Hawaiian food reflects the mix of cultures that call the islands home. You'll find Asian influences alongside traditional Polynesian ingredients and mainland American preparations. This gives you plenty of room to experiment with Hawaiian foods for your guests.
Many larger dishes can be made into finger foods by serving them in small edible containers or threading them on toothpicks or skewers.
Finger foods can serve as a main dish. Choose foods that are hearty and filling, and plan to serve two or three options. Offer a beef or pork choice, chicken and fish to appeal to a range of tastes. Try these examples:
- Kalua pua'a sliders. Kalua pua'a is whole pig, traditionally steamed in a large pit. You don't have to dig a hole in the backyard -- or cook enough food to feed the entire neighborhood -- to enjoy the flavors of this classic luau staple. Rinse a 3-pound pork butt and season with sea salt. Wrap the pork in banana leaves and roast at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 145 F. Shred the pork and serve it on Hawaiian rolls.
- Teriyaki beef or chicken skewers. Cube beef or chicken and marinade overnight in your favorite bottled teriyaki sauce. Combine the meat, chopped bell peppers and pineapple chunks in a roasting pan or cookie sheet. Cook until the peppers are soft and the meat is heated to an internal temperature of 165 F for chicken or 145 F for beef.
- Season mahi mahi with garlic salt, pepper and lemon juice. Bake at 425 F until just opaque, about 10 minutes. Flake the fish and serve small portions on individual lettuce leaves.
- Coconut lime shrimp skewers. Marinade shrimp in a mixture of freshly grated ginger, minced garlic, lime zest and coconut milk overnight. Thread the shrimp on a metal skewer and grill until they just turn pink, about 3 minutes per side. Meanwhile, arrange a platter with a bed of toasted coconut and a small jar of toothpicks. Slide the cooked shrimp off the skewers onto the platter. Sprinkle with sea salt and a squeeze of lime juice.
Provide several trash containers for guests to discard used skewers and toothpicks.
Sides and Salads
Just because a meal is intended to be eaten casually doesn't mean it shouldn't include a variety of flavors and textures. Side dishes and salads give your guests a break from heavier, protein-packed main dishes.
- Papaya and avocado salads
- Poke, or Hawaiian-style sashimi tuna served with salt, onions, soy sauce and sesame oil, as well as other ingredients depending on your tastes. Serve in shot glasses that are easy to carry as your guests mingle.
- A selection of fresh tropical fruits is undeniably Hawaiian, and needs virtually no preparation beyond slicing into bite-sized pieces. Intersperse fresh fruit with other dishes on a buffet table. A good selection includes cubed papaya, pineapple chunks, grapes, strawberries, cubed mangoes and bananas. Choose the freshest seasonal fruits you can find, even if they're not "tropical."
- Use the freshest sashimi-grade ahi tuna for poke. Because it is not cooked, you must rely on the quality of the fish itself for taste and to avoid food-borne illness.
- Pregnant women or those with a compromised immune systems should avoid eating raw fish.
Hawaiian desserts celebrate the cultural diversity of the island with strong influences from Japan, Portugal and France. Surprise your guests with some of these Hawaiian favorites:
- Mochi ice cream balls are a Japanese treat made from rice cake filled with various flavors of ice cream, including green tea and passion fruit, as well as more mainstream favorites like chocolate and strawberry. You can find them in the frozen section of most grocery stores.
- Malasadas are fried doughnut balls rolled in cinnamon sugar or dried plum powder. Provide plenty of napkins for this messy but delicious dessert brought to Hawaii by Portuguese laborers.
- Coco puffs are a Hawaiian take on French creme puffs. Make or buy unfilled choux pastry shells. Fill them with a dark chocolate ganache and top with buttercream.