Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Food in Hawaii and Alaska


The two youngest states of the United States bring an offering of contrasts to the huge American table of foods. Hawaii offers touches from the South Pacific and Southeast-Asian cuisine like the sharp salty fish sauces, exotic spices, an array of tropical fruits such as taro, coconut, passion fruit, guava, tangy-sour tamarind, as well as noodles, rice, pork, seafood and raw fish.

Hawaiian specialties include Pupus, fried or grilled snack foods or appetizers, which includes Crab Rangoon (hot spicy crab meat sealed in crispy fried won ton wrappers) and Rumaki which features grilled skewered chicken livers and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon. Bagoong, a salty fish sauce, is often used as a condiment and seasoning.

Perhaps the most famous festive occasion is the Luau during which a whole pig is cooked in a pit (Imu) heated with white-hot rocks. Lomi Lomi Salmon, tender and juicy salt fish prepared with a mixture of tomatoes and onions, often served with Poi. A meal might end with Haupia, a sweet pudding made from coconut milk or feature Mai Tai, a heady Hawaiian drink prepared with rum, orange-flavored liqueur and lime juice.

Together with the bounty of nature – cloudberries, rose hips, blueberries, cranberries, salmonberries, huckleberries, rhubarb, fish and wild game (beaver, bear, venison, caribou, duck and ptarmigan) the early Alaskan pioneers brought two staples that still satisfy hearty appetites in the North. These are pork and beans and the famed sourdough from which breads, rolls, pancakes and biscuits are made. The sourdough starter – a ferment of flour, yeast, and water – when once begun, lives in a crock in the kitchen, continually added to and a constant source of new doughs with a tantalizing aroma and taste. Sourdough Cakes are made by adding a little baking soda to a sourdough sweetened with sugar and baked on a griddle.

The native peoples taught the early trappers and miners how to prepare rolled sheets of dried berries. They also patiently shared their skills for salting, drying and smoking fish to last over the winter, and even how to keep sun-dried berries in airtight containers. The toasted seaweed that they crumbled over fish soap added a salty taste and valuable nutrients.

Alaskan specialties include Matsuki, only one of countless varieties of edible wild mushrooms, Watapoo, a mealy red tuber with a taste similar to chestnuts and Camas, a starchy bulb-shaped considered a staple wilderness food.

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