Because of Hawaii’s multi-ethnic history and population, the state has many unique foods and flavors (besides the obvious Spam). Below are five popular that are a must-have when visiting, even if the dessert itself isn't unique, or didn't even originate, in Hawaii. The point is the state serves these specific desserts best. I've even provided recipe links or a recommended location so you can easily try the best version of each of these dishes for yourself.
- Shave Ice – It’s like a snow cone, but better. The ice is, literally, shaved off in a machine from a giant block of ice into a paper cone. The ice is then flavored with delicious syrups of traditional (vanilla), strange (buttered popcorn), and local (lilikoi), tastes. The best place to go for shave ice is the Shimazu Store in Liliha. Not only do you get the biggest shave ice around (order the small, as the large is the size of a human head), but the Shimazu Store has over 50 flavors to choose from, such as red velvet cake and crème brulee and four different versions of vanilla. You can also get your shave ice with ice cream underneath, and/or condensed milk and azuki beans on top.
- Haupia – It’s also known as coconut pudding, and that’s essentially what it is, although, haupia does have more of the consistency of jello than pudding. Here are three recipes for the delectable dessert, complete with ingredients that are easily accessible at a mainland supermarket. It's typically made out of diluted coconut milk, sugar and salt, mixed with arrowroot or cornstarch, so its also vegan-friendly!
- Mochi – Best described as “jello you eat with your hands” mochi is a rice-based treat that’s coated in powdered sugar. Also called chi chi dango, the treat is cut up into squares or rectangles and can come in many colors. Local Costcos serve a flavored batch of chi chi dango. Mochi is also great with ice cream, and this combination is sold at the grocery stores in a ball form, where mochi surrounds a golf-ball sized ball of ice cream. The treat is easy to make, however, getting a hold of mochiko, or rice flour, is tougher to do on the mainland. You have to know where to look (which is typically in the organic food aisle or health food stores. Oddly, it's not sold next to the wheat flour.) The ice cream mochi can be found at international food stores.
- Green Tea Coco Puffs – These are a specialty of Liliha Bakery, and well worth the long lines to purchase a batch of six. The Green Tea Coco Puffs are the biggest and most delicious chocolate pudding-filled balls you've ever tasted. There are other flavors of coco puffs if green tea doesn't suit your fancy. The bakery sells over 5,000 of their coco puffs each day, so they’re on this list for a reason.
- Malasadas – Originally a Portuguese dessert, malasadas are dough balls fried in oil and covered in granulated sugar. The best come from either the 50th State Fair or Leonard’s Bakery in Waimalu, but it’s also really easy to make malasadas yourself.
There are tons of snacks and unique Hawaiian foods that one must try when visiting Hawaii, so don't consider this an exhaustive list. That’s only five of the most delicous and most notable of desserts. I might be covering other foods and food traditions in later posts (after all I do plan to cover Hawaii and food insecurity in this blog, and I understand that this post has nothing to do with food insecurity). But for now, just sample these “ono grinds” and share your thoughts in the comments below.