It may be the ultimate fusion food, since Hawaiian food combines native ingredients with traditions from Polynesia, Japan, the Philippines, Portugal and more. For chefs cooking in this tradition, such as Hawaii Regional Cuisine co-founder Peter Merriman, it’s the freshest, most innovative cuisine going. Merriman’s five Hawaiian restaurants, ranging from fine-dining to gourmet pizzas and burgers, showcase island-grown and harvested foods, simply prepared, with attention to the state’s long history of multiculturalism.
Called the “Pied Piper of Hawaii Regional Cuisine” by the Los Angeles Times, Merriman has been at the forefront of renewed interest in his state’s agricultural heritage and unique cuisine. “My heroes have always been farmers,” Merriman says.
Island living—wherever you are
For those on the mainland, Hawaiian food has also moved into the fast-casual sector, as the concept of “island life” spreads to the farthest reaches of the United States. In Utah, for example, the restaurant chain Mo’ Bettahs appeals to a Mormon populace that gained an interest in global cuisine—and Hawaiian plate lunches—during mission trips. The chain was started by brothers Kalani and Kimo Mack, who moved from the Oahu coastal city of Kaneohe ten years ago to open their first restaurant in Bountiful, Utah.
The chain has grown to six Utah locations, and there are plans for expansion. According to its motto, “No matter where you are from, when you enter a Mo’ Bettahs restaurant you will find a place that you can fill your opu (stomach) with ono (delicious) island food.” Top sellers include Steak Teriyaki, Chicken Katsu and Kalua Pig. Condiments include the ketchup-inspired Mo’ Bettahs sauce and a teriyaki version, which uses Aloha Shoyu, a Hawaiian soy sauce brand.
If you’re looking for some simple ways to add a Hawaiian touch to your menus, consider offering a poke bowl. Pronounced poh-KAY, it’s basically just cubes of raw fish, marinated in sesame oil and soy sauce and served in a bowl. These days, diners love anything that comes in that particular circular container, so you’ll start out ahead of the game simply by having the word “bowl” on the menu. To that marinated fish, you can add toppings like green onions, ginger, sesame seeds, seaweed, sea salt or inamona (a roasted kukui nut-sea salt condiment).
Want to know more? Read this On Your Plate blog about Hai Poké, a successful poke food truck in Columbus, Ohio.