The Pre-Contact Diet: What Hawaiians Traditionally Ate

Remember Dr. Terry Shintani’s Waianae Diet? The one on which you could lose weight by eating Native Hawaiian foods? Unfortunately, the Hawaiian plate at L&L wasn’t what he had in mind. Shintani says what Hawaiians traditionally ate was much more simple—taro (and lots of it), sweet potato, breadfruit, some fish, limu and fruit. “Every once in a while, Hawaiians would have pig and have a luau and make an imu, but that’s party food,” he says. “That was never their main food. These days we have chicken, fish and pork served at every meal, but that’s not what they did. You couldn’t prepare flesh food all the time without refrigeration and if you lived up mauka.”


Liko Hoe of Waiahole Poi Factory, who is also a Hawaiian Studies professor at Windward Community College, says taro was really the backbone of the Native Hawaiian diet. “Poi was the basis—everything else was just flavoring, additions,” he says. “Sometimes their meal was just poi and a little bit of salt.” In addition, the taro stalk and leaves provided protein. “Taro was referred to as the ‘boneless fish of the land,’” he says.



Poi was the centerpiece of the meal, if not the meal. Old pictures of Hawaiian meals often show poi bowls big enough to wash a baby in.



Breadfruit. Still waiting for its comeback.



Limu, many varieties including lipoa, kohu and ele ele.


Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes.



Fish, such as aku (wild caught) and mullet (cultivated in Hawaiian fish ponds). Eaten raw, dried or cooked in ti leaves.


Take a video tour of Keoki’s Lau Lau Factory here.