Why Is the Mainland So Fascinated by Hawaii’s Food?

A Zócalo/Daniel K. Inouye Institute “Pau Hana” Event
Moderated by Noe Tanigawa, Arts & Culture Reporter, Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Artistry Honolulu
461 Cooke St.
Honolulu, HI 96813
Street parking is available. Valet parking is available for $7.

The poke craze that has swept across the U.S. is only the latest sign that Hawaii’s food holds a strong fascination and mystique for mainlanders. In recent years, a profusion of high-profile chefs and experimental restaurants has popularized not only poke, but Hawaii-nurtured Pan-Pacific dishes like Filipino pork and loco moco—which now can be enjoyed at a food truck in Topeka or a Tiki restaurant in Scottsdale. Although much of the islands’ signature fare (including pineapples) was actually imported during the colonial period, Hawaii conjures mouthwatering images of homegrown Kona coffee and macadamia nuts. And the traditional Hawaiian luau has become a universal emblem of savory hospitality. Why is the mainland so enraptured by Hawaii’s cuisine? What role does its culinary bounty play in Hawaii’s tourist industry, and what will be its next five-star food export? Is there any downside to the mainland’s embrace—and sometimes kitschy, carb-heavy reimagining—of authentic island dishes? James Beard Award-winning chef and “godfather of poke” Sam Choy, food writer and author of The Poke Cookbook Martha Cheng, corporate executive chef of Foodland Super Market Keoni Chang, and Hawaii-born executive chef and owner of San Francisco’s ‘āina Jordan Keao visit Honolulu to chew over the unique allure of Hawaii’s cuisine.

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