Hawaii: food

As always, when visiting a place I try to eat what the locals eat. In Hawaii this means plate lunch, malasadas, spam musubu, and a large variety of Japanese-style dishes like udon noodles. All will be sampled and presented here, but in sequence.

In Hawaii, Malasadas are Portugese-style donuts invented in Madeira, freshly fried spheres of dough dusted with crystallized sugar. The traditional ones are unfilled, but they’re sometimes stuffed with substances like coconut or chocolate cream. By all accounts, the best malasadas in Hawaii are to be had at Leonard’s,  which has both a brick and mortar shop and a “Malasadamobile,” which fries them to order.

The truck, thank Ceilng Cat, is situated near where I’m staying. And there’s always a line.

The menu. I’m not sure what ling hing is; “li hing” is preserved plum, Chinese style, but I’m not sure that’s what this is. “Hupia is coconut custard.

I was greedy and got both a chocolate and a hupia donut, both hot from the fryer. They were so filling that I wasn’t hungry again for many hours. Here’s the coconut-filled version:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Hawaiians love the tinned product Spam; the inhabitants have the highest per capita consumption of Spam in America (I believe it’s six cans per person per year here). It was invented in 1937, and contains both ham and pork shoulder.

GI’s were issued the tinned meat their mess kits during World Was II, and some of it found its way to the civilian population as a cheap source of protein. It’s now served many ways: in Chinese dishes, as a form of sushi (Spam musubi, a slab of spam atop sushi rice, bound with seaweed; I had some on our Albatross Hike yesterday), as a breakfast meat, and so on. It’s pre-cooked, so all you need to do is warm up what’s in the can.

And yes, it’s served at McDonald’s here, as a breakfast option.  Here’s more information from Wikipedia:

Hawaiian Burger King restaurants began serving Spam in 2007 to compete with the local McDonald’s chains.In Hawaii, Spam is so popular that it is sometimes referred to as “The Hawaiian Steak”. There is even an annual Spam-themed festival on the island of Oahu that takes place every spring, known as the “Waikiki Spam Jam. Local chefs and restaurants compete to create new Spam-themed dishes, which are then sold in a massive street fair on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki.

In 2017, Hawaii was plagued by a rash of thefts of Spam. Spam had long been a target of thieves in Hawaii, but the magnitude of the thefts ramped up, with incidents in which multiple cases of Spam were stolen at once. Local retailers believe organized crime was involved.[32] This came alongside increases in thefts of some other retail goods, such as corned beef and liquor. The president of the retail merchants of Hawaii attributed the rise in retail thefts to a recent change in criminal law, which raised the threshold at which a theft would lead to felony charges by approximately $400.

Two other marks of Spam’s fame: it’s become, of course, the term for unwanted email, and it was the subject of Monty Python’s famous sketch:

I wanted to see how many varieties of Spam could be had in Hawaii, so I went to a local Safeway. Several of these flavors are available at the Wal-Mart supermarket near where I live in Chicago, but the ones with the asterisks are not:

Regular Spam
Spam Lite
Jalapeño Spam
Spam with bacon
Spam with Portuguese sausage*
Spam with Tocino* (pork belly bacon)
Spam with turkey
Spam with black pepper
Hot and spicy Spam*
Low sodium Spam

I hear they also have teriyaki spam, cheese spam, and garlic Spam, but I didn’t see them.

Spam spam spam spam spam spam spam spam

Lunch at the nearby plate lunch chain emporium, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. Here’s a small plate lunch consisting of one scoop of rice (there are usually two), a scoop of macaroni salad, and a generous helping of teriyaki-glazed short ribs. It was delicious, and this “tiny” portion filled me up:

This is the place reputed to make the best loco moco in Hawaii. Near Waikiki, the Rainbow Drive-In is a fixture, and there’s always a line.

This is about 11:30 a.m. Service is fast.

Loco moco, also known as “heart attack on a plate”, consists of two fried eggs (mine were over easy) resting atop two hamburger patties, which themselves lie on two generous scoops of rice, all covered with brown gravy. And there’s the ubiquitous scoop of macaroni salad on the side. (Remember, do not food shame me—I don’t usually eat like this. Food-shamers will be banned.)

This is a filling lunch!

Dessert (this is not all in one day): a strawberry shave ice at Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha, not too far from where I’m staying. A mound of shave ice infused with fresh strawberry syrup, a scoop of premium Tahitian vanilla ice cream on top, and surrounded with fresh diced strawberries. It was great, but I like the green tea shave ice better, as it’s served with a lot of sweetened azuki beans, mochi, and, if you want it, ice cream.

A shoyu pork plate lunch from Zippy’s.


  1. Posted January 7, 2019 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Two other marks of Spam’s fame: it’s become, of course, the term for unwanted email, and it was the subject of Monty Python’s famous sketch:

    Two marks in one sense but only one mark in another.

    I think the etymology of the former comes directly from the latter.


  2. Serendipitydawg
    Posted January 7, 2019 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Wow, so many types of Spam… we get exacly one type, Spam 😦

    Dessert (this is not all in one day)
    Good for you – I think I would have to have put ‘not all in one week’! That main looked gooooood 😀

    • Serendipitydawg
      Posted January 7, 2019 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      And I have to add that I regard Spam as a food group in its own right and the ambrosia of the imaginary deities.

    • Derek Freyberg
      Posted January 7, 2019 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      I understand there is also kosher Spam (made with beef and no pork), though I’ve never seen it.

      • Serendipitydawg
        Posted January 7, 2019 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        Interesting. I always thought the name was a contraction of spiced ham, probably an urban myth ghat I have taken as gospel.

        I would particularly like to sample the Jalapeño Spam from PCCe’s list. Low sodium can take a hike, though when my blood pressure does head north I imagine I would be glad of it (depends whether they substitue KCl for NaCl or just drop the NaCl down).

        Man, I’m hungry. 14 minutes to go until dinner 😉

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 7, 2019 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      I have never eaten spam. It looks too much like dog food, and I was told it tasted like corned beef (which I don’t like) and so it never appealed. I’d probably try it if I went to Hawaii, but there are so many other tasty looking things that I may still be able to avoid it.

      • Posted January 7, 2019 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

        We used to get spam quite often at boarding school in England, and I can tell you that it doesn’t taste at all like corned beef. It tastes like spam. 🙂

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted January 8, 2019 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

          Ha ha!

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 7, 2019 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    A very nice review with photos of the local food in Hawaii. I believe the popularity of spam is somewhat a transfer from the orient also from the WWII American military. Someone should probably research all of this but my actual experience tells me that South Korea is the king of spam. It is also supreme in another American food, the all meat hot dog. My evidence is from the volume of these items we use to ship overseas to locations where our military serves. Korea received far more than the other location.

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 7, 2019 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I wondered if you had experienced the Huli Huli chicken?

  5. Posted January 7, 2019 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    The best hamburger I ever had was in Maui. Hawaiian beef is amaaazing. Revelatory. I did not know it could be like that.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 7, 2019 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Is there a story behind all the macaroni salad?

    That’s a dish I usually associate with Midwest picnics on summer Sundays, or a cold-plate platter at a deli. Don’t get me wrong, nothing at all wrong with it. It’s filling and can be tasty if prepared properly, but hardly a delicacy. And the pairing with white rice seems unusual and starchily redundant.

    • Posted January 7, 2019 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      I had wondered the same thing – it is like how in some places one gets fries with everything or coleslaw etc. by the looks of things.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted January 7, 2019 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        I am a bit of a coleslaw fanatic. Love it. Always order it if I can. No idea why it draws me so.

    • Joe Dickinson
      Posted January 7, 2019 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      “Starchily redundant” captures my feelings perfectly.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 7, 2019 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      probably redundant but note that rice is Thee food in the orient. Morning rice, lunch rice, and evening rice. Makes no difference what, there is always rice. The oriental influence in Hawaii is total. In any Japanese home the rice cooker is front and center at most every meal.

  7. Joe Dickinson
    Posted January 7, 2019 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    When I did my sabbatical in Hawaii, it was standard practice to pick up a plate lunch on the way to a Drosophila collecting site. We of course needed local guides to take us to the best spots for finding flies and they also knew the places to get a good plate lunch. Fond memory: the West Maui Mountains often accumulate a cloud cap which, when you’re in it is perceived as fog. We had been collecting all morning in a heavy fog high up on West Maui. Just as we took a break to enjoy our plate lunches, the fog lifted and we discovered we had been collecting just along the edge of a spectacular canyon that cuts through those mountains. Beautiful!

  8. Christopher
    Posted January 7, 2019 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Do Hawaiians eat any vegetables?

    • Posted January 7, 2019 at 5:30 pm | Permalink


      • Christopher
        Posted January 7, 2019 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

        That autocorrect made me literally laugh out loud!

        I’ve never eaten taro (or tarp for that matter) but I guess I’d have expected more veg. For a vegetarian, it sounds like Hawaii would leave much to be desired but I’d imagine plenty of great fruit around. This is the big drawback to being a vegetarian traveler.

  9. Posted January 7, 2019 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Do not forget saimin, one of my favorite noodle soups ever.

    It’s a bit of a fusion between ramen and Chinese and Filipino dishes but also often includes spam. Best place I know of is in Kauai (Hamura saimin) but I’m sure you’ll be able to find on Oahu.

  10. Posted January 7, 2019 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Etymonline describes the origin of the word “spam” thus:


  11. Posted January 7, 2019 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Had spam, egg, and chips many a time in England. Loved the stuff even before emigrating to the US.

    I’ve tried several of those Spam flavors and, IMHO, the best is the low-sodium one. It tastes exactly like regular Spam just not as salty. The others taste like crap, also IMHO, as do the many Spam knock-offs.

  12. Posted January 7, 2019 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    We have many L&L Barbecue places here in California. Looking at their website, they are mostly in Hawaii and US west coast but with a few in other states. Unfortunately for our host, none yet in IL.

  13. Frank Bath
    Posted January 7, 2019 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Malasadas, Portugese-style donuts, are what we know as doughnuts in the UK, eaten cold and usually injected with jam (jelly). US ring donuts with their non fattening centre are now getting big here as well.

  14. Joe Bussen
    Posted January 7, 2019 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Went to lunch on Maui with two very large Hawaiian men; one whispered to me, “we usually order extra salad”, so, thinking extra salad is good, I did the same. So, two scoops rice, two scoops mac salad, a few cabbage wisps, and a generous chunk of meat.

  15. Posted January 7, 2019 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Spam apart, a nice lot of yummies there!

  16. John Conoboy
    Posted January 7, 2019 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    The loco moco is the ultimate in comfort food. Love it. We have a local food truck here in Albuquerque that sometimes has it, and will, if you ask, add green chile. I make them at home with green chile sauce instead of the gravy, and I am sure I will go to cultural appropriation hell for this, but I don’t care.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted January 7, 2019 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      When I was in college, my comfort food was steak and eggs.

  17. DrBrydon
    Posted January 7, 2019 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    My wife just went on Amazon, and ordered a Spam sampler with twelve different kinds of Spam. And, of course, it came from a re-seller called Hawaiian Store.

  18. Roger
    Posted January 7, 2019 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Just realized I haven’t had macaroni salad in ages and have never made any myself, even though I shouldn’t have any because I would eat a lot of it.

  19. LDuke
    Posted January 7, 2019 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    For all things SPAM, check out the website of a the official SPAM Museum: https://www.spam.com/museum

  20. Posted January 7, 2019 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    I love spam, straight out of the can and sliced with bread, or fried or incorporated into sushi.

    • Posted January 8, 2019 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      I read somewhere that Spam is popular on Okinawa. Is that where that sushi idea is from?

      • Posted January 8, 2019 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know. I had got the impression that spam sushi might have originated in Hawaii.

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