An authentic Hawaiian plate lunch.

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

What’s in a Hawaiian Plate, Anyway?

Here’s your cheat sheet.

The best lū‘au in Hawai‘i will serve the authentic stuff: succulent kālua pig, creamy haupia and, of course, poi.  So if you are lucky enough to get handed that perfect plate, here’s what you’ll be eating: 

From upper-right, going clockwise: kālua pig, sweet potato, pipi kaula and lau lau.
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

Sweet potato: Originally from South America, the ‘uala, or Hawaiian sweet potato, has been a staple food since ancient times in many parts of Polynesia. These potatoes are violet-purple and starchy, great steamed and slightly salted.  

Pipi kaula:  Hawaiian-style jerked beef. 

Kālua pig: Basically pulled pork that’s cooked in an underground oven, or imu. It’s salty, tender and smoky. 

Lau lau: This entrée is typically made of pork and butterfish wrapped in kalo (taro) and ti leaves and steamed.  

Squid lūʻau (top right), poi (bottom right) and chicken long rice (left). 
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

Squid lū‘au:  A classic lū‘au dish made with taro leaves (aka lū‘au or kalo leaves) simmered with octopus (tako) and coconut milk.  

Poi: The staple starch of Native Hawaiians, poi is made from mashing the root of kalo. It’s sticky, sweet and a little sour. 

Chicken long rice: This dish features tender, bite-size chicken with al dente glass noodles.  

Poke (top right), lomi lomi salmon (bottom right) and haupia (left).
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

Lomi salmon: This is a traditional Hawaiian side dish made from salted salmon, diced tomatoes and chopped onions. 

Haupia: This Hawaiian dessert is akin to coconut pudding. Texture is everything. Haupia needs to be creamy but firm, though not overly so. 

Poke: Cubed raw fish—usually ‘ahi (tuna)—tossed with seaweed, sweet onions and ‘inamona (roasted kukui, or candlenut).