Hawaii has some dishes that are so spicy, it’s like making out with the devil!
The style of cuisine has changed over the years, as people have migrated to the islands—and everyone has brought a little sumthin’ for the soup. This influx of people has opened the floodgates for an incredibly diverse range of ingredients and spices.
Don’t be a Food Snob
Moving beyond the gimmicky aspect of “fusion,” Hawaiian Regional Cuisine (HRC) is no longer considered the “it” food. In fact, if you even utter the word “fusion,” you’ll be met with groans and eye rolls.
Hawaiian food is shifting more towards simplicity, accessibility and sustainability. People want something easy and fast. And, they want to know where the hell it came from! The best hellfire food you can get in Hawaii is most likely off of a truck, at the farmer’s market or a local haunt.
Enjoying the spiciest food on the islands isn’t about finding a hoity-toity Michelin chef… it’s about visiting Uncle Kalani’s backyard food truck—where all the locals are having lunch.
The following are a few spicy foods to start with, whether you’re scouting a neighborhood truck, or getting adventurous with local ingredients.
Chili Pepper Water for the Brave
Like drinking fire, this Hawaiian concoction from Hell is used in cooking and crafting a variety of dishes. In its most basic form, it is comprised of Hawaiian nioi (red chili peppers), salt and water. Other recipes call for rice vinegar, ginger, soy sauce and garlic (among other things).
Hawaiian chili peppers are certainly considered hot, on any scale, and they measure on the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) at 50,000 to 100,000 (compared to a Habanero at 250,000). They are the cousin to the world-famous Tabasco and have one of the sweetest flavors of any hot chili in the world.
Chili pepper water is mainly used as a condiment in Hawaii and it tastes amazing sprinkled over rice and Asian-inspired dishes. This is also incredibly easy to make at home, as long as you have the right chilies.
The best part of all is that chili pepper water is healthy! No sugar, no salt, just burn! You asked for it, you devil!
As Hawaii is very much a melting pot, Pasteles are a traditional Latin American dish that is popular among the islands. It can also typically be found in Trinidad, Tobago and parts of the Caribbean, so it’s logged a lot of Rolaids.
Similar to a tamale, it is sometimes pronounced pateles in Hawaii and can be spicier than the depths of hell! They are usually made with pork, but they can also be made with beef or chicken. Unlike tamales, however, pasteles are also made with bananas, achiote oil and plenty of Hawaiian chili peppers.
Most of the native recipes have been passed down through generations and pasteles are a true part of local Hawaiian culture. The dish can be made into a stew and is usually offered either way on the local food trucks.
At $3 a pop, you really can’t beat a local Hawaiian plate lunch, like pasteles, for some kick-ass spice!
Ahi Poke – Aisle 5
Don’t embarrass yourself, silly tourist. When asking for this dish, it’s pronounced ‘po-kay’ (not ‘po-kee’, or worse even, ‘poke’).
Often compared to ceviche by outsiders, poke is a simple dish that consists of chunks of raw tuna (usually yellowfin), soy sauce and scallions. Where you go from there is up to your wildly spicy imagination.
You may have a hard time finding authentic spicy poke dishes, unless you run to the local market. In any other state, buying sushi from your grocery store isn’t the first thing you’d think of— but, in Hawaii, the popular chain Foodland, is said to have spicy poke to die for!
Pro Tip- You can also buy great sushi at Walgreens. You heard it here first!!
Foodland generally uses Sriracha to spice up their poke, but a little bird tweeted that they use Louisiana Hot Sauce in their Maui locations (check out these awesome Maui tours). Other spicy flavors include wasabi, ginger and Huy Fong Chili Garlic sauce—just make sure you get plenty of white rice, cause that’s what’ll keep you from the non-pearly gates.
Spicy Pipi Kuala
Think spicy beef jerky, only ten times better.
Now, imagine eating that on a tropical island and you have officially envisioned the popular dish known as PiPi Kuala. It is considered a common pupu, or appetizer, among locals and is often enjoyed at casual BBQ’s and get-togethers.
Pipi Kuala is a perfect snack to pick up before you hit the beach, and locals will be impressed if you ask for it by name.
PiPi Kuala is often served as a side on food trucks and at local haunts, next to items like mango salsa, LauLau and Naau. It can be made with crushed Hawaiian chilies, as well as with ginger, so you can really up the heat factor. Unlike jerky, however, Pipi Kuala is rather soft and much easier to chew. When done right, it should be slightly tender and moist, like a nice slab of pastrami…..except on fire.
What is amazing about the current food scene in Hawaii is the focus on simplistic dishes, sourced locally and enjoyed by natives (the people who know what tastes the best).
Hawaiian chilies are a large staple in their spicy plates and condiments, like chili pepper water, shouldn’t be skipped.
Anyone can travel to Hawaii, stay in a swanky hotel, eat the food in the posh restaurant or at Luaus in each island, next to the lobby and lay on the beach across the street, but who wants a canned experience?
If you’re a hot, hot food lover, hunt the local spices on your travels and see how each region caters to your masochistic palate.
Although some of these dishes will have you breathing more fire than an episode of Game of Thrones, the experience is worth it!