11 Things you Must Eat on the Big Island
Looking for the best food on the Big Island? We’re sharing our list of 11 things you must eat on the Big Island, as well as where to find them!
There are many reasons why we love Hawaii and have taken 6 trips to the islands together, but one of the big reasons is the FOOD! During all of our visits to the islands, we have tried to eat as many traditional Hawaiian foods as we possibly could and have loved them all. From fresh seafood, to delicious baked goods, to fried delicacies, to frozen treats, there’s a little something for every palate to enjoy!
And the Big Island is no exception! We were just as impressed with the food on the Big Island as we were on the other islands. We even tried a couple new items too! If you’re headed to the Big Island soon, we’re sharing 11 things you must eat on the Big Island, as well as the best spots to find them. We apologize in advance if this blog makes you extra hungry 😉
Poke (pronounced “po-kay”) is a classic Hawaiian dish made up of diced raw fish. In fact, the word poke, actually means “to cut crossways into pieces” in Hawaiian. There are many variations and styles of poke, but it’s most commonly a combination of ahi tuna and different sauces and served with rice. Poke is very easy to find on the Big Island and is often sold at grocery stores, but some of the best spots to get poke are at fish markets or small shops that only serve poke.
While we were on the Big Island, we went to Da Poke Shack in Kona, which we had heard was one of the best places to get poke on the island. And it definitely didn’t disappoint! I (Kathryn) tried poke for the first time on Oahu and despite not liking seafood, thought it wasn’t bad. So during this trip, I promised Adam I would get my own bowl instead of just having a bite of his. While I was nervous to try it again, I was surprised by how soft and not fishy tasting the fish was. I ate the entire bowl, which I was very proud of!
Tip: For all of these spots, try to get there early! Poke spots are known to run out of the best options pretty quickly.
Acai bowls are one of our favorite things to eat in Hawaii! There’s nothing like starting the morning with a fruity acai bowl or enjoying a cold and refreshing treat after a warm day at the beach. While acai bowls technically originated in Brazil, they have become extremely popular on the Hawaiian islands and are one of the things we eat the most when we are visiting.
So what is an acai bowl? It’s basically a smoothie bowl made out of acai berries (pronounced “ah-sigh-ee”), which are berries native to South America, plus a combination of other fruits, granola, and toppings. The best thing about acai bowls are that there are endless ways to make one!
Acai bowl shops typically have a handful of options to choose from, ranging from bowls with strawberries and bananas to bowls with peanut butter and chocolate. Some even have pitaya bowls, which are made out of dragon fruit instead of acai, but are equally as delicious.
While on the Big Island, we grabbed acai bowls at Basik Cafe (Kona) and a pitaya bowl Makani’s Magic Pineapple Shack (Hilo). Both were absolutely delicious! We especially loved the bowl we got at Makani’s, as it was served in a pineapple, which we did pay extra for, but it was so beautiful!
Mochi (pronounced “moh-chee”) is a traditional Japanese treat made from glutinous rice (mochiko flour) that is pounded into paste and molded into whatever shape you’d like. It is typically a very popular food during Japanese New Year, but is also eaten year round. While mochi has Japanese roots, it has also become very popular in Hawaii, as well as in other countries around the world and each country has its own variations of the delicious treat.
The texture of mochi is soft and chewy and can be filled with many different items, including red bean paste, strawberries, purple sweet potato, or even ice cream! In Hawaii, butter mochi is a popular treat and ohhhh so good! Butter mochi looks like a blondie (a golden brownie) and contains mochiko flour, eggs, coconut milk, evaporated milk, and butter. It has such a unique texture and delicious flavor!
While on the Big Island, we visited Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo to try their famous mochi and it was amazing! We had some with red bean paste + a strawberry inside, the butter mochi we mentioned above, and a purple sweet potato mochi. The butter mochi was definitely our favorite of the three, you must try it! We forgot to snap photos of the mochi because we were too busy eating, but the photo above is from when we had mochi at the Richmond Night Market in Canada.
If you’re a coffee lover, you’ve likely heard of Kona coffee! Kona coffee is coffee that is specifically grown on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the Kona region of the Big Island, only coffee grown here can be called Kona coffee. The coffee grows well in this region because of the volcanic soil, sunny weather, and occasional rain.
Kona coffee is pricey to buy, but that’s due to the manual nature of picking and roasting the coffee, as well as US labor laws and the rarity of the coffee since it can only be grown in one region. When buying Kona coffee, make sure it says 100% Kona Coffee, not Kona blend, which only has to have 10% of Kona Coffee to be considered a blend.
While on the Big Island we highly recommend touring a Kona coffee farm! We loved our time at Heavenly Hawaiian–they gave us lots of coffee samples and samples of their coffee based treats! Whether you go to a farm or not, you’ll definitely come across Kona coffee at many coffee shops on the island. We loved Kona Coffee & Tea (Kona), but Kona Mountain Coffee (Kona) and Kona Wave Cafe (Kona) are a couple other good options to check out!
Technically this isn’t food, but you can’t go to the Big Island and not get Kona coffee!
On our last night on the Big Island we were introduced to something so delicious that we were transported to Flavortown…furikake chicken at Broke Da Mouth Grindz (Kona). Furikake (Foo-ree-kah-kay) is a japanese seasoning made of dried seaweed, sesame seeds, and bonito flakes and is typically added to rice or poke. It adds a delicious pop of flavor!
At Broke Da Mouth, they are using this topping to take fried chicken to the next level. Furikake chicken is basically just what it sounds like: delicious fried chicken with furikake on top. They also have hurricane style furikake chicken, which is the same as regular furikake chicken, but with some spicy sauces. Both options are delicious!
Broke Da Mouth has become very famous for their furikake chicken and have been featured on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives, as well as have shirts made about the chicken. We don’t believe this is a widespread dish among the islands, so if you’re on the Big Island, you must check it out!
Did you know that Hawaii has the highest per capita consumption of Spam in the United States? Spam, which is canned cooked pork, was a main dish for troops during WWII and became popular afterwards as a result, especially in Hawaii. We will never forget when we went to Oahu for the first time and saw the entire dollar aisle at Target filled with all sorts of knick knacks with the Spam logo on them. There is even a Spam festival on Oahu every year too!
While Spam can be eaten plain or with eggs, one popular Spam snack item is the Spam musubi, which is a slice of Spam on top of a block of rice wrapped together with Nori. Found in convenience stores all over the islands, as well as in restaurants, it’s one of the go-to snacks in Hawaii.
We have to be honest and admit we have never tried a Spam musubi, but we still had to include it because it’s something that you should try when you visit any of the Hawaiian islands! We forgot to try it during our last visit, but we plan to make it a top priority next time we are in Hawaii.
Like we mentioned above, Spam musubis are pretty easy to find at convenience stores and grocery stores across the island, but a few other spots you can check out to grab one are Puka Puka Kitchen (Hilo), Hilo Lunch Shop (Hilo), Kawamoto Store (Hilo), and Queen K 76 (Kona)
If we had to pick a favorite meal to eat in Hawaii, it would probably be breakfast. Before I (Kathryn) was gluten and egg free, we used to stuff our faces at breakfast in Hawaii. Now, Adam stuffs his face while I sit there jealous of the delicious things he gets to eat.
A typical Hawaiian breakfast is eggs, rice, and Portuguese sausage, which is a delicious combination. We absolutely love Portuguese sausage, which is pork sausage with different seasonings (sometimes spicy), and we often buy it at the grocery store in Hawaii to make at our Airbnbs.
However, one of our favorite breakfast items to get in Hawaii are pancakes. In our experience, these pancakes aren’t just like any other pancake. They are MASSIVE, fluffy, and typically have macadamia nuts and/or coconut syrup.
We have had some pretty incredible pancakes and portuguese sausage while visiting Hawaii, but our visit to Hawaiian Style Cafe in Waimea on the Big Island was definitely one of our favorites! The pancakes were about twice the size of Adam’s face and they made their portuguese sausage in house. Everything was super tasty, the inside had a cool old school Hawaiian vibe, and the service was quick! Note: it’s cash only, so come prepared!
Looking for other breakfast spots on the Big Island? We suggest checking out 808 Grindz (Kona), The Coffee Shack (Captain Cook), Ken’s House of Pancakes (Hilo), and Hawaiian Style Cafe also has a location in Hilo!
If you like fried food and/or donuts, you must try malasadas while in Hawaii! Malasadas are a Portuguese treat and actually means “undercooked” in Portuguese. They are essentially fried donuts coated in granulated sugar, but unlike a traditional donut, they do not have a hole in the middle. They can either be doughy in the middle or be filled with delicious fillings, like haupia (coconut), and are usually served hot and fresh!
We first tried malasadas in Kauai during the Kapaa Art Walk (pictured above) and fell in love. We also went to the famous Leonard’s Bakery on Oahu for malasadas, which definitely lived up to the hype. While we love the plain malasadas, getting them filled with haupia is our top pick!
Since I can’t have gluten anymore, we didn’t have malasadas on the Big Island, but if you want to try them (you should!), definitely go to Punalu’u Bake Shop (Kau), Tex Drive In (Hamakua Coast), Manuela Malasada Company (Waimea), Hot Malasadas (Waimea), and Holy Donuts (Kona).
Picture this: it’s a warm sunny day in Hawaii and you just spent hours playing in the waves, laying out on the beach, and if you’re like us, accidentally getting a sunburn despite putting on sunscreen. You’re hot and thirsty and want something refreshing to snack on. Enter: shave ice!
Shave ice is fluffy, shaved ice in a bowl covered with delicious fruity syrups. It’s commonly confused with a snow cone, which is a similar concept, but shave ice comes from a block of ice that is shaved whereas a snow cone is crushed ice and much less soft and fluffy. On the Big Island specifically, some call it “ice shave” instead of shave ice, but whatever you do, make sure to not call it a snow cone, as it’ll make you stand out as a tourist. 😉
One of the best things about shave ice, besides how refreshing it is, is that there are SO many ways to enjoy your shave ice! The flavor options are basically endless, ranging from fruity to coffee to really unique options, and you can add delicious things to the top, like a snow cap (condensed milk) or mochi, or to the bottom, like ice cream!
Our favorite shave ice combinations are: piña colada + a snow cap + mac nut ice cream for Kathryn and whatever natural fruity flavors they have + a snow cap + mac nut ice cream for Adam. However, we tried some pretty unique options on the Big Island that gave our go-tos a run for their money!
We went to a spot called Original Big Island Shave Ice that was unlike any shave ice we’ve had. We got the Kimrah Special with ube with mochi and the Trini Chantilly, which has condensed cream and a chantilly drizzle, which were both incredible!
We also went to Scandinavian Shave Ice, which was more traditional and amazing! The woman working even wrote Aloha in condensed cream on the top and they had lots of ice cream options to choose from, including a Kona flavor that Adam loved. We also wanted to try One Aloha Shave Ice, Kula Shave Ice, and Wilson’s By the Bay, but we were too full to eat anymore. 🙁
Out of all of the items on this list, loco moco may have the most fun name! The dish came to be when kids in a sports club in Hilo in the 40’s asked for something different than a sandwich and got a bowl of rice with a burger patty on top and gravy.
The dish was named after one of the kids, who was named George Okimoto, but went by the nickname “Crazy.” They added moco because it rhymed. 🙂 However, the name in Spanish has a very…errr…gross meaning. So you don’t lose your appetite, we won’t include it here, but feel free to Google it!
What started as just some kids wanting a different meal has now become a traditional Hawaiian dish. Just like in the 40’s when it was created, it includes rice, a hamburger patty, and brown gravy. But it now also includes an egg on top.
We have tried loco moco once, but not in Hawaii, so I guess we need to go back…darn! 😉 But on the Big Island specifically, we hear that Broke Da Mouth Grindz (Kona), 808 Grindz (Kona), Umeke’s Fish Market & Grill (Kona), Hawaiian Style Cafe (Waimea + Hilo), and Ken’s House of Pancakes (Hilo) are all good spots to try loco moco, which also have other delicacies on this list, so you knock out a few at once ;).
Last, but not least is Kalua pork! Kalua pork is one of our favorite savory dishes to enjoy in Hawaii and to even make at home! Kalua, which means to “cook in an underground oven” is a traditional hawaiian method of cooking that utilizes an imu, which is a type of underground oven. This is a very common dish to have at luaus, where you usually can watch them cook the pig!
Kalua pork is such a simple dish and is only seasoned with salt and the flavors of the wood and smoke. It’s soft and tender and delicious to have with rice and other popular Hawaiian sides, like poi, which is a taro paste.
On the Big Island, we got Kalua pork at Broke Da Mouth Grindz (Kona), which has many of the items on this list and it was so juicy and good! A few other spots that have good kalua pork at Kanaka Kava (Kona), Umeke’s Fish Market & Grill (Kona), Kaaloa’s Super Js Authentic Hawaiian (Captain Cook), and Honi Wai Cafe (Hilo).
PS: Another pork dish worth trying is Lau lau, which is pork (or sometimes other meats) wrapped in lu’au or taro leaves and then steamed.
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