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The Hawaiian phrase ‘kau kau’ is commonly heard in the islands, but what exactly does it mean? If you’ve ever wondered what locals are talking about when they say ‘kau kau’, this in-depth article will explain everything you need to know.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Kau kau is a Hawaiian pidgin term that refers to food, eating, or a meal. It’s an informal, casual way to talk about eating in Hawaii.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the origins and literal translation of kau kau, how it’s used in Hawaiian pidgin, phrases and expressions containing kau kau, examples in real life situations, and more. With over 3000 words, you’ll become an expert on this quirky Hawaiian term by the end!

The Origins and Literal Meaning of Kau Kau

Comes from Hawaiian Words ‘Kau’ and ‘Kaukau’

The term ‘kau kau’ originates from the Hawaiian language, specifically from the words ‘kau’ and ‘kaukau.’ In Hawaiian, ‘kau’ means ‘to place’ or ‘to put,’ while ‘kaukau’ refers to ‘food.’ When combined, ‘kau kau’ can be interpreted as ‘to put food’ or ‘to eat.’

This phrase has been widely adopted by the local people in Hawaii and has become a part of their everyday language. It is commonly used to refer to a meal or the act of eating, similar to how ‘food’ or ‘meal’ would be used in English.

Translates to ‘Eating’ or ‘Food’

When translated directly, ‘kau kau’ means ‘eating’ or ‘food’ in Hawaiian. It is important to note that in Hawaiian, the repetition of a word often emphasizes its meaning. So, the repetition of ‘kau’ in ‘kau kau’ emphasizes the act of eating or the importance of food.

The use of the term ‘kau kau’ is not limited to any specific type of cuisine or meal. It can be used to describe any kind of food, whether it is a traditional Hawaiian dish or a meal from another culture.

For more information about the Hawaiian language and its cultural significance, you can visit the ʻŌlelo Online website, which provides resources for learning the Hawaiian language and understanding its cultural context.

How Kau Kau Is Used in Hawaiian Pidgin

In Hawaiian Pidgin, the term “kau kau” is commonly used in casual conversation to refer to eating or meals. It is derived from the Hawaiian word “ka ʻai,” which means “the food.” This colloquial expression has become ingrained in the local culture and is widely understood by both locals and visitors to the Hawaiian Islands.

Refers Casually to Eating or Meals

When Hawaiians use the term “kau kau,” they are typically referring to a meal or the act of eating. It is used in everyday conversations, often as a verb, to indicate that someone is going to eat or has already eaten. For example, someone might say, “I’m going to kau kau now,” meaning they are about to have a meal. Similarly, if someone asks you if you’ve had lunch, you can respond with, “Yeah, I already kau kau.” This casual and familiar usage of “kau kau” adds a sense of friendliness and informality to conversations in Hawaiian Pidgin.

Used in Place of More Formal Terms

One interesting aspect of “kau kau” is that it is often used in place of more formal terms for food or eating. In formal Hawaiian, the word for food is “ʻai,” but in everyday conversations, locals tend to use “kau kau” instead. This informal term has become deeply rooted in the language and is widely accepted and understood. It reflects the laid-back and easygoing nature of Hawaiian Pidgin and adds a sense of informality and familiarity to conversations about food.

Adds Local Flavor to Speech

The usage of “kau kau” in Hawaiian Pidgin not only serves as a convenient way to refer to meals but also adds a touch of local flavor to speech. It is a distinctive feature of the language and reflects the unique cultural blend found in Hawaii. Using “kau kau” instead of more formal terms creates a sense of community and belonging among speakers of Hawaiian Pidgin. It’s one of the many linguistic quirks that make the language rich and colorful, and it’s something that locals and visitors alike can appreciate and enjoy.

Common Hawaiian Phrases and Expressions with Kau Kau

‘Grind Kau Kau’ – To Eat or Chew Food

The phrase ‘Grind Kau Kau’ is a commonly used expression in Hawaiian that refers to eating or chewing food. The word “kau kau” itself means food or meal in the Hawaiian language. So, when someone says “let’s go grind kau kau,” they are inviting you to join them for a meal or to simply enjoy some delicious food.

In Hawaiian culture, food is not just a means of sustenance but also a way to connect with others. Sharing a meal with friends and family is an important social activity, and the phrase ‘Grind Kau Kau’ embodies this spirit of togetherness and enjoyment.

So, the next time you hear someone say ‘Grind Kau Kau,’ don’t miss out on the opportunity to savor some mouthwatering Hawaiian cuisine or join in on a delightful dining experience!

‘No Mo’ Kau Kau’ – No More Food Left

‘No Mo’ Kau Kau’ is another Hawaiian phrase commonly used when there is no more food left. The phrase is a playful way to indicate that all the food has been consumed or that there is nothing left to eat.

Imagine you are at a luau, indulging in the delicious traditional Hawaiian dishes, and suddenly someone exclaims, “No Mo’ Kau Kau!” It’s a lighthearted way of saying that you’ve eaten everything and there’s nothing left to enjoy.

This phrase not only reflects the importance of food in Hawaiian culture but also showcases the fun-loving nature of the people. It’s a reminder to savor every bite and enjoy the culinary delights that Hawaii has to offer.

‘Kau Kau Time’ – Time to Eat a Meal

‘Kau Kau Time’ is a phrase used to indicate that it is time to eat a meal. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, ‘Kau Kau Time’ signals that it’s time to gather around the table and enjoy some delicious food.

In Hawaiian culture, meals are cherished moments for bonding and sharing stories. ‘Kau Kau Time’ serves as a reminder to take a break from the daily hustle and bustle and nourish both the body and the soul.

So, the next time you hear someone say ‘Kau Kau Time,’ don’t miss the opportunity to sit down, relax, and savor a delectable Hawaiian meal. It’s a chance to appreciate the flavors, the company, and the beauty of Hawaiian cuisine.

Examples of Kau Kau Usage in Real Life

Chatting with Friends and Family

When chatting with your friends and family in Hawaii, you might come across the term “kau kau” quite often. It is a casual way of referring to food or a meal. For example, you might ask your friend, “What are you having for kau kau tonight?” or say, “I’m hungry, let’s go get some kau kau!” It’s a fun and informal way to talk about food and share your cravings with loved ones.

Ordering at Restaurants

When dining at a restaurant in Hawaii, you might notice the term “kau kau” used on the menu or by the waitstaff. It’s a local term that simply means “food” or “meal.” So, when you’re ready to order, you can confidently say, “I’ll have the mahi-mahi kau kau, please.” The waitstaff will understand that you’re ordering the mahi-mahi meal. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and feel like a true local!

Talking About Meal Plans

Whether you’re discussing your meal plans with friends or writing a grocery list, using the term “kau kau” can add some island flair to your conversations. You can say, “I need to pick up some kau kau for dinner tonight” or “What kau kau should we include in our meal plan for next week?” It’s a convenient and fun way to refer to food and meals, and it’s sure to bring a smile to your face while planning your next delicious feast.

The Importance of Kau Kau in Hawaiian Culture

In Hawaiian culture, kau kau holds significant importance as it goes beyond being just a simple term for “food” or “meal.” It represents the essence of the Hawaiian way of life, reflecting the deep connection between the people, the land, and the community.

Meals as Community Gatherings

For Hawaiians, meals are not just about satisfying hunger. They serve as opportunities for community gatherings and bonding. Kau kau brings people together, fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie. Whether it’s a family dinner, a potluck, or a traditional feast, the act of sharing food creates a space for conversation, laughter, and the strengthening of relationships. It is a time when stories are shared, traditions are passed down, and connections are forged.

The spirit of aloha, which is deeply ingrained in Hawaiian culture, is exemplified during kau kau. The warmth and hospitality shown to guests and loved ones through the sharing of food is a reflection of the values and principles that define the Hawaiian way of life. It is a way to express love, gratitude, and respect for one another.

Reflects Close Ties to the Land

The significance of kau kau in Hawaiian culture also stems from the deep connection Hawaiians have with the land. The islands’ fertile soil and abundant resources have sustained the Hawaiian people for generations. Traditional Hawaiian agriculture, known as māla, emphasizes sustainable practices and a profound respect for the land.

The term kau kau not only represents the act of consuming food but also acknowledges the intricate relationship between the people and the land. It recognizes the efforts and hard work put into cultivating the land, harvesting crops, and honoring the abundance provided by nature. Kau kau is a celebration of the land’s bountiful gifts and a reminder of the importance of preserving and caring for it.

To truly understand the meaning and significance of kau kau in Hawaiian culture, one must immerse themselves in the rich traditions, values, and practices that have been passed down through generations. It is through the act of kau kau that the spirit of aloha, the appreciation for community, and the reverence for the land are brought to life.


The term ‘kau kau’ gives a fun, casual vibe to talking about food in Hawaii. By understanding its origins and how locals use it, you can start incorporating kau kau into your own vocabulary and conversational Hawaiian pidgin.

So next time you’re in the islands and someone says, ‘Time fo’ kau kau,’ you’ll know they’re talking about grabbing a tasty local meal. Aloha and happy eating!

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