Six Things To Know About Hawaiian Cuisine

We’re here to tell you that there’s a little bit more to Hawaiian Food than sticking a pig in the ground.   On May 2nd, LUCKYRICE hosts a Sunset Luau presented by Hawaiian Airlines. Some of Hawai‘i’s most decorated chefs, including Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi, will be on hand to serve dishes that represent the latest evolution of Hawaiian cuisine. Limited tickets are still available here.

In the meantime, here are six things you may not know:

1. Traditional Hawaiian cuisine is a slippery subject
You must look back at the history of the people who first came to Hawai‘i to attempt to define traditional Hawaiian cuisine. The early Polynesians came to Hawaii by canoe (!), bringing pigs, sweet potato, coconuts and taro with them. This early, ancient cuisine was simple. Raw cubed fish seasoned with sea salt, fresh seaweed and roasted kukui nuts (a dish often called poke) and fish, taro and whole pigs cooked in an imu—an underground pit of hot rocks—were common dishes. There are still restaurants that serve traditional fare like lau lau, kalua pig and poi (made from taro) and families still serve these dishes at their gatherings.

2. Hawaiian cuisine is an Asian melting pot
“Today you will find twenty different ways raw tuna is prepared around Hawai‘i,” says Hawaiian Airlines Executive Chef Chai Chaowasaree. “You can trace that back to the emergence of the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine.” In the early 1990s, 12 Hawaiian chefs—including Sam Choy, Mark Ellman, Wong and Yamaguchi—joined forces to establish Hawai‘i as a destination for exquisitely sourced and inventive cooking that united incredible local produce and the melting pot of cultures living on the islands: Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Thai, Japanese and Caucasian. Since then, HRC has been recognized all over the world, while many second-generation Hawaiian chefs like Chaowasaree and Mark Noguchi have expanded into even more creative territories.

3. You can basically grow anything in Hawai‘i
“People can go to the farmers markets or restaurants and see locally grown hearts of palm, strawberries, sea asparagus, kale, and so much more,” said James Beard Award winning locavore “kahuna” Alan Wong. With an incredibly diverse climate—rain, sun and even snow on Mauna Kea on the Big Island—a wide variety of produce is at the Hawaiian chef’s disposal. Hawai‘i is the only state where cacao grows naturally. “20 years ago you couldn’t find lemongrass or Thai chili peppers on the island,” recalled Chaowasaree, who now can buy kaffir lime, rambutan, fern shoots, dragonfruit and his beloved lemongrass from local growers. And this isn’t reserved for vegetables. A special red veal is raised on the Big Island and a growing aquaculture industry serves the chefs with kampachi and baby abalone farmed in offshore nets (not tanks).

4. The luau goes indoors, gets classy
The traditional luau—imu, pig, dancers, rum punch—is still a big part of the Hawai‘i tourist experience. But because of the difficulty getting approval to cook in an outdoor open fire, it’s not always feasible. Or, desirable. Chefs like Roy Yamaguchi have brought the luau indoors by using convection ovens, charcoal and barbecue chips to recreate the imu cooking methods. “Smoke and moisture is a big part of the flavor and process,” he said. And the elevated luau goes beyond the pig. At the LUCKYRICE Sunset Luau, Yamaguchi is serving a Vietnamese dish—a curried pancake with duck liver pate. Chaowasaree is doing spicy lemongrass oxtail soup shooters and a king crab cake with organic vegetables flown in from the Big Island.

5. The food on Hawaiian Airlines is REAL food
Hawaiian Airlines is one of the few airlines to serve a full complimentary meal on every flight – regardless of class – inspired by Hawaiian Regional Cuisine. The task of maintaining incredibly high standards falls on the shoulders of Chai Chaowasaree. He rises to the occasion with dishes that include lemongrass and coconut milk poached Kona lobster and crab salad with crispy wonton tacos.

6. Book your ticket to the Hawai‘i Food and Wine Festival
In only its second year, the upstart Hawaii Food and Wine Festival will feature three days of chef demos, talks and, of course, cooking showcasing the sustainability, local produce and the pillars of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine. Confirmed participants among the 50+ chefs include Roy Choi, Todd English, Susan Feniger, Robert Irvine, Nobu Matsuhisa, Seamus Mullen and Ming Tsai.  Click here to enter to win a trip to the festival.

— Matt Rodbard

Check out Anthony Bourdain in Hawai‘i.  This was a great show.  Somebody posted the whole thing on YouTube.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


LUCKYRICE Sunset Luau presented by Hawaiian Airlines

May 2
Plunge Rooftop Lounge at the
Gansevoort Meatpacking Hotel
18 Ninth Ave.
6:00pm to 9:00pm


Alan Wongʻs

Chopped ahi sashimi and avocado salsa stack


Hawaiian Crown Sweet Gold Pineapple “Shave Ice”

Hawai‘i Rancherʻs Ribeye – Luau leaf, curried ban mi

Hawaiian Airlines

Spicy Lemongrass Oxtail Soup Shooter with Ho Farms cherry tomato, Hawaiian chili water and kaffir lime

Crab Cake with roasted garlic aioli, pickled Big Island rainbow vegetables

Sticky Rice Fried Rice with shiitake mushroom, Lob Chong and island chicken wrapped with Ti leaves

Lemongrass and coconut milk poached Kona lobster with Aloun Farms sweet corn and lobster reduction

Lomi Lomi Salmon and Big Island abalone with poi

Lani Kai

Singapore Sling: BOMBAY SAPPHIRE gin pineapple juice, lime juice, Benedictine, Cherry Hering, Cointreau, Grenadine, Angostura Bitters, garnished with pineapple & cherry flag

Mai Tai: Aged rum, lime juice, Orange Curacao, Orgeat, garnished with an orchid, mint and lime wheel

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