Culinary Delights: A Foodie's Guide to Big Island Cuisine

Embark on a mouthwatering journey through the flavors of Big Island cuisine with our comprehensive guide.

12/27/20236 min read

The Big Island of Hawaii is not only known for its stunning natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, but it is also a paradise for food lovers. From fresh seafood to tropical fruits, this island offers a wide array of culinary delights that are guaranteed to tantalize your taste buds. In this ultimate foodie's guide, we will take you on a delectable journey through the Big Island's food scene, highlighting the influence of cultural diversity, the signature dishes that you must try, the vibrant local food markets, and the top restaurants that will leave you craving for more. And of course, we cannot forget to mention the island's coffee and craft beer scene. So, let's embark on this gastronomic adventure together!

Exploring the Big Island's Food Scene

When it comes to cuisine, the Big Island is a melting pot of flavors, thanks to its rich cultural diversity. The island's culinary scene is heavily influenced by the Polynesian, Asian, and American cultures that have shaped its history. Here, you can find a fusion of traditional Hawaiian dishes alongside international favorites, creating a unique gastronomic experience unlike any other.

The Influence of Cultural Diversity on Big Island Cuisine

One of the defining factors of Big Island cuisine is the cultural diversity that permeates every bite. Hawaiian cuisine itself is a blend of Polynesian ingredients and cooking techniques, resulting in dishes that are both simple and full of flavor. But it doesn't stop there. The island's Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and Portuguese communities have also left their mark on the local food scene, introducing a wide range of exciting flavors and dishes.

Whether you're craving for poke, a traditional Hawaiian dish made with fresh seafood, or the savory flavors of a plate lunch, which typically includes rice, macaroni salad, and your choice of protein, the Big Island has it all. Don't miss the opportunity to indulge in kalua pig, a tender and smoky pork dish traditionally cooked in an underground imu (oven), or try the famous lau lau, where pork or fish is wrapped in taro leaves and steamed to perfection.

Farm-to-Table: The Freshness of Big Island

One of the things that truly sets Big Island cuisine apart is its emphasis on farm-to-table dining. With an abundance of fertile land and a year-round growing season, the island is a haven for farmers and artisan producers. From lush coffee plantations to picturesque fruit orchards, you can experience the freshness of Big Island in every bite.

When dining at local restaurants, you can expect to savor the flavors of locally sourced produce, grass-fed beef, and fresh seafood caught just off the island's shores. With a commitment to sustainability and supporting local farmers, Big Island chefs pride themselves on creating dishes that showcase the island's natural bounty.

Signature Dishes of Big Island

No foodie's guide to the Big Island would be complete without highlighting the island's signature dishes that are a must-try for any visitor. From casual street food to decadent desserts, these dishes embody the essence of Big Island cuisine and will leave you in awe of the island's culinary prowess.

The Seafood Staples: Poke and Lau Lau

When it comes to seafood, the Big Island knows how to deliver. One of the most popular dishes is poke. Made with fresh cubes of marinated fish, typically ahi tuna, poke is a simple yet incredibly flavorful dish that is beloved by both locals and tourists alike. Whether you prefer it traditional style with soy sauce, sesame oil, and seaweed, or with a modern twist incorporating spicy mayo or mango salsa, you are in for a treat.

Another seafood delicacy that cannot be missed is lau lau. This traditional Hawaiian dish consists of fish, usually butterfish or salted butterfish, wrapped in taro leaves and steamed to perfection. The result is a tender and succulent piece of fish that melts in your mouth. Lau lau is often served with poi, a starchy taro root paste, and lomi lomi salmon, a refreshing side dish made with diced tomatoes, onions, and salted salmon.

Sweet Treats: Shave Ice and Malasadas

To satisfy your sweet tooth, the Big Island offers a delightful array of desserts that will leave you craving for more. One such treat is shaved ice. Refreshing and colorful, shave ice is made by shaving a block of ice into light and fluffy snow-like crystals, which are then topped with a variety of flavored syrups. From tropical fruit flavors like passionfruit and guava to classic favorites like strawberry and pineapple, you can mix and match your toppings to create your own unique concoction.

If you're in the mood for something fried and indulgent, look no further than malasadas. Originally from Portugal, these sweet and pillowy donuts are a favorite treat among locals. Rolled in sugar and filled with a variety of decadent fillings like custard, chocolate, or even tropical fruit jams, malasadas are the perfect way to satisfy your sweet cravings.

Experiencing the Local Food Markets

No foodie's guide to the Big Island would be complete without a visit to the vibrant local food markets, where you can immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and flavors of the island. Here are two markets that are not to be missed:

The Vibrancy of Hilo Farmers Market

Located in the heart of Hilo, the Hilo Farmers Market is a food lover's paradise. Open every day of the week, this bustling market is a treasure trove of fresh produce, exotic fruits, homemade treats, and local crafts. Stroll through the vibrant stalls, sample tropical fruits like lychee and rambutan, and indulge in local delicacies like mochi or fresh coconut water. Don't forget to chat with the friendly vendors, who are always happy to share their stories and recommendations.

Organic Offerings at Kona Farmers Market

If you find yourself on the west side of the island, be sure to visit the Kona Farmers Market. Known for its organic offerings, this market is a haven for health-conscious foodies. Here, you will find an abundance of locally grown produce, artisanal bread, organic coffee, and even handmade beauty products. Take the opportunity to taste Kona coffee, famous for its rich and smooth flavor, and stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables to create your own farm-to-table feast.

Dining at Big Island's Top Restaurants

For those seeking a more refined dining experience, the Big Island is home to a number of top-rated restaurants that will take your taste buds on a culinary journey. Here are two categories of restaurants that cater to different preferences:

High-End Eateries: Luxury Dining on the Big Island

If you're looking to indulge in a truly memorable dining experience, the Big Island has a selection of high-end eateries that are sure to impress. From oceanfront fine dining establishments to intimate farm-to-table restaurants, you can savor world-class cuisine while taking in breathtaking views of the island's natural beauty. The menus at these establishments often feature locally sourced ingredients, perfectly executed culinary techniques, and innovative dishes that showcase the chef's mastery.

Local Favorites: Where the Locals Dine

For a more laid-back and authentic dining experience, venture off the beaten path and discover the local favorites that are beloved by the island's residents. From humble plate lunch stands to hole-in-the-wall eateries, these hidden gems offer a true taste of Big Island's flavors. Don't be afraid to strike up a conversation with the locals and ask for their recommendations. They will be more than happy to point you in the direction of the best garlic shrimp truck or the most delicious loco moco in town.

The Coffee and Craft Beer Scene

No foodie's guide to the Big Island would be complete without mentioning the island's renowned coffee and craft beer scene. Here are two highlights:

Kona Coffee: A Taste of Hawaii's Best

When it comes to coffee, the Big Island's Kona region is world-famous. With its favorable climate and volcanic soil, Kona produces some of the finest and most sought-after coffee beans in the world. Known for its smooth and rich flavor with hints of chocolate and nuts, Kona coffee is a must-try for any coffee lover. Take a tour of a coffee plantation, sample different roast levels, and learn about the complex process of harvesting and roasting these flavorful beans.

Big Island's Budding Craft Beer Industry

In recent years, the Big Island has seen a burgeoning craft beer industry, with local breweries popping up across the island. From hoppy IPAs to fruity pale ales, you can discover a wide range of unique and refreshing beers that showcase the creativity and passion of Big Island brewers. Take a brewery tour, meet the masterminds behind these artisanal brews, and sample their latest creations. Raise a glass and toast to the growing craft beer scene on the Big Island!

Conclusion: A Journey for Your Taste Buds

From exploring the influence of cultural diversity to savoring the signature dishes that define Big Island cuisine, this foodie's guide has taken you on a delectable journey through the culinary delights of the Big Island. Whether you're a seafood lover, a sweet tooth, or simply someone who appreciates the freshest ingredients, the Big Island has something to satisfy every palate.

So why wait? Start planning your culinary adventure on the Big Island today. Book your flights, reserve your hotels, and get ready to embark on a journey for your taste buds. With its rich flavors, stunning landscapes, and warm hospitality, the Big Island is a food lover's paradise that deserves a spot on every foodie's must-visit list. Bon appétit!

a table with bowls of different food
a table with bowls of different food