Eat your way through the islands of Hawaii and enjoy their diverse, flavorful, and multi-cultural culinary offerings. The hodge-podge of cultures that have settled in this paradise translates into the food that you enjoy here, as this list of 17 Hawaiian appetizers will show you.
Before we talk about appetizers, let’s first dig into the history of Hawaiian cuisine.
When you talk about Hawaiian food, you get a unique combination of flavors that reminds you of Hawaii’s past.
Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures, with Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, and of course, Polynesian was thrown into one big, happy mix.
This is why you can see dishes that have an obvious Japanese influence on them and plates of food that are reminiscent of your favorite Chinese favorites.
Of course, you can’t discount the impact that the USA has on their dishes, as can be seen in the use of SPAM in a lot of their recipes.
If you want to enjoy the myriad of flavors that Hawaii has to offer, you don’t need to splurge on an airplane ticket and hotel to do this.
You can recreate the flavors of Hawaii in your own home with this list of 17 Hawaiian appetizers that combine these cultures in dishes that are oh so yummy!
Try out the Ahi Poke (available in both mild and spicy variants) or the Coconut Shrimp, if you’re craving seafood.
If you want poultry, Huli Huli Chicken and Chicken Pupus are a must-try!
For something that’s a mixture of many flavors, #13 is what you should make!
These recipes will transport you to the islands, making you feel like you’re truly there, chilling under the palm trees and enjoying the sea breeze as you take one bite after another of this fabulous fare!
Poke is a fish dish that is popular all over Hawaii (and now all around the globe).
It’s their take on the Japanese sashimi, and if you have access to fresh tuna, this is a dish you should try to make.
Always use sushi-quality tuna when you make tuna poke.
If you want something similar but with a kick, the spicy version (which uses a creamy sriracha and mayonnaise sauce) is what you should try.
Here’s another raw fish recipe that you’re sure to enjoy!
This time, instead of tuna, you’ll be using salmon.
It’s best if you use wild salmon as opposed to farmed ones when you make this, but whatever’s available near you is fine, as long as it’s fresh!
Some tomatoes, a sweet onion, a dash of cayenne, and you’ve got one heck of an appetizer!
3. Spam Musubi
This list wouldn’t be complete without this iconic treat from the islands!
Spam Musubi is another dish that takes its cues from Japan since it’s a sushi-like treat that uses spam, rice, and nori.
To make it easy to mold the musubi, you can line the Spam can with plastic wrap and use it to form the rice base.
This is served as an appetizer, as a snack, and even as a meal!
Still taking some inspiration from Japanese food, this dish features rice, avocado, and sushi-grade tuna in bite-sized pieces.
The twist in this dish is the crispiness of the rice, which is fried before each piece is assembled.
Don’t want your rice to be too greasy?
If you have an air fryer, you can also crisp up your rice squares with it!
Ahi is a kind of tuna that’s widely used in Hawaii.
It’s a kind of tuna that has ample fat content, making it ideal for lots of raw and seared dishes.
This is one recipe that takes advantage of this fat content, giving you different textures and flavors in each seared, steak-sized piece.
Combined with a fresh salad underneath, you have a great starter for any meal!
6. Pohole Salad
Pohole is a fern plant that grows in Maui, Hawaii.
If you don’t have access to this vegetable, you can use asparagus, haricot vert, or broccolini in its place.
To maintain the tropical flavors of this salad, try to find rice wine vinegar, dried shrimp, and dried cuttlefish in Asian grocers near you.
Crisp, fresh, sour, salty, and sweet are what you get with every bite of this appetizer.
7. Kamaboko Dip
If you’d rather serve crackers as your appetizer, this dip is a great accompaniment for it!
This dip uses fish cakes (yes, it’s another Japanese-inspired dish), mayonnaise, cream cheese, and some dashi powder.
This creamy concoction can be tweaked to your taste.
Try adding chives for freshness, sour cream for more sour notes, and even imitation crab meat for added seafood flavor!
You can also use this dip with crudites if you don’t want to serve crackers.
Speaking of crackers, this Hawaiian cracker (or biscuit, depending on how thick you roll out the dough) is a good match for your Kamaboko dip.
Made using traditional Hawaiian pounded taro, you get truly authentic Hawaiian flavors when you combine these crackers with other Hawaiian fares.
Pa’i’ai can be ordered online and is sold in blocks or loaves that you have to cut to use.
Want a no-fuss, easy-to-make appetizer for your next luau?
This recipe is just what you need!
Make sure to use thick-cut bacon for this recipe so you have really ample bites for each one.
You can add your own twist to this recipe with the use of spices like cayenne and paprika for added flavor.
One of the more popular Hawaiian appetizers on this list is this dish that is sold on food trucks in Oahu.
This shrimp is buttery, garlicky, slightly spicy, smoky, and oh so yummy!
Squeeze some lemon on top and you’ve got another iconic appetizer from the islands for your next gathering!
11. Coconut Shrimp
Here’s another shrimp recipe from the islands that you should definitely try!
This time, instead of swimming in garlicky butter, you get a coconutty appetizer.
Coating each shrimp with a combination of panko breadcrumbs and flaked coconut will give you a crispy crust with a tropical flavor.
You can serve this with some sweet chili sauce or tartar sauce on the side.
12. Beef Poke
If you’re to look up the definition of a poke, it tells you that it’s a dish made using tuna.
Not this poke!
This dish uses seared beef instead of raw tuna and combines it with other ingredients used in poke bowls, like tomato, papaya, cilantro, and lime.
You can add other ingredients to this recipe to make it more interesting, such as avocados, pineapple chunks, cucumber slices, and some chopped chilis.
13. Pork Hash
For those who love dumplings, this one’s for you!
This is one of many Hawaiian appetizers that take its inspiration from Chinese cooking.
This recipe combines pork, shrimp, green onions, and water chestnuts for a savory, crunchy, and fresh steamed dumpling.
You can also pan-fry these before adding some water to steam them, ala gyoza, to give the dumplings a crisp bottom.
14. Crab Wontons
Wontons are another Chinese import to the island.
This dish, which is called a Rangoon in some parts of the world, combines local seafood and thin, crisp wrappers in a decadent appetizer.
While this recipe calls for imitation crab meat to be used, you can substitute it with fresh crab meat, if you can find any.
Just try to avoid canned crab meat since these tend to have a rather tinny and fishy taste to them.
You can serve these with your favorite sweet or spicy sauce on the side.
Here’s an appetizer that’s made specifically for luaus and other gatherings.
Serve this with a selection of crackers, chips, and other finger foods (carrot sticks and celery sticks are good with this).
Other variations of this dish use bacon bits instead of ham, while a few more use no meat at all.
Shape into a ball in the center of your serving platter and surround it with your crackers and chips.
Chicken wings are a great finger food because of their size, shape, and versatility.
This Hawaiian recipe takes chicken wings and gives each piece an intense flavor that’s garlicky, sticky, sweet, and sour all at the same time.
These wings are usually deep-fried, but you can use an air fryer for this recipe too if you have one.
You can say that Huli Huli Chicken is the sister of Pupu Chicken simply because these two use similar ingredients and both are Hawaiian appetizers.
The biggest difference is the addition of ginger and pineapple to the recipe.
Oh, and in this dish, the chicken pieces are grilled, as opposed to the fried pieces for Pupus.
While this recipe asks you to use chicken thighs for it, you can change it up and use any part of the chicken you like!
The bottom line
This list of appetizers from Hawaii shows you that these islands are indeed a cornucopia of cultures.
The combination of flavors, cooking techniques, and even the ingredients that are used melds local influences as well as foreign ones perfectly!
With the food served there, you get an idea of how well different nationalities have embedded themselves deep into the heart of this State.
Add any of these dishes to your next party, along with Hawaiian main dishes and desserts, for a truly festive and flavorful luau!
Looking for more Hawaiian food options, we’ve compiled lists of 17 Heavenly Hawaiian Recipes, 21 Crazy Good Hawaiian Side Dishes, and 21 BEST Hawaiian Desserts that you should definitely check out.
- Shoyu Ahi Poke
- Lomi Lomi Salmon
- Spam Musubi
- Spicy Tuna & Avocado Crispy Rice
- Seared Ahi Salad
- Pohole Salad
- Kamaboko Dip
- Pa’i’ai Biscuits & Crackers
- Bacon Wrapped Pineapple
- Kahuku Style Garlic Shrimp
- Coconut Shrimp
- Beef Poke
- Pork Hash
- Crab Wontons
- Hawaiian Cheese Ball
- Pupu Chicken Wings
- Huli Huli Chicken
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