Cooking Up Cultural Classics in Paradise

by Meghan Bohny ‘18 and Melissa Rolwood ‘17

Twelve students were enrolled in the Teaching Methods (NTDT 445) course as part of the Winter 2016 study abroad program to Hawaii. Students worked in pairs to share their knowledge about cultural origins and nutritional values of different foods through culinary demonstrations. These demonstrations integrated a creative cooking presentation method with history, style, culture, and of course, food. Cultural foods typically eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner were chosen to enhance our understanding of the many cultures of Hawaii. The chosen entrees represented Hawaiian, Japanese, Thai, and Chinese cultures and demonstrated how local ingredients can be prepared in a distinctive way.

loco mocoLoco Moco is a local Hawaiian classic that is most commonly served for breakfast but is also eaten for lunch and dinner. It is a unique dish comprised of a heaping pile of rice topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and gravy. There are several legends associated with the invention of Loco Moco. The stories range from a group of teenagers looking for an inexpensive meal to a football team searching to satisfy their hefty appetites.

Based on information provided by the University of Hawaii, a traditional serving of Loco Moco—including two scoops of rice, one hamburger patty, one egg, and gravy—has 563 calories and satisfies 95% of the daily recommended intake of cholesterol in just one meal! However, the Loco Moco can be adapted to fit any food preference.

ahi tunaHawaiian Regional cuisine was founded in 1991 by 12 chefs. This cuisine features local Hawaiian produce and high-quality meats. Seared Ahi tuna with a lilikoi shrimp salsa was prepared according to the recipe of Roy Yamaguchi who is one of the 12 chefs. Hawaii is the place to sample raw fish because of its freshness and high quality. Lilikoi, called passion fruit on the mainland, is also featured in this dish.

In Hawaii, lilikoi is regarded as kama’ aina, meaning it is locally sourced. The Hawaiian Regional cuisine movement fostered many restaurants to use locally grown, farm fresh ingredients. Ingredients produced in Hawaii are awarded the Hawaii Seal of Quality.

okayu and miso soupFoods representative of the Japanese culture were explored for both breakfast and dinner. Miso soup and okayu are soups that are traditionally eaten for breakfast in Japan and Hawaii. Miso soup consists of a dashi broth with miso paste and tofu, while okayu is a plain rice dish in broth that lends itself to creativity with savory toppings.

Both of these dishes are comfort foods that have health benefits. Miso paste has antioxidants while okayu soothes an upset stomach.

veg sushi
For dinner, everyone experienced rolling sushi. Two variations were offered: a vegetarian roll with avocado, cucumber, and carrots, as well as an ahi tuna roll with seaweed salad and carrots. It was amusing to see everyone’s unique sushi rolling style!


spring rolls
Thai spring rolls are a popular lunch option in Hawaii. They differ from Chinese spring rolls in that they are usually not fried and contain mostly fresh vegetables. For the demonstration, students chose to include fresh herbs, mushrooms, rice noodles, peppers, and avocado.

These delicious spring rolls were served with a choice of a fresh-made peanut dipping sauce or a red chili sauce. Spring rolls introduce variety to the diet by providing a new way to enjoy vegetables.

Chinese jai
Jai, a traditional 18 ingredient stir-fry, is served on the first day of Chinese New Year. It was an experience trying to find such unique ingredients as black tree ear fungus, dried lily flowers, and dried black moss!


Each ingredient is meaningful in Chinese culture. For instance, the rice noodles in the jai symbolize long life and the dried black moss symbolizes wealth. Jai surprised us all with its savory blend of flavors and textures.

As part of our study abroad program, the Teaching Methods course allowed us to experience the wide array of cuisines available in Hawaii. We were intrigued by the diversity of foods found on the Islands. Some of the best parts of studying in Hawaii were working with unfamiliar ingredients and having to think outside of the box when preparing food. Overall, the culinary demonstrations were an interactive way to present new information about the different cultures found in Hawaii. If the mix of food cultures in paradise interests you, The Food of Paradise by Rachel Laudan is a great source for learning more about this topic.

If you want to experience the cultures first hand, the next study abroad program to Hawaii will most likely occur in Winter 2018.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email