menu of dishes that evolved in Hawaii, like poke - a salad of diced raw tuna, sea salt, sesame oil, seaweed and soy sauce.
The origins of Hawaiian food
Like most Pacific islands, Polynesian voyagers brought their plants and animals to Hawaii; they settled, fished, raised taro, planted coconuts, sugarcane, sweet potatoes and yams, and cooked meat and fish in an earth oven (imu). European missionaries and American whalers also introduced their foods, as did later arrivals from Asia, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Portugal.
A world of flavours to explore
In today's Hawaii you'll find Cantonese stir fries, sweets and sours, and dim sums; Korean kimchi, meat and garlic sauces, mixed rice and vegetables; Portuguese pork, tomato and chilli pepper stews; and Japan's bento and sashimi, tempura and noodle soups. But that's not all. Hawaii also offers Filipino stews and fries, Puerto Rico's Spanish-style dishes, as well as Thai and Vietnamese favourites.
Each restaurant owes its origin to the chef's heritage and all take extra zing from Oahu's bounty of fresh fish, fruits and vegetables grown in rich volcanic soil. For insider tips on the best places to eat, consider joining one of the local Hawaii food tours. If you're planning a special occasion or simply looking for a top Hawaiian restaurant, check out the French influenced Hawaiian regional cuisine at the highly acclaimed Chef Mavro in Honolulu.
Unique Hawaiian dishes
There's an entire menu of dishes that evolved here, like poke - a salad of diced raw tuna, sea salt, sesame oil, seaweed and soy sauce. Foodland Farms in the Ala Moana Centre is famous for its poke. Chicken long rice is another Hawaiian favourite. It's a soup of chicken, broth, noodles, ginger, garlic and green onions. Haupia, a sweet dessert, is a cross between coconut pudding and gelatine. For delicious local breakfasts, pastries and cakes head to Liliha Bakery, creators of the famous Coco Puff, a divine mini cream puff stuffed with chocolate pudding and topped with vanilla and coconut icing.
Lau lau at Highway Inn Hawaii
For an authentic local Hawaiian food experience head to one of the popular Kakaako restaurants, Highway Inn, to eat lau lau – a traditional dish with pork and butterfish wrapped in leaves and steamed for several hours. Other local favourites are kalua pig (smoked in an imu) and lomi lomi salmon (similar to ceviche, a side of diced tomatoes, onions and salmon). It's a house rule to dip both in poi (taro root mashed into a puree).
North Shore dining
Life is more relaxed on the North Shore, and so is eating out. Kick off the morning with an acai bowl (a thick smoothie with a ground-up berry base) - the're not so much a breakfast as an obsession here. When the heat kicks in, head to M. Matsumoto's Grocery Store in Haleiwa for shave ice: brightly-coloured ice flavoured with sweet syrup that's thirst-quenching and intense. Later, the tacos, burritos and shrimp sandwiches at Shark Cove's food-trucks will fill any gaps.
Whatever your taste, Oahu's food is 'ono' – delicious. All that remains is to tell your host, 'Mahalo' – thank you!