Hawaii is a land of diverse and deep history of which food is a major component. In fact much of the history of Hawaii can be traced through the introduction of new foods and new cultures into the Islands. And when you think about the traditional food of the islands, Hawaiian BBQ is the first and most delicious thing that comes to mind!
Polynesian Sea Farers were some of the first people to populate the islands in the early 300s BC. They found an abundance of seafood and shellfish but it became important for them to supplement that diet with a more stable and practical food. So in response to the need for that stability they introduced the sweet potato, the yam, and the taro plant, which is the major ingredient in the traditional Hawaiian dish Poi. Until the 1700s the culture brought by these early explorers reigned supreme and central to that was the noble art of BBQ.
Traditionally Hawaiian feasts, called aha‘aina, took place during ritualistic and religious activity and were meant to mark special occasions. The meat prepared was generally pig or dog, and the animal was roasted in an authentic earth oven. This oven, or imu, utilized superheated rocks and steam to slowly and evenly cook large quantities of meat that would feed the tribe for days.
Hawaiian Cuisine took a drastic change with the introduction of European foods brought by explorers and colonists who made their way to the islands in the late 1700s. Domesticated animals like cattle, and more traditionally European fruits and vegetables like pumpkin, squash, and melon found a home in the island culture. Interestingly enough, pineapple, a food often associated with Hawaiian culture was not part of traditional Hawaiian cuisine. It was introduced in 1813 by a Spanish botanist named Don Francisco de Paula Marin. It was made popular during American colonization of Hawaii, along with the advent of sugarcane. These are the two crops that Hawaii would become the most well know for, and would also spark the next addition to the diverse Hawaiian cuisine we are familiar with today.
The plantations sparked a need for cheap labor, which inspired a large and diverse immigrant population to flock to Hawaii. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, and Portuguese immigrants all brought the flavors of their native dishes to contribute to the flowering Hawaiian culture.
In today’s world, Hawaiian BBQ reigns supreme as an amalgamation of authentic cultures from around the world. And what could be better than a slab of roast pork cooked to perfection in the traditional imu with a fresh bowl of poke, a side of poi and a cold Mai Tai to wash it all down.