“To travel is to live,” said Hans Christian Anderson.
As travellers, many of our lasting memories are tied up with food – not only what we ate, but also where we were and with whom.
The memory of sipping a Mai Tai at the beach bar with our toes dug into the sand at Waikiki Beach as the sun sets, for example, brings back the joy of a full day spent with friends.
Food also travels, reflecting the history of a nation.
Hawaiian food is a melting pot of many cultures. Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese and European settlers all influenced local cuisine, adapting their dishes to local ingredients and culture.
No beginning seems complete without an ending, and that applies to meals in Hawaii.
Hawaiians love dessert. There are huge line ups at their favourite bakeries. Alongside their plate lunches locals are tucking into malasadas. Meanwhile, on the North Shore, haupia (coconut pudding) sits on the plate beside a meal of kalua pig and poi.
Here’s our guide to some of the treats we enjoyed on our recent trip to Hawaii. While it’s not an exhaustive list, you’ll find many foods of interest to start you on your own sweet journey.
No Hawaiian food tour would be complete without malasadas. Hawaii’s answer to the doughnut, these deep-fried balls of sweet yeast dough rolled in sugar can be purchased throughout the island. Brought to Hawaii by the Portuguese, malasadas are available at markets across the island, but there are only a few places where they’re made to order, Leonard’s Bakery being the most famous.
This family-run restaurant commenced trade in 1952, making doughnuts the next year for Shrove Tuesday…and ever since! They’re now an obsession, shoppers carrying their pink boxes easily identifiable around town. 933 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu
Haupia is a traditional coconut milk-based Hawaiian dessert often found at luaus and other local gatherings. It’s both gluten and dairy free, (but certainly not calorie free)! Why try it? Because that’s where all our coconut-based desserts come from!
While plate lunches are a ‘must try’ item in Hawaii, they’re usually savoury with no sweet spot. Hawaiians have their own version, however, which we sampled at the Waiahole Poi Factory on the North Shore Food Tour with Hawaii Food Tours (a great way to check out food, by the way).
Comprising kalua pork (smoky, moist pulled pork), poi (pounded taro root), lomi lomi (salsa), the dessert element on the plate is haupia (coconut pudding). 48-140 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe
Haupia Cream Pie
Since World War II, haupia has become popular as a topping for cakes, especially on white cakes at weddings.
Ted’s Bakery at Haliewa on the North Shore has been catering for people from around the world for decades, bringing them Hawaiian dishes for sustenance to tackle (or watch) the big waves. The most famous pie from Ted’s Bakery is the Chocolate haupia cream pie. With a layer of rich, smooth dark chocolate custard cream, filled with another layer of haupia (creamy coconut pudding); topped with whipped topping, it’s a decadent treat. There’s also a Pumpkin haupia cream pie – Halloween is coming!
59-024 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa
If you’re thinking Slurpee at this point, then you are way off the mark! Hawaiian shave ice is next generation!
Matsumoto Shave Ice at Haleiwa was the original (and some would say best) shave ice place on Oahu, beginning trade in 1951, often serving over 1,000 shave ice daily.
Our favourite, however, is Island Vintage Shave Ice on the first floor of the Ala Moana Shopping Centre. There’s also an outlet in front of the Royal Hawaiian at Waikiki. Their Heavenly Liliko’i shave ice combines passionfruit and strawberry shave ice with frozen yoghurt, popping passionfruit boba, and is served with homemade mochi and condensed milk. Yummo!
Mochi ice Cream
Mochi, of course, is a Japanese dessert in its own right, however it’s favoured in Hawaii as mochi ice cream. It’s for sale at supermarkets, or buy it from Bubbies Ice Cream in the Koko Marina Shopping Centre, or closer to Waikiki Beach at Mauna Kea Mist at the back of Shirokiya Japan Village Walk in Ala Moana Shopping Centre.
Mauna Key Mist
The Mauna Key Mist shop also sells the viral Instagram dessert, dry ice-frozen mist balls, named after the dormant volcano Mauna Kea.
Pop a frozen ball of cereal into your mouth and you too can breathe out mist just like a volcano! The stall also sells other goodies such as F’real shakes, and the Hawaiian Honey Cane. Be warned: don’t swallow the liquid ice!
Liliha Bakery is famous for their coco puffs, selling over 5,000 daily. Their coco puffs are available in regular custard, chocolate, and green tea.
With a choux pastry-like crust, the chocolate-filled puffs topped with Chantilly cream (a bit similar to salted caramel) are served cold.
Coco puffs aren’t the only treat at Liliha Bakery either. They also sell poi mochi donuts! 580 N Nimitz Hwy, Honolulu
The unassuming Aloha Kitchen is a Japanese-influenced café that makes a very light soufflé pancake. Probably originating in Gram Café, soufflé pancakes are huge trend in Japan for their “Fuwa Fuwa” texture. They’re often served in stacks of three.
Aloha Kitchen serves one huge pancake rather than a stack with the choice of several toppings, such as fresh tropical fruit, banana and coconut with macadamia nuts. It may look a bit like a giant crumpet, but it’s so fluffy and airy that it melts like a cloud in your mouth. These pancakes have hitting our shores, so watch out! For us it’s a ‘must do’ dish. 432 Ena Rd, Honolulu
Dole pineapple ice cream
The Hawaiian Pineapple Plantation (later known as the Dole Food Company) was founded by James Dole in 1901 Dole (pineapple) Cannery was one of the island’s major employer for many years, with founder James Dole at one time growing 75% of the world’s pineapples. By 2007, all the canneries in Hawaii had closed, however pineapple remains one of the island’s favourite fruits, the Dole pineapple juicy and sweet without any sour aftertaste at all.
Not only do pineapples take pride of place in souvenir shops, but locals enjoy eating pineapple rolled in li hing (salty plum) powder, as juice in Mai Tai along with rum (from sugar cane, another of the island’s agricultural products), in a smoothie with lychee and pineapple juice with li hing powder, or in ice cream.
(NOTE: Be aware that besides natural ingredients, li hing powder contains saccharine, aspartame, red and yellow colourings.)
Besides serving deliciously fresh shrimp from the aquaculture dams beside their shop, Fumi’s Shrimp Farm on the North Shore serves a non-dairy Dole pineapple ice cream which is preservative and additive free. It’s simply delicious! 56-781 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku
For a modern take on Hawaiian flavours, we can’t go past Yauatcha on the top floor of the International Marketplace, Oahu. Michelin-starred London restaurant Yauatcha (started by Chef Alan Yau) opened their Honolulu branch in 2017. Their ‘Tropical Dome’ is a modern Japanese interpretation of sunshine captured in a dessert. Using European culinary techniques and tropical ingredients, such as with coconut dacquoise, liliko’i (passionfruit) and pineapple, captured within a dome, this dessert was created especially for the opening of Yauatcha Waikiki; a little taste of Hawaii glistening in the sun. (Is there a snow dome for Alaska?)
So, what are your favourite Hawaiian desserts? Post a comment to tell us about your delicious discoveries.