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Modern cuisine of Hawaii is a fusion of many cuisines brought by multi-ethnic immigrants to the islands, particularly of American, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Polynesian and Portuguese origins, and including food sources from plants and animals imported for Hawaiian agricultural use from all over the world. Many local restaurants serve the ubiquitous plate lunch featuring the Asian staple, two scoops of rice, a simplified version of American macaroni salad (usually consisting of only macaroni noodles and mayonnaise), and a variety of different toppings ranging from the hamburger patty, a fried egg, and gravy of a Loco Moco, Japanese style Tonkatsu or the traditional lu'au favorite, Kalua Pig.
Pre-contact Hawaii (300 AD – 1778)
When Polynesians from the South Pacific arrived on the Hawaiian Islands, few edible plants existed in the new land, so they had to rely on their own. The most important of them was taro. For centuries taro was the main staple of their diet, and it is still served at important ceremonial occasions. Where taro would not grow, sweet potatoes were planted. The Marquesans brought breadfruit and the Tahitians introduced the baking banana. These settlers from Polynesia also brought coconuts and sugarcane. Most Pacific Islands had no meat animals except bats and lizards, so ancient Polynesians sailed the Pacific with pigs as cargo. The role of pigs in Polynesian society became valuable over time as a symbol of wealth, forming the basis of an inter-tribal currency of exchange. Pigs were raised for religious sacrifice, and the meat was offered at altars, some of which was consumed by priests and the rest eaten in a mass celebration of orgiastic feasting.
Large pieces of meat, such as fowl and pigs, would be typically cooked in earth ovens, or spitted over a fire during ceremonial feasts. Hawaiian earth ovens, known as an imu, combine roasting and steaming in a method called kālua. A pit is dug into earth and lined with volcanic rocks and other rocks that do not split when heated to a high temperature, such as granite. A fire is built with embers, and when the rocks are glowing hot, the embers are removed and the foods wrapped in ti, ginger or banana leaves are put into the pit, covered with wet leaves, mats and a layer of earth. Water may be added through a bamboo tube to create steam. The intense heat from the hot rocks cooked food thoroughly — the quantity of food for several days could be cooked at once, taken out and eaten as needed, and the cover replaced to keep the remainder warm. Sweet potatoes, taro, breadfruit and other vegetables were cooked in the imu, as well as fish. Saltwater eel was salted and dried before being put into the imu, wrapped in ti leaves. Chickens, pigs and dogs were put into the imu with hot rocks inserted in the abdominal cavities. Men did most of the work, and food for women was cooked in a separate imu, afterwards men and women ate meals separately.a Sea salt was a common condiment. Inamona, a relish made of roasted, mashed kukui nutmeats, sea salt and sometimes mixed with seaweeds, often accompanied the meals.
At important occasions, a traditional feast, ‘aha‘aina, was held. When a woman was to have her first child, her husband started raising a pig for the ‘Aha‘aina Mawaewae feast that was celebrated for the birth of a child. Besides the pig, mullet, shrimps, crab, seaweeds and taro leaves were required for the feast. The modern name for such feasts, lū‘au, was not used until 1856, replacing the Hawaiian words ‘aha‘aina and pā‘ina. The name lū‘au came from that of a food always served at a ‘aha‘aina — young taro tops baked with coconut milk and chicken or octopus.
Some species of land and sea birds were consumed into extinction. Until contact was established with the West in the 18th century, beef, chili peppers, refined salt and sugar, salmon, bean threads, rice, and wheat were unknown to Hawaiians.
Pineapple was brought to Hawaii from South America by the Spaniards in the early 19th century. By the late 19th century, pineapple and sugarcane plantations owned and run by American settlers took over much of Hawaii's land, and these two crops became the most important sources of revenues for the Hawaiian economy. As the plantations expanded the demand for labor grew, the plantation owners hired immigrant workers, which included Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Filipino, and Portuguese. Each ethnic group wanted its own food in workplaces, and farms and grocery markets were established. The Chinese immigrants brought Cantonese cuisine, cooking the first stir fry, sweet and sour, and dim sum dishes in the Islands, and replaced poi with rice, adding their own herbs and spices. Whalers brought in salted fish, which ultimately became lomi-lomi salmon. The Koreans brought kimchi and built barbecue pits to cook marinated meats. The Portuguese immigrants came to Hawaii from the Azores in the late 19th century, introducing their foods with an emphasis on pork, tomatoes and chili peppers, and built forno, their traditional beehive oven, to make Pão Doce, the Portuguese sweet bread and malasada. The Japanese brought bento and sashimi, and, although many of their vegetable seeds would not grow in the climate of the Islands, they succeeded in making tofu and soy sauce. The homes of Japanese immigrants lacked ovens, so their cooking relied on frying, steaming, broiling, and simmering, leading to the popularization of tempura and noodle soups in Hawaii. Puerto Rican immigration to Hawaii began in 1900, contributing spicy, Spanish-seasoned thick soups, casseroles, and meat turnovers. Filipinos reached Hawaii in 1909, bringing peas and beans, the abodo style of vinegar and garlic dishes, choosing to boil, stew, broil, and fry food instead of baking, and eating sweet potatoes as a staple instead of rice. Samoans arrived in 1919, building their earth ovens above ground instead of below like the imu, and made poi from fruit instead of taro.
The first restaurant in Honolulu was opened in 1849 by a Portuguese man named Peter Fernandez. Situated behind the Bishop & Co. bank, the establishment was known as the "eating house" and was followed by other restaurants, such as Leon Dejean's "Parisian Restaurant" at the corner of Hotel and Fort Streets. In 1872, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel opened on Hotel Street, and as one of the most refined hotels in the Pacific, it catered to wealthy clients. The Royal Hawaiian dining room served dishes on par with the best restaurants in Europe, with an 1874 menu offering dishes such as mullet, spring lamb, chicken with tomatoes, and Cabinet Pudding.
The massive pineapple industry of Hawaii was born when the "Pineapple King", James Dole, planted pineapple trees on the island of Oahu in 1901. In 1922, Dole purchased the island of Lanai for a large-scale pineapple production. By 1950, his Hawaiian Pineapple Company was the largest pineapple company in the world. But since the 1970s, pineapples were grown more cheaply in Southeast Asia, so the Hawaiian agriculture has taken a diverse approach, producing a variety of crops including squash, tomatoes, chili peppers and lettuce.
Japanese-American baker Robert Taira, came up with a recipe for the Hawaiian version of Portuguese sweet bread in the 1950s. Taira began to commercially produce the bread in Hawaii, and it became successful in Honolulu bakeries and coffee shops, with plant production expanding to California and South Carolina. By the 1980s, Taira's company was grossing US$20 million annually.
In 1992, a group of well-known Hawaiian chefs, including Sam Choy, George Mavrothalassitis, Alan Wong, Roy Yamaguchi and several others, came together to sponsor a cookbook to be sold for charity. The goal of this new group of chefs was to be a link with the local agricultural community and for Hawaiian regional cuisine to be a reflection of the community. For this, they took an uninspired international hotel cuisine based on imported products and replaced it with a cuisine based on locally grown foods.
Vegetables and fruits
There are hundreds of varieties of taro, and the corm of the wetland variety makes the best poi, as well as taro starch or flour. The dry-land variety has a crispy texture and used for making taro chips. The smaller Japanese variety is used for stewed dishes.
- Sweet potatoes, a member of the morning glory family yields the highest nutrition per acre of any crop 
- Macadamia nuts
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The Hormel company's canned meat product Spam has been highly popular in Hawaii for decades. Hawaiians are the second largest consumers of Spam in the world, right behind Guam. Originally brought to Hawaii by American servicemen in their rations, Spam became an important source of protein for locals after fishing around the Islands was prohibited during World War II. In 2005, Hawaiians consumed more than five million cans of Spam.
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 pupu, in sandwich with mayonnaise, or baked with guava jelly. Spam musubi, a slice of sweet and salty marinated Spam tied to a cake of rice with a strip of nori. Spam musubi is served in sushi restaurants in Hawaii, having become popular in the 1980's.
Pipi kalua is a salted and dried beef, usually broiled before serving. It was a staple for Paniolo, the Hawaiian cowboys. When beef is dried in the sun, a screened box is traditionally used to keep the meat from dust and flies.
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Fish and seafood
Tuna is the most important fish in Hawaiian cuisine. Varieties include the skipjack tuna (aku), the yellowfin tuna (ahi), and the albacore tuna (tombo). Ahi in particular has a long history, since ancient Hawaiians used it on long ocean voyages because it is well preserved when salted and dried. A large portion of the local tuna fishery goes to Japan to be sold for sashimi. Tuna is eaten as sashimi in Hawaii as well, but is also grilled or sautéed, or made into poke, a traditional local cuisine that originally involved preserving raw fish with sea salt and rubbing (lomi) it with seasonings or cutting it into small pieces. Seasonings made of seaweed, kukui nut, and sea salt were traditionally used for the Hawaiian poke. Since first contact with Western and Asian cultures, green onions, chili peppers, and soy sauce have become common additions to it. Poke is different from sashimi, since the former is usually rough-cut and piled onto a plate, and can be made with less expensive pieces of fish.
The Pacific blue marlin (kajiki) is barbecued or grilled, but it has a very low fat content, so should not be overcooked. The broadbill swordfish (shutome), highly popular and shipped all over the continental United States, is high in fat and its steaks may be grilled, broiled, or used in stir-fries. The groupers (hapuu) are most often steamed. The red snapper (onaga) is steamed, poached, or baked. The pink snapper (opakapaka) has a higher fat, and is steamed or baked, served with a light sauce. The Wahoo (ono) is grilled or sautéed, and the dolphin fish (mahimahi) is usually cut into steaks and fried or grilled. The moonfish (opah) is used for broiling, smoking, or making sashimi.
- Five spice
- Char siu
- Patis and Bagoong, Fish sauces
- Soy sauce
List of Hawaiian dishes
- Chicken long rice - Chicken cooked with chicken broth, ginger, green onions, and long rice
- Kalua Pig - Pulled pork with marinated, steamed cabbage
- Lau lau - Steamed fish and pork wrapped in taro leaves
- Loco Moco - Hamburger patties served with gravy and topped with two eggs
- Lomi salmon - Sushi-grade salmon cubed combined with tomatoes, Maui onions, and chili pepper
- Malasada - Portuguese donut deep fried and coated with sugar
- Manapua - Pidgin for bao, usually filled with char siu
- Poi - Mashed taro root
- Portuguese sweet bread
- Saimin - Noodle soup dish with various meats and/or dumplings
Usually served during lunch, plate lunch consists of an entreé of meat or seafood, two scoops of rice, and macaroni salad.
Don the Beachcomber, a former bootlegger, opened what is acknowledged to be the first of these establishments, and claims the creation of the mai tai. As service-men and women from the Pacific theater of World War II began coming home they brought recipes and tastes that could not be satisfied at the Italian, French, and American restaurants of the era. Tiki restaurants soon began appearing that were often accompanied by tiki bars with tropical drinks. One of these chains that took advantage of this new clientele with a taste for the exotic was run by Trader Vic. (Of the 26 restaurants which at one time existed, only a few, such as the Emeryville location, remain.) Much of the food served at tiki restaurants is considered to be Cantonese cuisine, but the fusion of Hawaiian ingredients is what made it tiki.
Notes and references
a. ^a Men and women ate their meals separately to preserve the distinction between male and female mana, which was thought to be blurred by both sexes handling the same food. In addition, some foods were forbidden to women, such as pork, certain kinds of fish and most types of bananas.
- Nenes 2007, p. 478.
- Nenes 2007, p. 479.
- Brennan 2000, p. 135-138. Invalid
<ref>tag; name "Brennan135" defined multiple times with different content
- Choy & Cook 2003, p. 16.
- Kane 1998, p. 53.
- Brennan 2000, p. 271-273.
- Choy & Cook 2003, pp. 12-13.
- Pukui & Elbert 1986, pp. 214.
- Brennan 2000, p. 139.
- Adams 2006, p. 90-92.
- Nenes 2007, p. 484.
- Nenes 2007, p. 477.
- Henderson 1994, p. 18.
- Laudan 1996, p. 134.
- Rea & Ting 1991, p. 30.
- Rea & Ting 1991, p. 48.
- Adams 2006, p. 58-59.
- Kulick & Meneley 2005, p. 187.
- Choy & Cook 2003, p. 63.
- Nenes 2007, p. 480.
- Laudan 1996, p. 265-276.
- Piianaia 2007, Waimea Gazette.
- Nenes 2007, p. 485.
- Adams, Wanda A. (2006), The Island Plate: 150 Years of Recipes and Food Lore from the Honolulu Advertiser, Waipahu, HawaiTemplate:Okinai: Island Heritage Publishing, http://www.islandheritage.com .
- Brennan, Jennifer (2000), Tradewinds & Coconuts: A Reminiscence & Recipes from the Pacific Islands, Periplus, ISBN 9625938192 .
- Choy, Sam (1999), Sam Choy's Poke: HawaiTemplate:Okinai's Soul Food, Honolulu, Hawaii: Mutual Publishing, ISBN 1566472539, http://www.mutualpublishing.com .
- Choy, Sam; Cook, Lynn (2003), Sam Choy & the Makaha Sons' A Hawaiian Lū‘au, Mutual Publishing, ISBN 1566475732 .
- Corum, Ann Kondo (2000), Ethnic Foods of HawaiTemplate:Okinai, The Bess Press, ISBN 1573061174 .
- Henderson, Janice Wald (1994), The New Cuisine of Hawaii: Recipes from the Twelve Celebrated Chefs of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, New York: Villard Books, ISBN 0679425292 .
- Kane, Herb Kawainui (1998), Ancient Hawaii, Kawainui Press, ISBN 0943357039 .
- Kulick, Don; Meneley, Anne (2005), "Spam in History", Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession, Tarcher, ISBN 1585423866 .
- Laudan, Rachel (1996), The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii's Culinary Heritage, Seattle: University of HawaiTemplate:Okinai Press, ISBN 0824817788, http://www.uhpress.hawaii.edu/cart/shopcore/?db_name=uhpress&page=shop/flypage&product_id=324&category_id=b3e6237d1b1b3b8594488ed1c40d0dfb&PHPSESSID=6b6a32abcd32b2e6be35b8dcebce1d52 .
- Nenes, Micheal F. (2007), "Cuisine of Hawaii", American Regional Cuisine, Wiley, ISBN 0471682942 .
- Philpotts, Kaui (2004), Great Chefs of HawaiTemplate:Okinai, Honolulu, Hawaii: Mutual Publishing, ISBN 1566475953, http://www.greatchefs.com .
- Piianaia, Nancy (September 2007), "Poke: Hawai‘i's "Numbah One" Choice", Waimea Gazette, http://www.waimeagazette.com/sept97_poke.htm, retrieved 2007-11-13 .
- Pukui, Mary Kawena; Elbert, Samuel H. (1986), Hawaiian Dictionary, Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, ISBN 0-8248-0703-0 .
- Rea, Pat; Ting, Regina (1991), A Hundred Years of Island Cooking, Hawaiian Electric Company .