Save money on your next flight

Skyscanner is the world’s leading flight search engine, helping you find the cheapest flights to destinations all over the world.

Pineapple, poke, and pupu – oh my! If you’ve ever visited the Hawaiian islands, you’ve likely heard the term ‘pupu’ used to refer to appetizers or small plates. In fact, pupu is an integral part of Hawaiian culture and cuisine. So what exactly is pupu? If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Pupu are small dishes, typically eaten before an entrée or as snacks, that represent classic Hawaiian ingredients and preparation techniques. They allow you to sample a variety of flavors in one meal.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the history behind pupu, popular pupu ingredients, how to assemble your own Hawaiian-style pupu platter, and where to find the best pupu in Hawaii.

The Origins and Meaning of Pupu

When it comes to Hawaiian cuisine, one term that often comes up is “pupu.” But what exactly does it mean and where does it come from? Let’s dive into the origins and meaning of this popular Hawaiian appetizer.

The Literal Definition

In Hawaiian, the word “pupu” has a literal meaning of “appetizer” or “snack.” It is derived from the Hawaiian language and has been used for centuries to describe small, bite-sized dishes that are typically served before the main course.

The concept of pupu is not unique to Hawaiian cuisine. Many other cultures also have their own versions of appetizers or small bites that are enjoyed before a meal. However, in Hawaii, pupu has become synonymous with a specific type of cuisine that showcases the flavors and ingredients of the islands.

Evolution from Hawaiian “Pūpū” Cuisine

Pupu as we know it today has evolved from the traditional Hawaiian “pūpū” cuisine. Pūpū was a term used by ancient Hawaiians to refer to a wide variety of dishes that were served at feasts and gatherings. These dishes were often made with ingredients that were locally sourced, such as fish, taro, sweet potatoes, and coconuts.

Over time, as Hawaii became a melting pot of different cultures, the pupu tradition also evolved. Influences from Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Portuguese cuisines, among others, have shaped the flavors and ingredients found in modern Hawaiian pupu dishes.

Today, when you think of pupu in Hawaii, you might envision a spread of delicious appetizers like poke, kalua pork sliders, coconut shrimp, or spam musubi. These dishes not only showcase the unique flavors of the islands but also reflect the multicultural history of Hawaii.

So the next time you find yourself in Hawaii or at a Hawaiian-themed party, don’t forget to indulge in some pupu. It’s a delightful way to experience the diverse and delicious flavors of the islands.

Common Ingredients and Dishes

Fresh Hawaiian Seafood

One of the key ingredients in traditional Hawaiian pupu is fresh seafood. With its abundant coastline, Hawaii is known for its delicious and diverse range of seafood options. Some popular seafood pupu dishes include poke, a raw fish salad marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil, and ahi tuna tartare, which is served with crispy wonton chips. Other seafood options commonly used in pupu include shrimp, crab, and octopus.

Tropical Fruits and Vegetables

Hawaii’s tropical climate allows for the growth of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that are often incorporated into pupu dishes. Pineapple, with its sweet and tangy flavor, is a popular fruit used in many pupu recipes. Additionally, mangoes, papayas, and coconuts are commonly used in both savory and sweet pupu dishes. Vegetables such as taro, breadfruit, and sweet potatoes are also staples in Hawaiian cuisine and can be found in many pupu recipes.

Meat Dishes

While seafood and fruits play a prominent role in Hawaiian pupu, meat dishes are also a significant part of the cuisine. Kalua pork is a traditional Hawaiian dish made by slow-cooking a whole pig in an underground oven called an imu. The result is tender, flavorful meat that is often used in pupu dishes. Another popular meat option is teriyaki chicken skewers, which are marinated in a sweet and savory sauce and grilled to perfection. Additionally, pupu platters often include beef skewers and spam musubi, a popular Hawaiian snack made with grilled spam and rice wrapped in seaweed.

How to Make Your Own Pupu Spread

Creating your own pupu spread is a fun and delicious way to bring a taste of Hawaii to your next gathering. These appetizers are perfect for any occasion, from casual get-togethers to formal events. With a little creativity and the right ingredients, you can impress your guests with a mouthwatering selection of pupus. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Select a Variety of Dishes

When planning your pupu spread, it’s important to choose a variety of dishes to cater to different tastes. Consider including a mix of seafood, meat, and vegetarian options to accommodate all your guests. Some popular choices include poke, grilled shrimp skewers, teriyaki chicken wings, and vegetable spring rolls. By offering a diverse selection, you can ensure that there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Focus on Small Portions

Pupus are meant to be bite-sized appetizers, so it’s best to keep the portions small. This allows your guests to sample a variety of dishes without feeling too full. Consider serving the pupus on small plates or bamboo skewers for easy handling. Remember, the goal is to provide a taste of different flavors, so keep the portions light and manageable.

Combine Hot and Cold Items

A key aspect of a successful pupu spread is the combination of hot and cold items. This contrast in temperatures adds depth and variety to your appetizer selection. For example, you can serve chilled ceviche alongside hot crab cakes or crispy fried calamari. The interplay of different temperatures will create a memorable culinary experience for your guests.

Include Dips and Sauces

No pupu spread is complete without an array of delicious dips and sauces. These accompaniments elevate the flavors of the appetizers and add an extra layer of enjoyment. Some popular options include soy sauce, teriyaki glaze, spicy mayo, and sweet chili sauce. You can also consider making your own homemade dips, such as a pineapple salsa or a creamy coconut dip. The dips and sauces provide a burst of flavor and enhance the overall experience of the pupu spread.

For more inspiration and recipe ideas, you can visit Hawaii Magazine’s Ultimate Pupu Guide. Remember, the key to a successful pupu spread is to have fun with the process and be creative with your selection of dishes. So go ahead, dive into the world of pupus, and enjoy the flavors of Hawaii!

Where to Enjoy Authentic Pupu in Hawaii


Oahu, home to the state capital of Honolulu, offers a wide range of options for enjoying authentic pupu. One popular spot is Alan Wong’s Restaurant, known for its innovative Hawaiian cuisine. Their pupu menu features local favorites like poke, kalua pork sliders, and garlic shrimp. For a more casual experience, head to Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck in the North Shore. They serve up delicious garlic shrimp pupu that will leave you wanting more.


Maui, with its stunning beaches and breathtaking landscapes, is another great place to savor authentic pupu. Mama’s Fish House in Paia is a must-visit for seafood lovers. Their pupu platter showcases the freshest catch of the day, including ahi sashimi, ceviche, and grilled octopus. For a unique twist on pupu, check out The Mill House in Waikapu. Their farm-to-table approach brings out the flavors of Hawaii in dishes like taro hummus and poi mochi.

Big Island

The Big Island, known for its volcanic landscapes and diverse ecosystems, also offers a variety of pupu experiences. CanoeHouse at the Mauna Lani Resort is a top choice for those seeking a taste of Hawaiian cuisine. Their pupu menu features local ingredients like Kona lobster and Hamakua mushroom tempura. If you’re in the mood for something more laid-back, head to Da Poke Shack in Kailua-Kona. Their poke bowls and pupu platters are made with the freshest fish caught daily.


Kauai, with its lush greenery and stunning waterfalls, is a paradise for food enthusiasts. The Beach House Restaurant in Poipu is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Their pupu menu includes island-inspired dishes like coconut shrimp and ahi poke nachos. For a more casual setting, visit Brennecke’s Beach Broiler in Poipu Beach Park. They offer a range of pupu options, from crispy calamari to teriyaki chicken skewers.

When visiting any of these islands, make sure to explore the local food scene and try different pupu options. Each island has its own unique flavors and culinary traditions, so be sure to indulge in the diverse pupu offerings that Hawaii has to offer.


From kalua pork to poke, Hawaiian pupu represents the islands’ rich culinary traditions. By offering small tastes of various dishes, pupu allows you to experience the diversity of Hawaiian cuisine in one meal. So next time you’re in Hawaii, be sure to pau (finish) your meal with an array of pupus.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts