Hawaiian food: Hodgepodge of Asian, Native Hawaiian culture

photo of ramen
Erica Jean/Staff

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When I visited Oahu last month, I couldn’t help but notice that traditional Hawaiian cuisine had influence from Asian as well as American culture, making it distinct from the foods most commonly associated with the mainland.  Here are some of my favorite fusion dishes that combine the best of both worlds!

Poke

While I’ve had various types of poke in Southern California before, the local, authentic one from Hawaii tops it all. Thanks to the relative location of the islands to the ocean, seafood is an important part of Hawaiian cuisine. This lent its benefits to the dish as the seafood tasted fresh and had a sweetness to it. Combined with the citrus dressing, salty limu (Hawaiian seaweed), sour and spicy raw onions, white rice and crunchy edamame, Hawaiian poke was an explosion of flavors as well as textures. 

Loco moco

Erica Jean/Staff

Though simple, Loco moco is one of the most famous Hawaiian comfort foods, and the reason is not surprising. Warm rice (a staple in Asian cuisine) is first topped with a beef patty (common in Western cooking) before it is coated with a creamy brown gravy made from beef stock, soy sauce and various other Asian flavorings. Last but not the least, a fried egg cooked to your liking is added. This dish is extremely flavorful (especially when the runny yolk is mixed with the gravy) and suitable no matter the time of the day. 

Saimin

A twist on Japanese ramen, saimin is another famous Hawaiian comfort food that is a must try! In the bowl, thin (“sai” in Chinese) egg noodles (“min” in Chinese) are topped with sliced scrambled eggs, char siu (Chinese braised meat), kamaboko (fish cake), spinach and green onions before it is ladled with a warm, savory broth made from ingredients such as kombu (a type of seaweed), bonito flakes, dried shrimp and shiitake mushrooms. 

Shaved ice

photo of dessert

Erica Jean/Staff

A popular dessert, Hawaiian shaved ice is great for any season as the weather never drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Though many cultures serve shaved ice (from Japan’s kakigori, the Philippines’ halo-halo, to Korea’s pat bing soo), Hawaii’s take on the cold dessert is unique because of the fine texture of the ice base. Instead of being crushed, the ice is finely shaved, resulting in a powdery, snowlike consistency that allows the syrup to be absorbed more easily. Popular flavors of the sweet icy dessert include ume (apricot), li hing mui (plum powder), and lilikoi (passion fruit)!

If you ever have the chance to visit Hawaii, remember to try these dishes, reminiscent of both Asian and American flavors!

Contact Erica Jean at [email protected].