1/3/2024     by Justin Gibson

The Delights of Hawaiian Cuisine and Culture

More commonly known for its beautiful selection of sandy beaches, lush rainforests, exotic wildlife and serene views of the ocean, Hawaii has quite a fair amount to be proud of. But, as beautiful as the sights and scenes are, you might not realize the best part of Hawaii: the lifestyle. Thanks to centuries of local tradition and a whole host of ingredients native to the islands, Hawaii is home to both a delightful way of life and some of the most delectable dishes you might ever encounter. Read on to discover the relaxed culture and tasty Hawaii cuisine — and jumpstart your daydreams of visiting.

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Poke bowls simply taste better when paired with a gentle sea breeze.

The Aloha Way

Thanks to the native culture that has existed for centuries in Hawaii, life is kind here, and the aloha (love or spirit of giving) mindset manifests itself in every facet. The most easily identifiable would be aloha wear; a clothing style known far and wide for floral prints, geometric designs and neutrals all coming together as breezy casual wear. Top it off with a lei to look local.

However, given any amount of time on the islands, you’ll find the aloha mindset is most noticeable when driving. You’ll probably never hear a car horn during your time here, unless it’s used as an excited hello. Instead of road rage, the custom is thoughtful courtesy; it’s not uncommon for a driver to wave you to go ahead of them at a crossroads or in a traffic jam. If a driver yields the right of way to you, be sure to give a smile and a wave.

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Nothing is quite as refreshing as mango shaved ice.

Delicious Dishes of Hawaii

Thanks to a unique melting pot of immigrant cultures and customs supplementing the Native Hawaiian’s culture, the dishes and delicacies of the islands bring new meaning to the term “mouthwatering.” While there are too many delicious options to list, here are a few classic staples of Hawaiin cuisine you can’t miss.

Hawaiian Shaved Ice – To the untrained eye, this might bear resemblance to a snow cone, but your taste buds will quickly correct you. Hawaiian shaved ice carries a level of magic a regular ice cream stand just can’t reach; maybe it’s the extra-finely chopped ice, the uniquely flavored syrups or the host of fresh fruit that often accompanies it?

Poke – Having recently caught traction on the mainland, poke has been a way of life on Hawaii for longer than many realize. Commonly compared to ceviche or deconstructed sushi, the flavor profiles are far more intricate than either. Poke benefits from the rich combination of various cultures that came to inhabit the islands, blending an eclectic mix of ingredients like onions, Hawaiian sea salt, shoyu, kukui nut, tofu, ginger, garlic and raw fish (traditionally either ahi or octopus) to create a refreshing, yet savory, salad of sorts.

Spam musubi – First introduced to Hawaii by American GIs, Spam is a loved and treasured delicacy. Pan-seared, placed over sushi rice and then wrapped in nori, it’s Spam as you’ve never imagined it — and makes for a delicious snack or side dish.

Malasada – Imagine a doughnut, but without the hole in the middle, and better. Commonly filled with flavored cream and blanketed in granulated sugar, malasadas are best when you can get them hot from a bakery.

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Plated laulau with a side of macaroni and rice doesn't just taste good: it's good for the soul.

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Lu’au: A Feast for Life

Perhaps nothing is more iconic of both Hawaiian cuisine and culture than the fabled lu’au. A cultural tradition celebrating special occasions ranging from a baby’s first birthday to honoring important people to commemorating great events, lu’aus have always been a timeless party for the ages.

This isn’t just a celebration though, it’s a feast. Lu’aus bring to the table a collection of dishes you just can’t enjoy anywhere else, thanks in part to the unique ambiance. 

Poi is pounded taro plant root; consider it a starch that you can enjoy with everything.

Pipikaula is teriyaki-flavored nuggets of beef jerky, sometimes still on the bone, and always surprisingly juicy.

Chicken Long Rice is slivered chicken in chicken broth with vermicelli rice noodles. Of course, this is just the base of the dish; expect your chef to bring their own unique approach to it.

Lomi Lomi Salmon is a chilled dish of diced salmon, tomatoes and green and regular onions.

Kalua Pig is savory pork prepared in an imu (underground oven) and shredded.

Laulau is various meats wrapped in taro leaves and steamed in an imu.

Haupia is coconut pudding! Not too sweet, it’s as delicious as it sounds.

The best way to experience all the above? By setting sail on a cruise — allowing you to visit multiple islands seamlessly and unpacking only once! One of our travel agents can assist you: Not only are they a fountain of hard-earned wisdom for travel recommendations, but also their working relationships with all the leading names in travel (such as Norwegian Cruise Line) translates to exclusive perks and amenities. With Norwegian, you can set sail across the Hawaiian isles, stopping in ports like Kahului, Hilo, Kona and Honolulu, embarking on thrilling shore excursions like exploring Volcanoes National Park, visiting a Kona coffee plantation and attending an authentic Luau. While sampling all the above culinary delicacies might sound like the high point of your trip, the ports are only half the fun: While at sea, you’ll delight in exquisite dining, electrifying entertainment and soothing spa treatments. Our agents know Norwegian Cruise Line well, so we can help you choose, plan and book your cruise vacation to perfection.

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