Dessert adventure in Oahu, Hawaii (local desserts)


We are into our 25th week of lockdown here in NYC.  Restaurants have moved into outdoor dining mode with varying degrees of success, non-grocery stores have become our predominant escape from apartment boredom, and museums are sleighted to reopen in the coming weeks.  And… autumn is around the corner, yikes!  We are not quite ready to say goodbye to this odd summer of 2020, so in this post, we will take you on a trip down memory lane.  This time last year, last summer, we were in Hawaii.  Hawaii hasn’t ever really been at the top of these Dessert Correspondents’ travel wish list, but it was an ideal midpoint for the one part of us who lives in Melbourne still, and the other who resides in NYC currently.  As you may know, Hawaii is made up of several islands, of which we visited Oahu.  And as we do on all of our travels, we sought out the best of the local desserts.  Our conclusion?  We will always remember Hawaii as an archipelago of striking landscapes, the most exquisite pineapple, and the sweetest dessert dreams.  You might not be able to hop on a plane just yet, but bookmark this page for the five local desserts you must not miss when in Hawaii.

Haupia and Poi

The “haupia” dessert is a coconut-flavoured dessert with a texture between that of a jelly and a flan.  In fact, its firm-yet-bouncy texture reminded us very much of South East-Asian nonya kuih cakes.  Traditionally, it used to be made of arrowroot starch.  Today, it is more commonly constituted of corn starch, mixed with coconut milk and sugar.  As pictured below, we sampled one layered on top of a thick slab of “poi.”  Also known as “kalo” in the Hawaiian dialect, poi is a purple paste made from grounding the taro root.  Depending on the sensitivity of your tastebuds, poi will either taste delicately-scented or somewhat bland.  We sampled it in dessert form (as pictured), and also as a savoury side dish to dinner, similar to mashed potatoes.


“Liliko’i” is the Hawaiian word for passionfruit.  Veritable sunshine in a dessert, while in Hawaii, we saw it featured in the syrup that one pours onto a tower of luscious breakfast pancakes, to being the icing on bakery delights such as cupcakes, cheesecake, and dessert bars.  Pictured below is the giant liliko’i muffin that we had one afternoon in Hawaii. *insert dreamy face*


There is something about fried dough that is universally appealing – every country and culture has a version of some kind.  For example, there’s the fried dough stick you can get at dim sum, the square-ish nuggets that the French call “beignets,” the intensely-sugared fried conical trumpet that calls to you while browsing the Christmas Markets in Europe, the hybrid creations that the Americans dream up of in the form of the cronut or the mochi doughnut.  And of course, we can’t forget all the fried wonders that we gobbled years ago to write our Guide to Melbourne’s Best Doughnuts (one of our most popular dessert reviews to date, and one that spawned so many other similar reviews in the local Australian media at the time).  In Hawaii, the local fried dough delicacy is the “malasada.”  Of speculated Portuguese origin, malasadas are misshapen orbs filled with lemon curd, pineapple jam, berry jam, liliko’i, guava, and even, pureed haupia.  If you prefer not to enter into a sugar coma shortly after consuming one such malasada, we recommend selecting the more simple, yet just as memorable, cinnamon-flecked malasada.  Trust us, we learned that the hard way. 😛

Dole Whip

If we had to rank icy treats in order of preference, we would say that sorbet is our favourite, then ice cream, then soft serve.  That is, until we came across pineapple soft serve while touring Oahu.  At the famous Dole pineapple plantation, the pineapple soft serve was the palest pastel yellow, and served with chunks of sweet pineapple.  Yes, it looked very simple, yet may perhaps be the one dessert that we remember the most from our escapade away in Hawaii.

Shaved Ice

If almost every country and culture has its own version of a fried dough dessert, the same can be said for shaved iced desserts.  Korea has its patbingsu, Japan its kakigori, Malaysia its ice kacang, and Italy its granita.  In Hawaii, especially once the twilight hours descend, every second person walking around Waikiki munches and slurps their way through a bowl or cone of distinctively rainbow-coloured shaved ice.  Together with the lurid colours of a Hawaiian sunset, it makes for the perfect sweet end to a fine day in Hawaii.



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