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  • Emmanuel Bartolome

Diversity and Delicacies In Hawaii

Hawaii is home to many various different delicacies though diversity places a large role in the creation of these foods.

Hawaii is internationally renowned for its cultural diversity which can be seen in its traditions, identities, languages and cuisine. The unique culture and cuisine exclusive to Hawaii is the result of fusing various cultures such as Americans, Germans, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos and Vietnamese.

Though local residents see diversity as the way things have always been in the aisles, it hasn't always been this way as diversity is a rather recent trend.

Prior to at least the mid-1830s, Hawaii was largely homogenous with Native Hawaiians being a majority of the population. But by the 1820s, white settlers would begin to populate Hawaii and start various businesses. By the 1850s, Native Hawaiian landowners with the assistance of American investors would begin large sugar cane plantations. Originally plantations were worked by Native Hawaiians however poor conditions of labor and the declining Hawaiian population which was steadily dying from disease would cause a labor shortage.

This labor shortage would lead to plantation owners importing foreign laborers. From 1850 to 1900, 200,000 contracted laborers would immigrate to Hawaii. Danielle Yamashiro noted that there were waves of immigration with the first being the Chinese, then secondly the Japanese, then the Portuguese. Between these various waves there were minor waves of immigration of Germans, Norwegians, British and Americans.

The transformation of Hawaii from a Native Hawaiian ethnostate to a multicultural society was the result of two factors, immigration and the decline in the Native Hawaiian population. According to NPR, various diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea and leprosy decimated the Native Hawaiian population.

These diseases would bring the Hawaiian population of 300,000 in 1770 to a figure of 41,000 in 1890. Before eventually leading to a figure of 24,000 in 1920. The devastation left by these diseases was the result of Native Hawaiian immune systems being unaccustomed to these western diseases.

In the modern day, Hawaii is blessed to have various delicacies that have come about as a result of ethnic diversity. Here are a few examples of food items that came about as a result of ethnic diversity.

The Loco Moco is a food item that traditionally contains rice, hamburgers, eggs and gravy which are all various food items from across the world.

Rice originally began in China and India, before spreading to various Asian nations such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Rice found its way to Hawaii through large Japanese and Chinese settler populations which popularized the meal.

Hamburgers are an iconic American dish however it originally began in Germany. According to History, hamburgers first began in Germany. More specifically Hamburg where the “Hamburg Steak” and beef-based delicacies were popular. The Hamburg Steak would eventually become the Hamburger once it was imported by German immigrants to America and was given several alterations.

Gravy has a long history and was developed across various civilizations. Originally beginning in the late Roman Empire, the sauce would find its way across the Mediterranean to medieval France where it would get its name. Then across the English channel where Britain would popularize gravy across the world.

While these are not all the ingredients present in a Loco Moco, it's obvious that these various ingredients are the product of cultural diversity. This cultural diversity can also be seen in various other food items such as Malasadas, hotdogs and noodles.

Shawn Doo, a Farrington Hawaiian History teacher, notes that these local foods and food in general contribute to increased social cohesion in communities and families such as his own.

Another example of a local food with diverse origins is Malasadas. Malasadas originally began in Portugal’s Azore Islands. The Malasada was inspired by the native Muslim population of the Azores with the Portuguese adapting the Muslim dish. Despite the fact that Malasada literally means “poorly cooked” the fact that it is a popular delicacy enjoyed by many proves its name otherwise.

Another local food with diverse origins is poke. According to an article by Hawaiian Airlines, poke originally developed when Native Hawaiian populations caught fish and mixed it with nuts, sea salt, and seaweed. This would change with western traders who introduced salmon as a substitute for various local fish. And this would change again with the presence of Chinese and Japanese immigrants that introduced soy sauce and sesame oil into poke.

An adult Oahu resident revealed in an interview that she and her family’s favorite food is poke. “Me and my family enjoy poke because it has a wide variety of delicious flavors and the fact that we inherited it from our ancestors.” She also notes that while poke from stores and restaurants are expensive, making it at home can be far cheaper and delicious if one knows what they are doing.

Noodles are a commonly eaten food item in Hawaii. The origin of noodles is pretty debatable as various cultures claimed to create noodles though it's most likely that noodles originally began in the Middle East in Turkey and Egypt before spreading to the world. Regardless of the noodle's origins, noodles are pretty well liked in Hawaii. The most enjoyed form of noodles in Hawaii would be ramen, a commonly eaten Japanese staple.

In an interview, an anonymous Farrington student noted ramen is his favorite food and something he routinely eats. When asked if food is something that brings communities closer together, he comments he just sees food as food, something to be eaten, nothing more.

Another example of local food with diverse origins is the corn dog. The corn dog is a common staple in school lunches in Hawaii and America. Corn dogs originally began in America however it is largely enjoyed in various nations such as Japan, Argentina and Australia. While the corn dog and the hot dog are similar the two are commonly confused. Taste Atlas defines corn dogs as sausages on a stick that are coated in a layer of deep fried cornmeal batter while hot dogs are sausages covered with a hot dog bun.

Faith Lei’a, a Farrington student from class of 2026 revealed that corn dogs are her favorite food. Lei’a notes that ethnic and cultural diversity is a net positive due to the fact that it results in an increased variety and quality of food.

Hawaii has many different cultures making Doo note that the idea of a melting pot, a zone of diverse cultures that are said to fuse and enhance is quite fitting for Hawaii considering that we enjoy many diverse foods.

While local food and food in general can taste good, one should always be careful with what they eat and how much they eat. Make sure to avoid foods and supplements that may cause conditions such as allergies, or an improper allocation of nutrients as these outcomes may be detrimental to one’s health and wellbeing.

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