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weird food hawaii

Are you ready to challenge your palate? When it comes to cuisine, the fun begins when you start trying dishes a few steps outside of your comfort zone. Hawaii is filled with many different foods from a wide range of cultures. Although some menu items might sound a little strange – like everything else, you will at the very least want to get your toes wet! From squid luau to oxtail soup, these are some of the more “unique” and intriguing foods you should try on your next adventure to the islands.

  1. Squid Luau

Coconut and seafood unite for a hearty green stew called Squid Luau. This seemingly innocuous dish is often found in the traditional Hawaii mixed plate lunch, usually served alongside favorites like kalua pig, lau lau, chicken long rice, lomi lomi salmon, and poi. It is prepared by cooking taro leaves and squid in coconut milk, until the leaves are soft and tender. You can find squid luau served at luaus (feasts), or on the menu at Helena’s Hawaiian Food, Yama’s Fish Market, Waiahole Poi Factory, and Highway Inn. After experiencing the creamy coconut-milk sweetness, and the salty chunks of seafood, you won’t be able to resist this ono (delicious) sweet and savory stew.

  1. Li Hing Mui

Get ready to pucker up! The bright red powder you see dusted over an assortment of food – from your happy hour drink to bags of candy – is a local favorite. Called Li Hing Mui, it’s a Chinese seed covered in powder made by pickling plum skins in licorice, salt, and sugar. You can find this snack in just about every grocery store and convenience store in Hawaii. The flavor explosion of sweet, sour, and salty will be sure to turn your mouth inside out. If you don’t want the full effect, don’t worry – you can take the Li Hing powder and sprinkle it on treats such as fresh tropical fruit, popcorn, shave ice, margaritas, or malasadas. Just don’t forget to grab a bag (or two) to take home with you!

  1. Saimin Burger

For all the Ramen lovers out there, this one is for you. The innovative food craze, combines American and Japanese cuisine and takes fast food to the next level, but with a decidedly island twist. Inspired by Japanese ramen, saimin was created during Hawaii’s plantation era and consists of wheat egg noodles served in a hot broth. The Saimin Burger is made with a juicy beef patty topped with green onion and arugula, sandwiched between two shoyu-glazed saimin noodle buns. You can try this special burger at Tanaka Saimin, L&L Drive-Inn, and Ohana Burger Waikiki. But be warned, once you try this salty burger sensation, you won’t want to go back to the original.

  1. Oxtail Soup

A soup made out of a cow’s tail?! Wait till you tail your friends back home about this island favorite. Oxtail is a bony, gelatin-rich meat, which is slow-cooked to produce its own broth, commonly seasoned with ginger, anise, orange peel, peanuts, chili, mustard greens, onions, and cilantro. You can find oxtail soup in many restaurants across Hawaii, but several specialize in this dish including local favorites like Aiea Bowl, Kapiolani Coffee Shop, and Asahi Grill. Consider it your new favorite comfort food.

  1. Ube

The mysterious purple ingredient that is making an appearance in almost every dessert across Hawaii is called Ube. Pronounced as ooh-beh, the purple yam has been a long-time staple ingredient in Filipino cuisine. Ube is known to have a sweet creamy texture that is perfect for incorporating into delicious treats and desserts for all to enjoy. There are many variations of ube desserts to try in Hawaii, such as the ube pancakes at YogurStory, ube ice cream from Magnolia Ice Cream, ube cheesecakes from Ubae, and ube boba tea at Infinitea. Trust us, it’s ube-tastic.