You know you’re in Hawaii when you get your first look at Kauai’s enviable green mountains and smell the tropical air thick with the fragrance of plumeria flowers. Kauai has got your sense of taste covered as well, with a variety of unique delicacies and homemade goodies that will leave you dreaming of the islands long after you return home. The influence of many cultures on Kauai has blended together to offer your taste buds an experience that are out of this world delicious.
A visit to Kauai would not be the same without trying a few (or all) of these local specialties:
Saimin is a noodle soup dish that was inspired by the blending of Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino pancit, during Hawaii’s plantation era. Often served with hot dashi (soup), green onions, fish cake, char siu pork, sliced spam, and boiled egg, Saimin is what you would consider a comfort food for the soul. Hamura Saimin Stand in Lihue is the oldest saimin stand on Kauai and is known for their homemade noodles that can also be purchased to take home. This family-owned establishment features counter-top dining, where strangers come together to talk story over a hot bowl of noodle soup. Tip Top Motel Café and Bakery in Lihue also serves saimin, filled with Chinese bok choi and a steamy broth.
Hawaiian Plate with Lau Lau
Flavorful and juicy pork and a small piece of salted fish, wrapped in a taro leaf and cooked in a Hawaiian imu (underground oven) is one of the foods that you may be initially afraid to try, but will be so happy you did. This is a traditional Hawaiian dish that is made to celebrate momentous occasions such as a baby luau or wedding, and is also a favored staple of the locals diet. Koloa Fish Market in Koloa has perfected the art of making laulau and offers Hawaiian plates daily that include laulau, white rice, mac salad, chicken long rice noodles and a small side of their delicious poke (salted raw fish).
Many visitors to Kauai will squint their nose at the word “poi.” Made of the taro root, this Hawaiian staple is mashed into a paste by a rock pounder and something people either love or hate. Did you know there are so many other ways to eat taro that are tasty and you will still reap the healthy benefits of the taro root? Hanalei Poi Truck offers a variety of taro products and all are flavorful and delicious ways to enjoy taro. Try the taro hummus, kulolo, a Hawaiian dessert made with coconut milk and has a chewy fudge-like texture, taro mochi, a Japanese-style dessert made with taro flour instead of rice or one of their taro based fresh fruit smoothies. They also sell cooked fresh taro that can be enjoyed cut up and enjoyed in its purest form. Taro Ko factory in Hanapepe Town makes taro chips that are so crispy and delicious they will replace your potato chip cravings instantly. Kauai Kookie bakes sweet poi rolls and Taro sugar crunchies, a toast-style treat basted by hand with a secret sugar spread and baked until crispy. Once you’ve tried these items and find that you love it, it’s time to be adventurous and give poi a try.
You heard us- Spam. Hawaii consumes more spam than any state – seven million cans per year to be exact. Spam is prepared in many ways by locals, but the most popular way is easily the spam musubi. Fried slices of spam, sweetened with teriyaki sauce and wrapped in white rice and Japanese nori (seaweed) wrap, is an unusual but amazing combination. Filling and delicious, spam musubi makes a great snack and tastes even better while at the beach. It’s easy to come across spam musubi in almost every local convenience and grocery store, some favorites are Kukuiula Market in Poipu, Sueoka’s Store in Koloa, and Ishihara Market in Waimea. The cool thing is that you can walk into about any small mom and pop store or even a gas station convenience store and find these little snacks available on the counter.
Malasadas to Hawaii are like beignets are to New Orleans. A sweet treat that must be tried, over and over again. These little balls of sugary goodness were introduced by the Portuguese who came from Portgual to work on the plantations. Similar to donuts, malasadas are usually made from a secret family recipe that includes deep frying a special dough and rolling it in sugar. It is easy to find malasadas in just about any bakery on Kauai, however there are a few that have really perfected the art of making the malasada. We recommend Kauai Bakery in Kukui Grove Shopping Center, who offers malasadas with cream, custard, black bean or chocolate cream filling. Just down the street in front of Kmart is Kauai Malasadas, a malasada stand where you can choose to have your freshly fried malasadas rolled in sugar or cinnamon right before your eyes. Just be care with the first bite, they are always very hot. Hanalima Bakery in Puhi is also popular among the malasada lovers. Their malasadas are little smaller than the standard size, but tend to be light and fluffy in texture.
A hamburger patty, an over easy egg, and gooey brown gravy over a mountain of white rice, the loco moco will have you going loco with joy. Hearty and over the top filling, this dish is a favorite among the locals for breakfast, lunch or dinner. When in Lihue, try the loco moco at Rob’s Good Times Grill, a sports bar with a small hometown feel brags that their loco moco is for the very hungry. On the way to the north shore is the “blink and you’ll miss it” town of Anahola which is home to Anahola Café and Saimin Stand. We’ve found that their loco moco with homemade gravy is one of the most decadent on the island.
Food has always linked many different cultures in Hawaii to one another. When the Chinese arrived in Hawaii to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations, they introduced a popular Chinese street food called char siu bao. Steamed buns, filled with char siu pork, were adopted by the Hawaiian culture and given the name manapua, which is the shortening of the Hawaiian mea ono puaa and means delicious pork thing. Delicious pork thing is an understatement as these buns are savory and sweet. Hamura Saimin Stand has manapua made fresh daily and sells out quickly. If you are fortunate enough to get there in time, have a manapua as an addition to your bowl of saimin.
Lomi Lomi Salmon
In Hawaiian, the word lomi lomi means to massage. So what is massaged salmon exactly? Lomi lomi salmon is made of salted fish, massaged by hand and mixed with tomato, green onion, and chopped sweet onion. We suggest mixing your lomi lomi salmon with some sour poi and kalua pork, it’s what locals call broke the mouth ono.
For all its natural beauty and splendor, Kauai is the most scenic of all the Hawaiian Islands, best explored through our many adventure tours and offerings. The abundance of activities to experience while on island will leave you looking forward to your next snack and meal, be sure to add these to your list of foods you must try while on island.