7 of Hawaii's Best Simple Dishes

While the words exotic and exciting are commonly used to describe the white sand beaches of Waikiki nightlife, ask any local and they will tell you the same about their culinary tradition. Hawaiians have an affinity for all things ono (delicious). Here are seven sweet and savory samplings of just the type of flavorful fare that makes the grinds in this gorgeous state so unique and yes, exotic and exciting…

7 of Hawaii's Best Simple Dishes 1Start your days off by satisfying your sweet tooth with a hot malasada. Also known as a Portuguese doughnut, these fluffy portions of fried dough are dusted in sugar and cinnamon and best when eaten warm, right out of the oven. Depending on who you talk to, you'll hear a different favorite spot to savor these sweet rolls. But the line out the door of Leonard’s Bakery in Kapahulu is a tell-tale sign that it’s a sure bet.

Spam Musubi
7 of Hawaii's Best Simple Dishes 2I’ve found not one single person who can provide a solid answer of just what Spam is exactly and nor does it matter! Hawaii's Spam concoctions have garnered cult-like devotion. The Spam Musubi, composed of a slice of grilled Spam perched atop a cube of white rice, and wrapped up tight with nori dried seaweed in the tradition of Japanese omusubi, is a relatively cheap eat that all Islanders adore. In fact, you can stop by any deli or any one of the 7-11s on every Oahu corner to quench your Musubi craving.

Poke Bowl
7 of Hawaii's Best Simple Dishes 3Translated in Hawaiian, “poke” literally means to “cut into pieces.” One of the state’s staple entrees is its beloved poke bowl. Basic, but oh-so-ono, this dish consists solely of cubes of raw seafood sliced and spritzed with sauces, spices and assorted bits of veggies and onions. Most bowls include Ahi tuna, yet some more eclectic selections run the gamut all the way to octopus.

Foodland is a grocery store chain on the Islands that surfers swear by for a relatively affordable bowl, yet the secret “Uncle” spots should be mentioned as well. Try Tamura’s Market, Tamashiro Market, Sam Choy’s and my personal favorite, Kahuku Superette.

Plate Lunch
7 of Hawaii's Best Simple Dishes 4Ah, the iconic Hawaiian plate lunch. Stop at practically any Island eatery, and 9 times out of 10, you will have this menu item as an option to enjoy. “Da Kine” (it) consists of two scoops of rice, macaroni salad and your (and the restaurant’s) choice(s) ranging from everything from kalua pork, barbecue, chicken katsu, beef teriyaki or mahimahi, and more. This selection is the epitome of everyman’s noontime noshing in Hawaii. For your next mid-day meal, try picking up a plate lunch at Kapahulu’s Rainbow Drive-In or any of the countless Zippy’s (open 24-hours).

Loco Moco
7 of Hawaii's Best Simple Dishes 5The name’s “loco moco” for a reason, because you’d be “crazy” not to not enjoy this legendary Hawaiian meal. More than enough for a whole day’s dining, this downright huge helping of hamburger steak and egg served over rice and smothered in gravy is a serious undertaking. March right up to any mom and pop’s establishment and they will almost certainly have this staple.

Shave Ice
The perfect pairing for paradise, shave ice is the best island treat to beat the heat. There’s just no better way to cool off and refresh after a day of enjoying surf and sun. Finely shaved cones of “snow” are doused with colorful and cavity-inducing sweet syrup flavors. The real interesting thing about this cone is what creates its base—a layer of ice cream or azuki beans. Dotted all along the Island, Oahu’s most famous ice shacks are without a doubt North Shore’s Matsumoto’s Shave Ice and Island Snow in Kailua Town (President Obama’s preferred choice).

Kalua Pig
7 of Hawaii's Best Simple Dishes 6Although appearing already as a part of the plate lunch, Kalua Pig is such an interesting and uniquely Hawaiian offering that it deserves its own entry. Kalua is an actual method of cooking the meat (pork is most popular, but could include other meats as well), which uses what is called an “imu” (underground oven). Commonly served at luau feasts or other special celebrations, the traditional preparation sees kiawe (mesquite) wood used to fire up the fare—slow roasting the meat for hours until it’s perfectly flavored and tender and practically falls off the bone. For the absolute best imu prepared pig, keep your eyes peeled as you drive down the local roads in hopes of kind kamaaina (community), because Uncle’s backyard neighborhood luaus can’t be beat.

by Andy Beth Miller