Why Hawaiian Food is Sweeping the Mainland: Local Perspective


Kainoa Horcajo Rant for the Day:


Pretty interesting to see an article like this in a publication as large as Vogue (Why Hawaiian Food is Sweeping the Mainland.) And, I’m super stoked to see Hawai’i people getting press. We know our culinary scene in Hawai’i is off-da-chain and broke-da-mout’, due in large part to the multi-cultural roots of modern Hawai’i. But it’s also due to the amazing culinary talents we have, both those who paved the way with the Hawaii regional cuisine movement and the next generation of chefs and restaurateurs taking the world by storm now.

But even then, in a publication as renowned as Vogue, this author totally misses the mark.

First, she doesn’t answer the question her headline posed, merely outlines a bunch of restaurants on the continent making Hawaii-inspired food.

local grinds


So, WHY is Hawaiian food sweeping the nation?


1. Our chefs. Our chefs are hard-working, creative, innovative, and disciplined. Yeah, but most successful top chefs are. What I think makes ours different is that they are also humble, generous, grateful for opportunities, listen more than they talk, collaborate well, and are just generally fun to be around!

2. Our island home. The inspiration provided by our home, with access to the world’s technology, techniques, and ingredients gives our chefs an ample source of energy from which to draw. All the chefs I know have inspiration in the water, the waves, their families, all tied intimately to the land on which we live.

3. Our past. As the article’s author noted, Hawaii became a terminal point for the diaspora of the Polynesian migration, the wandering Westerners, and the Asian plantation and other workers. In another place, it might not have worked out so well. But here in Hawai’i these people and cultures created something very unique. And we did so in our language, in our people, and in our food.

Maui Hawaii


The statement that really got me riled was this:

“Since few plants or animals are native to the islands, ingredients came with each group of arrivals, first the Polynesians, and later laborers and colonizers from places as far-flung as Portugal, the Philippines, China, and the U.S.”


Let’s outline some facts:

  • Hawaii, while only about 0.2% of the landmass of North America makes up for over 40% of its endangered species.
  • Hawaii has thousands of native species, over 90% of which are endemic, found nowhere else in the world.


Hawaiian produceSaying that there were not many plants and animals native to these islands allows readers to think there isn’t much here worth protecting. That anything new that comes has just as much right to what has been here for thousands of years. It is, in a sense, colonial logic imposed upon food ingredients.

And while it is true that so many amazing, delicious foods have been brought in by our collective ancestors over the years from across Polynesia, Asia, Europe, and the Americas to say there was not much in Hawaii before humans impressed their will upon it is simply false and does a great injustice to the beacon of biodiversity, evolution, and adaptive radiation that these islands are.


Hawaii food is sweeping the nation because of our roots and the flowers that have bloomed since. And because those roots run deep…back to the beginning of time, across all the oceans and continents to the time before time. Ka Piko o Ka Honua. We are the navel of the earth and if people can’t come home they at least want to know what home tastes like.

Hawaiian Food

Photos from Maui Chef’s Table at The Mill House Restaurant.

1 thought on “Why Hawaiian Food is Sweeping the Mainland: Local Perspective”

  1. We often fall into the same category of Hawaii-loving writers with Jennifer Conrad, where we want to share the food, culture and land here without looking deeply enough to share WHY. Kainoa reminds us that there’s so much more to Hawai’i than just the surface beauty, warmth and flavors.

    The culinary scene here is incredibly unique, not just because of the ingredients but mostly because of the people. The chefs here get it. They collaborate unlike any other culinary hub on the planet. They have an appreciation of the past and all the hard work that has gone into keeping it alive.


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