Food in The Americas: Hawaii

Ok, so I do know that technically Hawaii is not in the Americas. It is really even a stretch for it to be called a state. The incorporation of  Hawaii into the US is more like a Victorian version of a corporate takeover. But, politics aside, Hawaii has managed to give the US a little character, a little color and a lot of good food.

A friend of mine his headed off the Hawaii  next week, which is unfortunate for him, because he is a vegetarian. He will not try Poke (pronounced po-kee), Kalua Pig, Lau Laus, Spam or Loco Moco.

O-poundofpokefromonoAhi Poke

2 lbs fresh ahi tuna
1 small round onion, julienne cut (Maui Onions preferred)
3 green onions, diced
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated fresh ginger
3 finely diced garlic cloves
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon Chinese chili sauce (Rooster Brand)
1 teaspoon hawaiian sea salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Cut Ahi into at least 1/2″ cubes – set aside & refrigerate.
Combine all other ingredients in a large glass bowl & refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to serve toss Ahi and other ingredients together.
Serve on chilled platter with chopsticks or toothpicks.

Hawaiian food these days is really fusion food. The original Polynesian settlers brought pigs, chickens, sugar cane, breadfruit, coconuts,  and sweet potatoes. But the ubiquitous Pineapple didn’t arrive until In 1813, compliments of  Don Francisco de Paula Marin, a Spanish botanist and advisor to King Kamehameha I. Hawaii is one of the most demographically diverse places in the United States and it’s cuisine has been heavily influenced by the Japanese, Filipinos, Portuguese, Koreans, British, Vietnamese, and Elvis.

Although Hawaii is home to the biggest cattle ranch in the United States, the Parker Ranch, beef is not the most popular meat. That honor goes to Spam. The Hormel company might have gone out of business long ago had it not been for the Hawaiian’s passion for pressed and processed meat by-products. Spam is used in local dishes in a variety of ways, most commonly fried and served with rice. In breakfast, fried eggs are often served together.  Spam can also be wrapped in ti and roasted, skewered and deep fried, or stir-fried with cabbage. It is added to saimin or fried rice, mashed with tofu, or served with cold sōmen or baked macaroni and cheese. It is also used in chutney for pupus, in sandwiches with mayonnaise, or baked with guava jelly. Spam musubi, a slice of fried Spam upon a bed of rice wrapped with a strip ofnori, is a popular snack in Hawaii which found its way onto island sushi menus in the 1980s. – wikipedia

Musubi 2

Musubi – Spam sushi

Unfortunately for my friend, he also doesn’t drink much and will probably be the designated driver for most of his trip. So, he may also miss out on Tiki Culture – a kind of drunken-sailor-kitsch-concept that mostly revolves around drinking and being white:

Tiki culture of mid-century America was primarily born in the restaurant industry. Don the Beachcomber’s in Hollywood, California, is largely credited as being the first tiki restaurant from which all other eateries and bars “borrowed.” Donn Beach, the founder of Don The Beachcomber, is also credited as having created the tropical drink genre single handedly. Donn was the first restaurateur to mix flavored syrups and fresh fruit juices with rum. These drinks were called Rhum Rhapsodies and made Don the Beachcomber’s restaurant the hot spot for Hollywood elite and stars from the 1940s well into the 1960s. By the mid to late 1950s, many restaurateurs had begun to copy, and in some cases, steal Donn’s theme, food and cocktails. Many eventually created their own cocktails and signature food dishes based on Asian themes. Donn Beach is credited for having created some of the most memorable exotic cocktails such as the Scorpion and the Zombie.


In spite of its expensive, touristy reputation, I still love Hawaii and I hope my friend does too. It has a certain charm to it that seems almost incorruptible – and who doesn’t like a good Poke once in a while?

The Ancient Mariner


  • crushed ice
  • 1 ounces Demerara Rum (not the 151-proof kind)
  • 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum, such as Coruba
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 1/4 ounce Allspice Dram
  • Garnish: lime wedge, mint sprig

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