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Must Have Ingredients For All Hawaiian Cooks

Updated on November 12, 2011

Cooking Local Style

Ok, so maybe you know someone who lives in Hawaii or maybe you know someone who used to and now they live near you. One of the things I'm certain most all readers understand, is when it comes to fitting in with those of other cultures, food is serious business. The importance of "breaking bread" together dates back to ancient times and presents a great opportunity for people to warm up to and get to know one another. With local Hawaiian culture, instead of "breaking bread," the staple will likely be rice; unless one really wants to be 100% true to Hawaiian cuisine, poi is where it's at.

If you like to eat and can be adventurous in doing so - possessing a palate that enjoys a variety of things - having intentions of being befriended by or impressing a local brudda, sista, or ohana (family) from da islands, here are some items you will want to have on hand in your kitchen. Understand, cheese and crackers really won't quite cut it... Many local favorites are simple and if you are planning on showing hospitality to some kamaaina (people of the "the islands") they will be impressed by your stash of ingredients and maybe even how you put them to use!

White rice: not long grain, short - so it will be sticky!

Portuguese Sweet Bread: This makes the most wonderful french toast, accompanied by coconut syrup, one might think they are eating a danish. Kings Hawaiian is Portuguese sweet bread. There isn't a good substitute for this bread when it also comes to Kalua Pork sandwiches (a similar equivalent, known here on the mainland as "pulled pork"). Traditional Kalua Pig is a whole cleaned pig (an oxymoron) covered with Ti leaves and put into an Imu (pit) and allowed to slow cook. A pork butt can go covered into the oven on low with some liquid smoke and hawaiian salt and achieve near same results.

Saimen: Known in other parts of the world as Ramen. This makes for great soup, including "Won Ton Mein" (vegetables, noodles, wontons and maybe some char siu pork..) or for "fried noodles" containing some of the same or similar ingredients.

Shoyu (soy sauce): This source of sodium is popular it seems throughout most of the world when I would have thought as a kid growing up, it was only used in Asian cultures. I remember when I had a Ukrainian boyfriend whose mom liked to cook and she'd spoil us w/her homemade piroshki, little filled pastas called varenicki and pilimeni (sp???) we'd eat them with a spot of soy as well.

Fresh Ginger: Ginger root is used a lot in local cooking...teriyaki marinades, some versions of Shoyu Chicken and Chicken Long Rice - something I've never made but is kind of like the Hawaiian version of Chicken Noodle rice noodles are used...they look kind of like long gold gummy worms.

Spam: Spam and Eggs for breakfast; Spam Musubi. Musubi is nori, white rice and spam all rolled up in a neat little package...I don't do spam but I like Teriyaki Chicken Musubi...In Hawaii, "The Musubi Man," is a book I love. It's a fun spin off from the classic tale, "The Gingerbread Man."

Vienna Sausage: Another mystery meat that keiki (kids) in Hawaii are typically introduced to as one of their first finger foods...I'm not a fan (and I don't like bologna either).

Portuguese Sausage: Portuguese sausage and eggs is a breakfast favorite. Some may eat Portuguese sausage as a 'pupu' (an appetizer). My favorite soup is Portuguese Bean Soup...can't make it without this sausage. It's a hearty soup with ham-hock as well, carrots, onions, cabbage, kidney beans, a tomato base, and I like it with just macaroni...some put potatoes too but for me that is way too much carbs...and locals like to eat it w/rice too....I like it with sourdough bread...after all, my roots were "haole" (word for Caucasians, particularly foreign ones) first.

Nori: Dried seaweed used for making sushi, musubi and some kids just like to eat sheets of it all by itself. Before any moisture is added to it, it's somewhat crispy.

Won Ton (Japanese) and Lumpia (Filipino) Wrappers: These are great for filing with meat and vegetable concoctions and deep frying although I prefer Lumpias to fried Won Tons...Won Tons are smaller so they don't contain as much filling but they are good steamed in soup...also, wontons sliced in thin strips and fried make for great additions to add texture in dishes such as an oriental salad.

Rock Salt: Red "Alae" from Kauai is considered 'no ka oi' (the best.)

Furikake: A condiment used on rice...consists of diced nori, sesame seeds, and dried fish flakes.

Kim Chee: Korean spicy pickled cabbage eaten as a condiment. I prefer the version made with cucumber.

Takuan: Pickled Japanese Daikon Radish. I love to eat this as a condiment with Korean Mi Jun...a fried beef teriyaki dish having a batter consisting of beaten eggs with green onion and soy sauce..

Red Chili Pepper: Great to kick anything up a notch (we can steal this from Emeril since he wasn't the first one to exclaim "bam" when he hubby was doing that too before Emeril got his show and they've never met). It is great in Mexican food and chili con carne as well. Some locals like to have "chili peppa watah" on hand to sprinkle on their food, depending on what they are eating.

Sweet Thai Chili: This is a great dipping sauce for lumpias, egg rolls, coconut shrimp, and breaded or battered boneless fried chicken.

Sriracha or chili paste: Sriracha is Thai and I love to eat this on Mi Jun, on Puerto Rican Pasteles (my mother in law makes awesome Pasteles...they are somewhat similar to a Mexican tamale except grated green banana is used instead of corn mother in law is generous with the pork and black olives....) and on Lau Lau, an ancient Hawaiian main course consisting of taro leaves with the center housing pork - or chicken - and butter fish, all encased in an outer package of Ti leaves (you remove the ti leaves prior to eating). This is cooked by method of steam.

Coconut Milk: This is necessary for Chicken or Squid (actually octopus) Luau. This is another ancient main dish using taro leaves, one of the afore - mentioned proteins, coconut milk and salt. For the taro leaves, I recommend getting the ones that have already been deveined/cleaned from the frozen section of the store...if you can find them. If you live outside Hawaii, they may be more difficult to find but our Uncle Danny came across a canned version of these at Uwajimaya's and made the dish and when we asked how it was he said, "not bad," which really means, "pretty good." Coconut milk is not necessarily needed for a simple Hawaiian coconut desert called "Haupia," since it is sold prepackaged and you just add water and heat, but I can't help but think about Haupia when talking about coconut... I describe Haupia as having a combined consistency of pudding and's great by itself (cut into squares and can be eaten with fork or fingers) and it's awesome in the center filling of a coconut cake! My mother in law makes a purple sweet potato pie with a shortbread mac nut crust and topped w/ haupia....wish I had a piece right now!

Sesame Oil: A little of this goes a long way but is a must have ingredient for making poke

Oyster Sauce: Great for stir fry's and Filipino pancit noodles.

MIso: Japanese paste great for making soup (with tofu and green onion) and miso butterfish.

Rice Vinegar: Needed ingredient for making sushi.

Wasabi: Green Japanese horseradish mixed with soy sauce for dipping sushi. My husband also uses it to make a great wasabi buerre blanc butter sauce for white fish such as Opaka paka or Onaga (snapper) or tilapia (in Israel, St. Peters Fish!).

Patis: Fish sauce Filipino style...I'm assuming it is way better than bagaong (sp?) which I've been told several times is fermented fish guts...patis is really good in Filipino cooking. We make a pork dish with kabocha pumpkin, garlic, onion, tomato, eggplant, ebi, patis and shoyu (soy) and it's one of my favorite Filipino dishes.

Dried Ebi (shrimp), Ika (cuttlefish): Ebi is used in cooking such as the example cited directly above...some people like to just 'pupu' or snack on it straight from the bag...dried Ika or cuttlefish is something that is good to snack on with a beer.

Poi: Poi is something Hawaiians or those typically raised in Hawaii are crazy about. You can freeze it and may find it frozen. It isn't cheap as it is in low supply and in high demand. It is made from the taro plant root, pounded and mixed with water. Poi is super good for you, said to be better to feed a baby poi than rice cereal. It is a little gooey but if one likes the flavor of plain yogurt just fine, one should be able to appreciate poi. It is a greyish purple color and "sour poi" has sat out a couple days and has a little mold growing...I like sour poi just fine...just mix it all together. I can eat poi all by itself, but I enjoy it most with lomi lomi salmon (diced chunks of raw salmon, green and white onion, tomato and Hawaiian salt...the salt and the acid from the tomato keep it from remaining in a purely raw state). About a dozen years or so ago, "poi mochi" became popular...fried balls containing poi, Japanese mochi flour and I don't know what all else...again my mother in law has spoiled us at various times with her desire and ability to show us love and aloha through her cooking...

Mom, I dedicate this hub to you.


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  • christinekv profile image

    christinekv 3 years ago from Washington

    Thanks Kawika for the visit and comment! We have Bobby's Hawaiian restaurant here in Lynnwood Wa. Figured I'd mention it since you are so close and may venture up from time to time, if you weren't already aware. For a while I waited tables at a Hawaiian restaurant here in my town. They have moved back to Kauai though a couple years ago though and had closed down prior however, mainly for health reasons (he had a heart transplant). Was great working there, helped me not miss home so much. The, food, Brudda IZ and others for music, the local transplants coming in and we'd talk da kine. Should be heading back to the Big Island soon to stay...husband is already there as the Restaurant Chef for Kamuela Provision Co at the Hilton Waikoloa Hotel.

    A hui hou!

  • KawikaChann profile image

    KawikaChann 3 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

    Thanks a lot - now I'm hungry!!! We are fortunate that we live in Portland, and we know a lot of the Hawaiian plate lunch places out here - most of which are transplanted natives that have moved here for one reason or other.

    My wife and I are well versed in cooking local foods - and yes, Uwajis and other asian stores are here. Check out some of my recipes for a good Hawaiian plate 'fix'.

    Great hub. Peace. Kawi.

  • singingmommy profile image

    Candace Green 8 years ago from OKLAHOMA

    Great! Thanks!

  • profile image

    Debbie 9 years ago

    Oh that Portuguese bean soup is the best! My husband also likes cod fish, (soaked to unsalt) potatoes, onions and peppers baked in the oven, until brown and everything is soft, then pull it out and add oil, vinegar and salt. I forget the name of it but my mother-in-law makes this. We love it. Unfortunately I do not have an Uwajimaya store around but I am sure that I could possibly get on line. Google earth could probably help with that! I know the Greek foods you speak of. Those spinach pies are good for you too! I also love moussaka, and that is so cute that they called you Christinaki! When I was a waitress in a Greek Diner in 1977-79 the short order cook who was Puerto Rican used to called me.....ready! "MissaCalifornya!" but I am not from California! It was so funny! The accents and all. I love it! I learned to make some Italian, French, Greek and German food. I want to learn more it saves you from saying to yourself "What am I going to cook tonight????" So adding Hawaiian would be great ! Thank you again!

  • christinekv profile image

    christinekv 9 years ago from Washington

    Hi Debbie! Thanks for visiting and sharing once again! Last night, I made Portuguese bean soup for dinner!

    Your comments have taken me down memory lane! I have loved the people of the Meditteranean region which I've encountered....such passion! I had a boyfriend in my senior year of high school who was a couple years older than me and half Italian...his dad being full and I think his mom was Irish. I really hit it off with his mom and stayed in touch even after we broke up...we had a history which lasted a couple years of breaking up, getting back together and breaking up and getting back together, breaking up ...I was crazy about him, but he had a girlfriend before me who had his baby girl (he wasn't sure she was his for a while)...the woman was a little bit of a case but he kept trying to make it work with her. Anyway, we ended up being friends and he ended up marrying someone else who wasn't this babies mom, having custody of the little girl and a couple other kids with his wife. Wish we still were in touch...I also worked in an Italian restaurant in Calif before moving to was owned by Greeks, the Vlachos family. I had so much fun with them and learned a few words...they called me "Christinaki." I love moussaka, dolmades, osso bucco and spanakopita...hope I'm not doing terribly with my spelling....

    I'm 1/4 French too btw.

    Do you have an Uwajimaya store near you? You can find a lot of those ingredients there. Yes, my mother in law, one of the ways she shows her love is through cooking or else taking her loved ones out to eat someplace where the food is really "ono," or good, and where they give you plenty (locals really like their buffets!) And yes, that is my husband Thomas.

  • profile image

    Debbie 9 years ago

    That's great, I love to learn about other cultures, especially food because I am the cook of the house. I know about the Portuguese sweet bread and the Portuguese sausage as my husband is 1/2 Portuguese and 1/2 Brazilian. Thank you for the ideas as well. I am Italian, french and greek. My Aunts who I grew up with made everything from scatch and never opened a box or a can. So of course they took me at 5 years old and said: Here you roll out the dough. I thought it was a game so I made animal shapes instead of the ravioli I was supposed to make. Oh my Aunt knew her work was cut out for her! I loved making the cookies especailly around the Holidays. We did that for weeks in advance. Thank you once again Christine for sharing, the food sounds good and I don't know if it is possible to get all the ingrediants where I live, But it sure would be fun to try! How interesting the next time guests arrive I could have something totally different. I like doing that. Your mother-in-law sounds like a lovely person, as your husband as well. I guessing that is him next to you in the picture?

  • christinekv profile image

    christinekv 9 years ago from Washington

    Thanks Flutterbug77 for paying a visit and commenting - glad you enjoyed it!

  • flutterbug77 profile image

    flutterbug77 9 years ago from USA

    Yes, breaking bread with friends and family is very important, almost spiritual. Thanks for your wonderful hub!

  • christinekv profile image

    christinekv 9 years ago from Washington

    Thanks Theresa!

  • profile image

    Theresa Christiansen 9 years ago

    I just loved this! -tc-