Home Food & Drink Hawaii Regional Cuisine Part 2- The Origins of Hawaii Cuisine

Hawaii Regional Cuisine Part 2- The Origins of Hawaii Cuisine

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By Evan Freeman, Translated by Mami Yamazaki


Roy Yamaguchi at the opening of his restaurant the Tavern Garden on Kuai- The Garden Island

Roy Yamaguchi at the opening of his restaurant the Tavern Garden on Kuai- The Garden Island Image

Roy Yamaguchi is a man of deep passion for cuisine, a chef of remarkable talent and vision who is one of the pioneers of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine Movement. He is also an incredible restaurateur with an appreciation for atmosphere that is sophisticated, modern, yet friendly and warm, an atmosphere that many are quite fond of. Roy’s Waikiki and Roy’s Hawaii Kai as well as in Ko’olina are three of his locations on Oahu.


Alan Wong’s popularity as a chef is as much about his esteem as a pioneer but also as a widely recognizable promotor of Hawaii regional Cuisine having cooked a Luau for President Obama on the White House lawn during the annual congressional picnic.


Alan Wong is an award winning Chef whose work both in the kitchen and as a representative of Hawaii to the world has been of high regard. -Current Affairs image



Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong are the founders of the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival and are among the most prominent chefs of Hawaii along with Sam Choy, Peter Merriman, and others whom are regarded as the god fathers of Hawaii Regional Cuisine.


The five distinct styles that make up Hawaii regional cuisine reflect the five periods of settlement in the Hawaiian Islands. When the ancient Polynesians first arrived there were no animals and only a few edible plants and birds were available to eat.




The Polynesian voyagers had the fore-thought to bring with them much of the sustenance they would need to feed them in their new home, they brought and raised taro, planted coconuts, sugarcane, sweet potatoes and yams. The animals that joined them on their voyages to Hawaii were pigs, chickens, and dogs. The pigs and dogs where often cooked in underground ovens or roasted on a spit over an open fire. This early diet was amazingly diverse with the early Hawaiians consuming a diet with over 130 types of sea food and 230 types of sweet potatoes.




A traditional underground oven called an “Imu.” -Hawaii State Archive Image


When Captain Cook first arrived in Hawaii he brought with him goats, ewes, a boar, and english pigs, along with a multitude of fruits and vegetables. Captain Vancouver later brought over cattle and the native Hawaiian’s diet began to drastically change.


It is Roy Yamaguchi, Alan Wong, Mark Noguchi and others who have blended elements and ingredients of pre-contact cooking with that of the 19th century immigrants brought over to work in Hawaii’s agricultural industry.



The famous poet and travel write Robert Louis Stevenson at a Royal Luau in 1889 – Wiki commons


The Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans, and the Portuguese have shaped Hawaii’s culinary landscape just as much as Captain Cook and Captain Vancouver. Having brought their delicious native recipes and ingredients to Hawaii with them it took little time at all for people to begin to further the tastes from their traditional food to that of their neighbors.





With those traditions and ingredients in mind, the God fathers of Hawaii regional cuisine set out to create something entirely new.


Continued in Part 3