Most Popular Christmas Foods in Hawaii
Mele Kalikimaka! Merry Christmas!
Though Hawaii weather during Christmas is usually warm and sunny (the only snow that can be found is on Hawaii’s mountains: Maunakea, Maunaloa and Haleakala), Santa can be seen around town wearing an Aloha shirt, slippahs, and throwing shakas – his pinky and thumb waving in the air.
Chistmas in Hawaii is something truly special -the sound of ukeleles strumming Christmas songs, the lyrics sung in Hawaiian. Sandy snowmen lined along the beach, and tropical palm trees lit with Christmas lights and ornaments.
How did Christmas come to the Hawaiian islands?
Prior to Christmas being named as a state holiday, and before Christianity was introduced, Makahiki was a season that was celebrated for four months during the winter solstice. Any sort of conflict was forbidden during this time. That meant no fighting and no wars. It was a time to just give thanks.
Christmas was introduced into the islands when a merchant ship landed in Waimea Bay in Kauai in 1786 and Captain George Dixon ordered a huge celebratory feast that included a whole pig. Soon after, many missionaries brought their own Christmas traditions to the islands.
King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma of Hawaii soon adopted those customs and celebrated Christmas in 1856 as a day of thanksgiving and later declared Christmas an official Hawaiian holiday in 1862.
Diversity in Hawaii and the Present Culture
Every nationality incorporated their language, culture, and cuisine into the islands, making Hawaii very much the melting pot it is today. Sharing foods became a way to overcome language barriers as well. To this day, family and friends bring their food for potluck-style Christmas get-togethers, at beach picnics or luaus (Hawaiian parties) in the backyard.
What flavors can we find?
The Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated islands, with many ingredients unavailable. Many multi-ethnic foods have been modified, using whatever ingredients are available.
Most Hawaiian dishes use soy sauce or shoyu. Traditional methods of cooking include an imu – an underground oven and wrapping food in ti and luau leaves. Though there is no true holiday dish reserved solely for Christmas (except turkey or ham) here is a comprehensive list of popular foods found at Hawaiian Christmastime.
Hawaiian Christmas Appetizers(Pupus)
Influenced by Japanese sushi, native Polynesians first created what is now a Hawaiian dish: poke. Poke has become popular over the years and is regarded as a healthy protein option. You can find it in mainland states such as California, Washington, and New York.
What makes Poke is raw, diced fish, typically ahi (yellowfin tuna), or sometimes octopus. It’s marinated in shoyu and sesame oil with sweet onions and sesame seeds. Next to the fish we can find seaweed, sriracha mayo, avocado, edamame, and rice or kimchi. Some chefs have got creative with poke, making interesting new twists, such as poke nachos.
2. Pork hash
Similar to the classic Chinese shumai, pork hash is served as a pupu (starter) before the main dish. The dumpling is filled with seasoned pork and shrimp, mixed with water chestnuts, oyster sauce and minced garlic. It is steamed open-faced in a dumpling wrapper.
Shoyu and hot mustard serve as a dipping sauce for this savory bite. Pork hash can be found at local grocery stores, along with manapua (below).
Influenced by many Asian cuisines, Hawaiians adopted the manapua which is roughly translated as “yummy pork pastry or cake.” It’s made from flour or wheat dough, filled with char siu (barbequed pork meat).
Other fillings including sweet potato, Chinese sausage, ginger or shoyu chicken. It’s either steamed or baked in the oven, and is sometimes topped with a sugar glaze.
Hawaiian Christmas Main dishes
4. Smoked Meats
Though Hawaii isn’t known for its hunting, wild boar hunting is still an active tradition for pig hunters and paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys). The kill provides plenty of food for a huge luau, where it is eaten along with other smoked meats by families and friends, gathered in celebration.
A crowd favorite, the pork loin, butt or shoulder is usually marinated overnight in shoyu, brown sugar, ginger and onions, then smoked in a charcoal-style grill with a lid.
5. Kalua Pork
Big parties and holidays bring the best of Hawaiian traditions, and that always includes a roasted pig for a Christmas luau. A typical showstopper at any grand feast, preparation takes at least one whole day.
Several people are needed to hoist the pig over the imu, the cooking pit which is filled with hot rocks and banana leaves. The whole salted pig is roasted or cooked for 8 to 12 hours, and covered with wet banana leaves and a tarp, resulting in tender meat that is shredded and cooked with cabbage.
6. Lau Lau
Lau lau is Polynesian pork, fish, or chicken dish. The meat is wrapped first in taro then ti leaves, then steamed in an imu. It can also be prepared using a crockpot, large steamer, or oven for several hours.
Salty and delicious, it comes served well with rice or poi (see 12). It’s a typical lunch dish that can be enjoyed any day.
7. Turkey or Ham
Even Hawaii can’t say no to the classics. Wild turkeys were introduced to Hawaii in 1788 and reintroduced again in the early 1960s to repopulate the islands. These days turkeys and ham are sold at every grocery store at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Popular turkey recipes for Hawaii include stuffing it with chopped Portuguese sausage or spam, cooked in an imu. For those who prefer the hog, this is typically prepared with Hawaiian mesquite using kiawe wood to smoke the ham and glazed with honey or pineapple guava, and covered in pineapple slices.
8. Alaskan King Crab Legs
King crab legs sell out fast, and are often hard to find, unless there’s a shipment at huge chain stores like Costco. Boiled or steamed and dressed in lemon and butter, crab legs are gobbled up fast. Just make sure to have the lobster crackers nearby!
9. Prime Rib
Like on the mainland, prime rib is a popular Hawaiian meal at Christmas. Though it’s not clear exactly when it became popular, for years big-name hotels and resorts like the Hilton, Courtyard Marriott, and Sheraton have offered the kama‘aina (Hawaii residents) the chance to take a break from hours of cooking, and dine at their restaurants, with prime rib as the number #1 attraction on their menu.
Tender and juicy, and coated with herbs and spices, it’s probably the easiest dish to make, baked in the oven for several hours, then sliced and served au jus (with gravy).
10. Korean Chicken
A typical plate lunch, it’s also a popular dish for holiday potluck. Chicken bites, drummers, and wings coated in potato or cornstarch, then deep-fried, tossed in shoyu, brown sugar and honey sauce, sometimes sprinkled with crushed red pepper flakes for heat.
It’s not heavily battered, and is crispier than typical fried chicken. As if all those flavors weren’t enough, it is finally topped with roasted sesame seeds, furikake seasoning or sriracha mayo.
Hawaiian Christmas Side Dishes
Pasteles (or “pateles” as Hawaiians pronounce it), are a Puerto Rican Christmas dish adopted into Hawaiian culture during the plantation era. Made with pork, beef, or seafood and mixed with green plantain masa, pasteles are wrapped in banana leaves and boiled. Achiote, a deep-red seasoning, is used to add color to the dish to add a nutty, sweet flavor.
Made from mashed taro, plantain or even breadfruit, poi usually accompanies salty dishes like smoked meat, lomi salmon or kalua pork. Depending on how thick the consistency is, poi is often eaten by hand, using two or three fingers. This starch can be an acquired taste. Fresh poi may have a sweeter flavor, whereas poi that has fermented after a week would taste sour.
13. Lomi Salmon
Lomi-lomi in Hawaiian means massage. This dish features chunky salmon, sweet onions, and diced tomatoes. It is salted and garnished with green onions and fresh lime juice. It is mixed by hand and served with poi.
A Portuguese dish created in Hawaii by its laborers during the plantation era of 1879, this hearty soup is filled with Portuguese sausage, veggies, smoked ham hocks, and kidney beans. It’s typically served over rice or with honey-buttered cornbread, or Diamond Bakery soda crackers.
15. Mash Potatoes or Yams
Mashed potato is a popular staple of holiday dinners the world over, and Hawaii is no different. Incorporating a blend of many herbs and spices, and garlic, and served with or without gravy, there are many ways to make this delicious dish. For something typically Hawaiian, try using Okinawan sweet potatoes.
16. Mac Salad
Short for macaroni salad, the main ingredients include “elbow” macaroni, salt, shredded carrots, and peas and tuna, coated with good quality mayonnaise. It’s a filling and inexpensive dish that is easy dish to make, often served as a lunchtime side.
Hawaiian Christmas Desserts
Mochi is a colorful, fluffy, sweet and chewy Japanese rice cake, featuring an abundance of flavors, such as local lilikoi, guava or ginger. Inside your mochi you might find anything from azuki beans to crunchy peanut butter, from sweet to red bean paste. But why stop at savory? Strawberries, Oreo, even ice cream can turn mochi into a fun treat.
Every Christmas the Annual Wailea Village Mochi Pounding in Maui draws in thousands of visitors, offering them the chance to do exactly what the name of the event suggests: to pound the giant slab of sweet rice in return for the promise of good luck for the upcoming new year.
A round, hard yellow fruit with many seeds, lilikoi thrives in tropical climates and is abundant in Hawaii. Originally from Australia, lilikoi was introduced into the islands sometime in 1923.
Concentrated lilikoi juice is used in many desserts, including cheesecake, a popular choice here during the holidays. Rich, smooth, sweet and tart, lilikoi cheesecake can be found in most Hawaiian restaurants.
Haupia is a Hawaiian dessert made of coconut cream, cornstarch. Though it can be eaten be itself, it is usually a topping for cakes, custards and pies (as in the photo). What could be yummier than a flaky pie crust, filled with mouthwatering, sweet chocolate cream, topped with a layer of haupia? It’s obvious why this is a holiday favorite!
The name Chantilly comes from the name of a castle in France, where French chef Vate created the now-famous chantilly whipped cream. Hawaii creates its version for a creamier frosting using real butter and condensed milk. It’s spread over a rich and decadent chocolate chiffon cake, topped with chopped macadamia nuts and coconut strips.
A soft, sweet and chewy treat, similar to caramel fudge, it’s made of mashed, cooked taro roots, mixed with coconut milk. It’s wrapped in ti leaves, and baked or steamed for a couple of hours in an imu (or oven) along with the kalua pig.
It is a time-consuming dish, but well worth the wait. Cut into squares, kulolo is best eaten warm, with vanilla ice cream.
Hawaii’s Christmas festivities revolve around food and anyone fortunate to spend their holidays on the island is in for a special treat. Experiencing different cultures around the world with ohana and friends in paradise is a blessing, making the saying “Lucky we live Hawaii” true. Until we meet again – a hui hou!