Kau Kau Kitchen
by Leilehua Yuen

Traditional Hawaiian Food

Table of Contents
Recipe Index
Hawaiian Foods
Local Foods
Special Occasions

In This Section

Fruits and Roots
Game and Fowl


Damon Tucker and Rocky Mountain Oysters

Traditional Hawaiian Food

Contrary to what many believe, the traditional Hawaiian diet NOT was pork-based with pineapple, teriyaki chicken, and potato salad as sides.

The traditional Hawaiian diet was based on complex carbohydrates, vegetables form the land and sea, and used animal protein as a garnish. Fruit was eaten in season, with some being dried for later use, though this was not particularly common.

Most animal protein was in the form of seafood or fowl, though the ʻunihi also was eaten. Puaʻa and ʻīlio was eaten at important events, such as religious holy days.

Carbohydrates were primarily provided by ʻulu, uala, uhi, maiʻa, and kalo. During famine times, the starchy core of the hāpuʻu and other tree ferns could be baked and eaten. Pia also provided starch for cooking and, like hāpuʻu starch, for finishing kapa (tapa / bark cloth).

Sweet treats came from fruits such as the ʻōhiʻa-ʻai, halaʻai, and lama, as well as kō.

High-quality fats came from the niu.

Vegetables included hōʻiʻo, lūʻau, lau ʻuala, and limu.

Seafood was abundant. Many species of fish, shellfish, and invertebrates were harvested for food.

Birds also were a common protein, and harvested with traps, snares, nets, by hand, and by collecting at night. The moa (ancestor of the modern chicken) might be encouraged to live near human habitations by spreading food out for them. But, generally, birds were not reared for food.

Seasonings were paʻa kai, limu, and the leaves of the plants in which foods were wrapped for cooking.

The most common beverage was water, though wai niu, ʻawa, and ʻualaʻawaʻawa were enjoyed.

The most common cooking techniques were pulehu (grilling), imu (slow baking in an earth oven), and hākui (steaming in a sealed calabash with hot stones and a little hot water).

Dr. Terry Shintani has done major work in researching the effect of the traditional Hawaiian diet, and found that it reduced obesity, diabetes, and heart disease!

Traditional Hawaiian Food and Drink

ʻAwa - kavakava
Hala-ʻai - creeping pineapple
Hōʻiʻo - fiddleheads
ʻĪlio - dog
Kalo - taro
Kō - sugar cane
Lau uala - sweet potato leaves
Lama - Hawaiian persimmon
Limu - seaweed
L ūʻau - taro leaves
Maiʻa - plantain / banana
Moa - jungle fowl / chicken
Niu - coconut
Pia - arrowroot
Puaʻa - pig
Uala - sweet potato
Ualaʻawaʻawa - sweet potato beer
Uhi - yam
ʻUlu - breadfruit
Wai niu - coconut water