The Best Local Flavors on Oahu

Spam musubis, fried rice and must-try, mouthwatering sweet treats.


As much as Spam may be mocked on the mainland, the canned meat is a serious mainstay among island residents who have jokingly at times referred to it as Hawaiian steak.

Wrapped in nori, stir-fried with noodles, plated with eggs, Spam knows no culinary boundaries when it comes to the local palate. And since Hawaii has the highest per capita consumption of Spam in the United States, it's not surprising that chefs and restaurants have embraced the product as a staple ingredient in many of their dishes.

Popular diners, such as Side Street Inn, Like Like Drive Inn and Zippy's, serve delicious fried rice. Prepared exactly how it sounds, fried rice is usually cooked in a wok with ingredients that consist of soy sauce, sugar and oyster sauce. Mix in some scrambled eggs, green onions and—of course—Spam, and you have yourself a meal all in one.

Spam musubi is another ubiquitous favorite. A slice of Spam is fried then placed on a block of hot rice and wrapped in nori which is Japanese for seaweed wrapper. The snack is so popular that it's readily found at any grab-and-go grocery store or even gas station around the island.

Fried rice with Spam
Fried rice with Spam (©Kirk Lee Aeder/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Sweet Indulgences

Hawaii's unique blend of cultures and ethnicities has embraced one true factor: a fusion of flavors that's unlike anything in this world. While the Portuguese introduced malasadas, a fried donut covered in sugar, it was the Chinese who had us taste dried pickled plum known as li hing mui. Meanwhile, Native Hawaiians taught us how to make the best kūlolo, a taro dessert, and coconut pudding called haupia. Despite the differences in geographical origin, as long as something tastes good, we're always willing to sample.

It comes in sugar or cinnamon spice and most definitely everything nice as locals flock to Leonard's Bakery for its fresh batch of malasadas.

Malasadas—a fried doughnut covered in sugar
Fresh, warm malasadas (©Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Li hing mui is known as a dried plum that's sucked or nibbled until the soft meat around the pit is completely gone. Found mostly at any local drug or grocery store on the island, it has a balanced flavor combination of sweet and sour. We suggest buying the local snack in dried powder form and taking it home as gifts to share or to prepare tarty margaritas.

 Li hing mui
Various li hing mui (©Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Made with baked or steamed grated taro then mixed with brown sugar and creamy coconut milk, kūlolo is a real treat that's traditionally served at the end of a Hawaiian meal. Get a taste of kūlolo at Highway Inn, which receives fresh batches from Kaua'i every Thursday.

Using such quality local ingredients as lilikoi and guava, Honolulu Cookie Company has been serving up its signature pineapple-shaped shortbread cookies for nearly 20 years. 

HCC's new guava flavor
HCC's new guava flavor (©Honolulu Cookie Company)

Ask any local from Hawaii what childhood snack they recall the most and they’ll more than likely mention something about a shave ice. Named after it’s literal term of “shaved” pieces of ice that’s packed firmly into a paper cup or a fancy flower cup holder, shave ice’s delectable reputation has steadily kept pace as one of Hawaii’s most favorite desserts or snacks. From traditional syrup flavors of strawberry or pineapple to extravagant additions of azuki beans or a heaping scoop of custard pudding, Oahu boasts some of the best treats that’s sure to beat day’s heat. Favorite places to enjoy this treat include Matsumoto Shave Ice in Hale'iwa or Island Vintage Shave Ice.

Shave ice
Beat the heat with North Shore's ever-popular shave ice. (©Matsumoto Shave Ice)