My Hawaiian Food Experience

My recent holiday to Hawaii was a great break from my study and full-time job, but there was no stopping me from researching and experimenting with all the foods Hawaii has to offer. If I had to sum it all up in one word…. I wouldn’t be able to! So here’s many words about what I learnt of Hawaiian food and culture.

Influence of the ocean and religion on Hawaiian cuisine

The very essence of Hawaiian identity lies at the heart of the culture’s greatest resource – the ocean. I witnessed such a beautiful and sacred connection between the Hawaiian people and the vast water mass that surrounds their islands. I got to experience this intrinsic connection to water first hand at every sunset ceremony at Black Rock in Maui. A warrior symbolically lit the fire torches lining the coast line at sun down, before leaping into the ocean. This visual demonstration paid homage to the timeless and ongoing Hawaiian legend that gods and goddesses leapt into the ocean after death, believing it to be the portal to the after life.

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Fish tacos with grilled Ahi from the Outrigger Canoe Club, Waikiki Beach.

The importance of the ocean to Hawaiian culture explains the role of seafood in Hawaiian cuisine. Not only is seafood a staple to Hawaiians, given their proximity to the water, but it is symbolic of a people that have long answered their ancestors’ calls from the water.

During my travels in Hawaii, I got to eat some amazing seafood, the preparation of which resounded the respect given by Hawaiian culture to the ocean and its resources. Foods from Poke bowls with raw sashimi through to grilled Ahi steaks, fish tacos (pictured above) and shrimp cocktails were the perfect complement to the sea side setting.

Reflections of Japanese Culture 

One thing I observed during my trip to Hawaii was the high population of Japanese families that live there. Japanese citizens constitute the second largest ethnic group in Hawaii, according to the United States’ 2000 census. History suggests that the first notable arrival of Japanese peoples to Hawaii was around January 1806 when the infamous ship, “Inawaka-maru” was lost and battered in a violent sea storm which set it off its original course and left its 8-man crew at sea in the Pacific Ocean.

Seared tuna:  iwamoto natto saimin noodles, crispy garlic, pickled ginger and shoyu ginger beurre Blanc from Hula Grill, Kaanapali.

It was many weeks later before the stranded sailors arrived on Oahu, Hawaii on May 5 after being rescued by another ship. The starved sailors were welcomed and put to work by King Kamehameha I. The Japanese population remains prevalent in Hawaii today, hundreds of years later. So, too, does Japanese cuisine.

During my time in Hawaii, I experienced much of Japanese-influenced Hawaiian cuisine, ranging from sushi and sushimi, to iwamoto noodles (pictured above) and the classic tangy sesame flavour of modern Japanese cuisine in refreshing salads and Poke bowls.

A great example of the presence of authentic Japanese cuisine in the heart of Hawaii is the classic udon noodle restaurant we visited, a few streets back from Waikiki beach in Honolulu. The restaurant is frequented by Japanese locals and tourists alike, who line up in the blistering Hawaiian sun for hours to get a bowl of salty udon soup (pictured below) with hand made noodles and tempura vegetables on the side. Marukame Udon is a true testament to the presence of Japanese culture in Hawaiian life.

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Kake udon (sweet beef) and tempura asparagus from Marukame Udon, Waikiki

Tropical Hawaiian Climate

Finally, the geographical position of the Hawaiian islands next to the equator means it is HOT and HUMID most of the year. This tropical climate lends itself to refreshment and results in, what I believe to be, the best part of a Hawaiian holiday – the fresh fruit and cold cocktails!

Hawaiian pineapple features prominently in Hawaiian food and beverages because of its sweet and tender taste. In fact, Hawaiian pineapple is renowned for being the sweetest in the world! Its perfectly refreshing after a day in the Hawaiian heat. My favourite cocktails were Mai Tais and Chi Chis but be careful – their sweetness makes them deadly.

Its also almost impossible to refuse an ice cold cocktail or Gin & Tonic after a swim in the salty ocean with sun burnt skin…..

Chi chi: vodka, pineapple juice and coconut syrup (left) & Blue Hawaiian: vodka, white rum, lime juice, Curaçao, sweet and sour mix, and pineapple juice (right) from The New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel

* All images were taken by me and can be found on my Instragram: @domesticdave