Hawaiian cuisine represents a fusion of the many cooking styles that immigrants brought to the islands. When you eat at a local restaurant, you will detect culinary influences from the United States, China, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Polynesia and Portugal. While fish and pork dishes receive most of the publicity, visitors with the proverbial sweet tooth will feel like kids in a candy factory.
Hawaii is the only U.S. State where cacao can grow. In fact, it has been growing on the Big Island since the 1850s, but only gained popularity in the late 20th century. Still, the state has less than 200 acres of cacao growing land, which makes Hawaiian chocolate a rare commodity.
At the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory in Kona, the owners grow, harvest, ferment, dry and roast their own beans and process it into chocolate. All of the work takes place on their own farm. Waialua Estate on the North Shore of Oahu boasts the largest cacao farm in Hawaii, with 25 productive acres. The workers carefully harvest the cacao pods, ferment the nibs and allow them to dry in the warm Hawaiian sun. Talented chocolate artisans transform the nibs into enticing chocolate.
Liliha Bakery Honolulu
Chocolate is one of the key ingredients in the Coco Puff, made famous at the Liliha Bakery in Honolulu. Chocolate pudding fills this cream puff pastry. A buttery macadamia nut and Chantilly frosting tops it off.
The bakery, which opened in 1950, was located in a tiny retail outlet at 1703 Liliha Street. When their baked goods gained popularity, they moved to a bigger store, but kept the same name. Liliha Bakery became a local tradition. Children would stop on their way home from school and enjoy a glazed doughnut. Friends would chat over coffee, and aunties would pick up cakes for the family potluck dinner. Some of the staff members have served the company for as long as 40 years. Open 24 hours, Liliha Bakery also serves meals.
Although coconuts are not indigenous to Hawaii, they are deeply integrated into Hawaiian traditions and culture. When the Polynesian introduced Hawaii to the coconut tree, the created a match made in heaven.Since the coconut thrives in tropical climates, the trees were at right at home in Hawaii.
While relishing its nutritional benefits, the Ancient Hawaiians also used coconut fibers to cover their canoes and coconut shells to help create the drums used in spiritual rituals. Coconut also served as construction material, and as a beauty product.
If you love coconuts, plan to visit in July for the Niu Festival at Grand Wailea Maui. If you can’t make the festival, be sure to try Haupia, a traditional coconut milk-based Hawaiian dessert, which often graces the tables at luaus and other Hawaiian celebrations. Although technically a pudding, its consistency resembles a gelatin dessert. Haupia is served at the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center. If you happen to be at Sunset Beach on the North Shore in Haleiwa, drop into Ted’s Bakery and try the Original Chocolate Haupia Pie.
In 1906, after obtaining a five-year contract to work on a sugar plantation, Torojiro Nakamura immigrated to Maui from Japan. He was eventually transferred to a plantation on Oahu. When his contract ended, he decided to lease the land.
In 1950, he bought land in Sunset Beach, on the North Shore of Oahu, and opened a small grocery store. His grandson, Ted, eventually joined the business, and added a bakery. The bakery also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
During the late 19th century, Portuguese laborers from came to Hawaii to work in the plantations. With them came their traditional foods with them, which included a fried dough pastry called the “malasada.” These confections are comprised of egg-sized balls of yeast dough that are deep-fried in oil, then coated with granulated sugar.
Tex Drive In
Tex Drive-In is a landmark on the Honokaa-Hamakua coastline. Their bakers elevate the malasada to an art form. Perhaps that’s why they sell almost 70,000 a month. In addition to their regular malasadas, they offer varieties filled with a fruits, Bavarian cream or chocolate.
Guri-guri is a Hawaiian frozen dessert which is a cross between sherbet and ice cream. Supposedly, its ingredients include fruit juices, soda and condensed milk, but nobody knows for sure. The Tasaka family of Maui has been selling this beloved desert for 90 years, but the recipe is a family secret. Their shop at the Maui Mall in Kahului opened in 1973. Before that, they sold their product at their candy store.
These are just a few of the tasty sweets you will find in Hawaii. They add a whole new meaning to the words “sweet vacation.”