The Origins of the Hawaiian Plate: A Timeline

The roots of the “Hawaiian” plate: who came, what they brought and the food that eventually made it on the plate. Reality, of course, is a little messier than this timeline: different groups had overlapping influence, i.e., missionaries probably also brought salt fish for their journey as well as fruit and vegetable seeds.


Between 200-500 A.D. (debated)

Who: the first Polynesians

Some of what they brought: kalo (taro), uala (sweet potato), niu (coconut), ulu (breadfruit), pia (arrowroot), uhi (yam), maia (banana), kukui, ko (sugarcane), ki (ti), puaa (pigs), moa (chickens) and ilio (dogs).

Influence on the modern-day Hawaiian plate: poi, kalua pig, laulau, squid luau. There may have been a precursor to haupia and kulolo, the latter perhaps grated coconut and taro, wrapped in ti leaves and cooked in an imu, but it’s likely that these sweets as we know them today are a post-contact invention.



Who: Capt. James Cook

What he brought: goats and melon, pumpkin and onion seeds

Influence: onions


1778 to the early 1800s

Who: Whalers and merchants

What they brought: Salt fish

Evolved into: Lomi salmon


1791 to 1820

Lomi salmon

Who: Don Francisco de Paula Marin

What he brought: What didn’t he bring!? A shortened list: oranges, cabbages, potatoes, peaches, tobacco, lemons, tomatoes, asparagus, coffee, pineapple. (He also made what might have been Hawaii’s first homebrewed beer.)

Influence: the tomatoes and onions in lomi salmon—a condiment made entirely of post-contact ingredients



Who: Capt. George Vancouver

What he brought: cattle

Influence: Eventually, Mexican cowboys arrived to control wild cattle populations, and from paniolo culture comes pipikaula




Who: Chinese contract laborers

What they brought: Probably nothing. They were poor contract laborers, not explorers funded by wealthy monarchies. But someone (probably an enterprising Westerner) eventually brought rice to the Islands, and when the Chinese’s contracts were up, they turned to rice farming.

Influence: rice, chicken long rice




Who: Japanese contract laborers (Okinawans started immigrating in 1900)

Influence: Ditto the Chinese. Their contribution overlaps with the Chinese (an overlap that goes far back, before their intermingling in Hawaii), perpetuating a rice and shoyu culture. While raw fish seasoned with salt, limu and kukui existed pre-contact, the Japanese influence probably contributed to the popularity of poke with shoyu and sesame oil.


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