"For visitors, Hawaiian food means a luau," says Andrew Zimmern. "For people who live here, the true taste of Hawaii is in its snack food." Poke, manapua, shave ice, malasadas: Hawaii’s iconic snacks are one-of-a-kind. Like the waves of people who introduced, adapted and embraced them, they’re unique to the islands, a happy blend of sweet, savory, puckery and hot. Here is a handy guide to some of our favorite snacks.
Introduced by the Islands’ first Portuguese immigrants, malasadas are balls of doughy goodness that have been deep-fried and rolled in sugar. At Leonard’s Bakery on the edge of Waikiki, they’re made to order and come out piping hot, fluffy and utterly delicious. A generation ago the bakery’s founding Rego family introduced the sugary sweet for Shrove Tuesday, a Portuguese tradition preceding Lent, and malasadas took off. 933 Kapahulu Ave., Honolulu, 808.737.5591
Right after the beach on hot summer days, there’s nothing like a delicious cone of soft, sweet ice to remind you that Hawaii no ka oi (Hawaii is the best). Just ask President Obama, who takes Sasha and Malia on at least one shave ice outing every time he visits his island home. The ice is shaved ultra-fine by sharp blades, mounded by hand atop paper cones and doused with fruity syrups. The most popular flavor? Old-fashioned strawberry. Most popular combo? Rainbow, a colorful cone with strawberry, vanilla and banana syrups. President Obama favors cherry and lemon-lime. Don’t forget add-ons like sweet condensed milk, ice cream or sweet red azuki beans. Waiola Shave Ice, 2135 Waiola St., Honolulu, 808.949.2269 and 3113 Mokihana St., Honolulu, 808.735.8886; Matsumoto Shave Ice, 66-087 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa, 808.637.4827
Children in Hawaii know the puckery knobs of salted preserved plum called li hing mui are good for sore throats, but there’s much more to it than that. Li hing mui is just one of an infinite assortment of crack seed, a favorite after-school snack named for the process of cracking the seed inside some of the fruit before it’s preserved. There’s rock salt plum, pickled plum, lemon peel and pickled apricot. Newer varieties include shredded mango and candied ginger. Flavors range from uber-salty to sweet-tart to salty-spicy.
Poke in Hawaiian (pronounced POH-keh) means “to slice or cut,” which is exactly what’s done to premium raw fish to turn it into one of Hawaii’s favorite snacks. In olden days the cubed fish was simply mixed with sea salt and crushed kukui nuts; today, reflecting the Islands’ mixed cultures, the incarnations are infinite. Supermarkets typically sell a dozen or more varieties, with different stores known for different specialties. Even local Safeway and Whole Foods stores feature poke counters. Popular choices include ahi mixed with soy sauce (shoyu ahi poke), spicy ahi and salmon poke. There’s even smoked meat poke, raw crab poke and vegan tofu poke. The best part: Every poke counter offers free samples, so don’t be afraid to taste different selections until you find your favorite. Tamura’s Fine Wines & Liquors, 1216 10th Ave., Honolulu, 808.735.7100; Ono Seafoods, 747 Kapahulu Ave., Honolulu, 808.732.4806