On the Menu

Hawaiian Food: A History and Recipes for Your Football Feast

January 22, 2016 by Independent Lens in Beyond the Films

Honolulu chef Mark Noguchi of Mission Social Hall & Cafe and his wife Amanda make a great team. “One of us handles the logistics and delegates responsibilities (so we don’t end up with a dinner of dessert),” Amanda says, “while the other mans the grill and marinades.” Together they’ve assembled a brief history of Hawaiian food along with a mouth-watering feast for your In Football We Trust and Super Bowl 50 watch parties. For extra Hawaiian authenticity we recommend hosting them in a garage. Leave your shoes at the door and come eat.

by Mark Noguchi and Amanda Corby Noguchi

We Are Pili

We are “party people.” If you ask anyone who knows us, I think we were born this way. As it turns out, we have both been doing what we do for our families and friends from our early years. Now with two keiki (kids) and two businesses our “parties” might look a bit different than they did 20 years ago, but we still know how to throw a good old-fashioned shindig.

Pili in Hawaiian means to be intertwined and/or connected, and food is the lens through which we envision a better world. We knew that being connected to the land meant remembering who we are, and where we come from. And the most important thing: it meant creating and supporting community — in every corner of island Earth — with integrity, humility, and compassion. We embody this mantra in our work at Pili and in our home, and are blessed that those who work with us feel the same.

Mark Noguchi on the History of Hawaiian Food

I often find myself explaining the difference between food from Hawai’i, and Hawaiian food. Here in Hawai’i we identify ourselves ethnically, rather than geographically. On the continent people may say, “I’m a New Yorker,” while here in Hawai’i we say, “Oh yah, I’m a second gen (generation) Japanese,” or “Tasi? He’s Samoan.”

That ethnic identity holds strong for us; when we grew up, we poked fun at each other. It wasn’t being mean, it was being aware of our ethnic identities and being proud of all the wonderful traits that make us who we are.

And that ethnic diversity and how we’ve mixed it together is nowhere more evident than on a picnic table at a local-style party in Hawai’i. Take a peek in a random garage on a weekend, or any Game Day for that matter, and look at the spread of food before you.

Korean Style Kalbi Ribs are nestled next to a simmering foil pan of Samoan corn beef, with coconut & luau leaf (palusami). Across the table, our keiki are fighting over Filipino bud bud and Japanese sweet rice cake (chichidango). This amalgamation of different cuisines may not seem to have any rhyme or reason to the uninitiated; however for us, a rich and important history is played out on the table.

Hawaiian style dinner feast

I cook from an`āinabased (love of the land) perspective. It’s important for us to know where our food comes from, it defines who we are.
—Chef Mark Noguchi

Travel back to the 1900’s, when Captain Cook had already landed, a time many Polynesian historians refer to as “post-Western contact.” (For the record, Cook didn’t “discover” Hawai’i as history books of my childhood wrote. The voyagers of Kahiki Nui discovered the Hawaiian Islands a long time before him.)

Sugarcane and pineapple were already becoming a cash crop for Hawai’i, and the demand for labor was growing. The subsequent flow of immigration was the beginning of our cultural diversity: Portuguese shared space with Hawaiians, Chinese with Puerto Ricans. During lunch, cane workers would often sit around together, put their lunch in the center and share a meal. These families were also extremely resourceful, making do with what they had. Plantation food was frugal, often from the land, and made with love. This sharing of the table, the communal breaking of bread daily expanded our scope of food, it brought new flavor combinations and ingredients to different ethnicities. So you see, Portuguese bread next to Chinese-style stir fry cabbage isn’t strange at all.

Hawaiian cooking continued to evolve, as WWII brought SPAM into a whole new light. Local Japanese simmered it in soy sauce, put it on rice, slapped some nori around it and the SPAM Musubi was born. In Hilo, Richard Miyashiro, veteran of the 442nd, founded Cafe 100, and the Loco Moco (rice, hamburger, gravy and egg) rose to international stardom. By this time, intermarriage was common, and with all the different ethnic culinary backgrounds, food was the common language that we all spoke.

Hawai’i food, or “local” food, tells a story of where we come from. Nowhere else in the world is food written into a local language or celebrated so vicariously in song. In 1961, Bina Mossman wrote “He Ono La,” a song describing all the delicious foods that Hawaiians ate.

Go Eat, or Come Talk

Lavish spreads of local food is served during the opening of the State Legislature. For one day, food is a way for elected members to showcase their connection to their community on a common ground. In Hawai’i, food not only nourishes our bodies, it perpetuates our culture too.

We often get asked for advice on eating in Hawai’i from visiting chefs and writers. While we love to show off our hyper-talented friends and peers, we also vigorously take them to the bowels of Kalihi and Chinatown. To Wahiawa and Waikapu. Dry saimin, poke, Guri Guri, roast pork gravy, chocolate meat, ice shave. Our story, our history of food is right in front of you, as an old Portuguese saying goes: “Go eat… or come talk.”


seared ahi poke
One of many variations of poke (here with ahi tuna)


Poke is seasoned diced raw fish or seafood; on today’s modern menus you can even find tofu poke. There are many different varieties of poke, but this is my favorite shoyu poke.

1) Poke Sauce*

  • ½ cup Kikkoman shoyu
  • 1 tbsp. ginger juice
  • 1 30g. pkg. Shiofuki konbu (salted seaweed), chopped
  • ½ tsp. brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil

Mix everything together, reserve. *Makes extra, but sauce keeps in the refrigerator for weeks.

2) Fish

  • 2 lbs. diced raw fish, the best you can find
  • 1 onion (small), sliced paper thin with the grain
  • 2 tbsp. scallion, sliced paper thin
  • 1 Japanese cucumber, diced
  • 6 tbsp limu (seaweed), chopped

Place fish and all ingredients into a bowl, dress with a couple tablespoons of the sauce to your desired taste.

ulu mac salad
Ulu mac salad

Ulu Mac (Potato Macaroni Salad)

For one of our local staple side dishes we use Ulu or breadfruit, but you can easily substitute cooked Russet or Red Bliss Potato.

  • 2 lbs. ulu, or potato, cooked, cleaned, diced
  • 1 lbs. elbow macaroni, cooked in boiling, salted water;
    drained, and shocked in ice water
  • 4 eggs, hard boiled and grated on box grater
  • 2 cups mayo
  • 1 carrot, grated on box grater
  • ½ onion (medium), minced
  • ½ bunch flat leaf Italian parsley, picked and chopped
  • ¼ bunch thyme, picked and chopped
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • ½ tsp. curry powder
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • Tabasco, to taste
Kalbi ribs
Kalbi ribs


Kalbi is marinated Korean-style BBQ short ribs. Ask your butcher about cutting Korean-style bone-in short ribs for you.

  • 2 lbs. Kalbi cut short ribs
  • 1 cup Kikkoman shoyu
  • ¼ cup mirin
  • ¼ cup applesauce or pureed Korean pear
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 4 tbsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. red pepper flake
  • 6 tbsp. sesame 0il
  • 2 tbsp. toasted sesame seed
  • 1 cup scallion, sliced paper thin

Combine all ingredients, pour all over meat and let it marinate overnight.

On the day of, prepare a hot fire and grill 2-3 minutes per side, basting the short ribs once or twice.

Kalua Cabbage

Often after a big party you’ll see this for dinner the next day, a frugal way to use up leftover kalua pig. Serve on rice with chili pepper water* or hot sauce.

*Chili Pepper Water

  • 4 pcs. Hawaiian or Thai bird chili
  • ¼ c. sea salt
  • 1 qt. water

Blend well, keep in refrigerator.

Kalua Cabbage

  • 2 lbs. Kalua pig, or slow roast pork
  • 1 head green cabbage, cored and cut into 16 pcs.
  • 1 onion (small), sliced
  • 1 tbsp. Kikkoman shoyu
  • 2 tbsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • ½ cup water

In a heavy pot, add kalua pig, sliced onion, shoyu, salt, pepper, water. Bring up to a simmer and then add the cabbage.
Cover and simmer until cabbage is barely tender, it should still have a little bite to it. Adjust seasoning, and serve with rice.

Haupia, a Hawaiian dessert
Haupia, a Hawaiian dessert


A traditional Hawaiian dessert made out of coconut.


  • 1-12oz bag or can of frozen coconut milk (preferably Hawaiian Sun or Mendoca’s brand)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup water
  1. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and water. Be sure to mix well, until a syrupy consistency is reached and there are no lumps.
  2. Combine coconut milk and sugar in a medium saucepan at medium heat.  When the mixture has melted, bring to a low boil.
  3. Slowly add cornstarch and water mixture, whisking like crazy.
  4. Reduce to low heat and continue to whisk. You must keep whisking to prevent the bottom from burning.
  5. Continue to cook and mix until the haupia is opaque, like mucus.
  6. Immediately pour into pan* and allow to cool.

*One recipe will fill an 8×8 pan.

Enjoy, eat, relax.

Chef Mark Noguchi and wife Amanda Corby Noguchi, with their children
Chef Mark Noguchi and wife Amanda Corby Noguchi, with their children

Mark “Gooch” Noguchi was born and raised in Mānoa Valley and is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of the Pacific and the Culinary Institute of America. Although he prefers to just be known as a “cook,” Mark’s dedication to empowering his community through food and education has landed him a spot as a leader in Hawaii’s sustainable food movement. He is an alum of TOWN Restaurant and Chef Mavro in Hawai’i. He is the former co-owner & chef of He’eia Kea Pier, General Store & Deli where his dedication towards sourcing product within an ahupua’a (traditional Hawaiian Land division) garnered national attention. 

Gooch was also a founding partner and resident Chef of Taste Table, a pop-up project that revitalized the food scene in Kaka’ako from 2012 to 2014. In January 2015 Noguchi, with Amanda, expanded his brand in Kaka’ako with a lunch eatery, Mission Social Hall & Cafe, on the grounds of the historic Hawaiian Mission Houses museum. This café has reconfirmed their Pili Group’s commitment to sourcing locally and telling the story of ingredients through the food they serve. “Gooch” can also be seen on the Cooking Channel’s Unique Eats as a commentator and most recently on CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown Hawai’i special. While most may know this chef for his accomplishments in the food world, Noguchi says his proudest moment is being a father to his two beautiful daughters.

Amanda Corby Noguchi is owner and creative director of Under My Umbrella Inc. Launched in 2009, UMU is known across the islands for its event production and communications work with sustainable local businesses, neighborhood redevelopment projects, capacity building and nonprofits organizations. She is also the co-founder of Pili Group, a nationally recognized food group that features the talents of Amanda’s life and business partner, Chef Mark Noguchi.

As a business owner and active community member of the up-and-coming Kaka’ako district, Amanda has lead both public relations efforts and planned events of all sizes to bring attention to the creativity and collaborative energy happening in this neighborhood. Serving as one of the founding board members of the Hawaii Food Policy Council, Amanda has also helped refine the focus and identity of the food movement in Hawaii. In 2012 Corby and her partners launched Taste Table, a collaborative project aimed to support Hawai’i’s culinary community. This “pop-up” location for chefs reflects Amanda’s longstanding interest in building capacity and providing opportunities for the creativity and talent of local people. Amanda is a proud mother of their two daughters.

You can reach the Noguchis on Twitter: @musubman@missionbypili; @piligroup; @umuhawaii

sandals in front of Hawaiian home door
Leave your shoes at the door for your Hawaiian party

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