There's a large amount of diversity in Oahu's dining scene, which offers everything from farm-to-table fare and Asian specialties including adobo, sushi, and dim sum. And while you can choose fine dining or the inimitable plate lunch, the local food establishment encompasses far more than just restaurants. Throughout the year, food festivals and street fairs offer great opportunities to try a variety of dishes, see cooking demonstrations, catch some live entertainment, and mingle with the locals. Here are festivals to note as you plan your next vacation.
Eat the Street
When: Last Friday of every month.
Eat The Street is a food truck rally held at 555 South Street in Kaka’ako, just west of Waikiki near Ala Moana, starting at 4 pm. Each month features a different theme and brings together more than 40 of Hawaii’s favorite food trucks and street vendors, in addition to live performers. Food ranges from local shrimp and corn to soul food to tropical-flavored popsicles.
Insider Tip: Bring a bottle of water and arrive early: This popular event attracts upwards of 7,000 people every month.
Honolulu Night Market
When: Third Saturday of every month.
The Honolulu Night Market, styled after an Asian night market, is held at the Cooke Street Warehouse in Kaka’ako starting at 6 pm. It’s an indoor and outdoor event and activities vary, but generally include a fashion show featuring local designers, a skate ramp, live music, bars, art vendors, a kids' zone, and lots of food trucks.
Insider Tip: This event has an artsy vibe. Don’t forget to bring your camera and check the website to learn about the vendors.
Waikiki SPAM JAM
When: May 3, 2014
Introduced in 1937 by Hormel Foods, Spam is big in Hawaii. In fact, more of it is consumed per capita in Hawaii than in any other state, meaning that almost seven million cans of Spam are eaten here every year. The Waikiki SPAM JAM is a street festival that celebrates the state's love for the mystery meat, and it attracts upwards of 25,000 people annually. The event features a variety of Honolulu’s restaurants serving Spam-inspired dishes. Two stages provide entertainment, including hula dancers and local musicians, and there are vendors selling Spam-themed merchandise and crafts.
Insider Tip: If you’re planning a trip in May, be sure to check out the festival's air and hotel-package discounts.
Mangoes at the Moana
When: July 19, 2014
Over 60 kinds of mangoes grow in Hawaii and are celebrated at this festival at the Moana Surfrider. The Mangoes at the Moana Festival is an all-day occasion, and the signature event is the “Mango Throw Down” featuring local celebrity executive chefs in a mango-cooking competition. There’s also a cocktail competition, cooking demonstrations, a mango farmers' market, workshops, and entertainment. Purchase a wristband a week before the event; you’ll save money and can skip the line for all-you-can-eat food from over 15 booths.
Insider Tip: Show up 15 minutes before scheduled event times for free mango tastings.
Hawaii Food & Wine Festival
When: August 29–September 7, 2014
The world class Hawaii Food & Wine Festival was founded and is co-chaired by celebrity chefs and restaurateurs Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi. The festival showcases culinary creativity, local agriculture, culture, and sustainability. The signature tasting events feature dishes prepared by chefs from Hawaii and around the world, using locally sourced ingredients. Events take place in various locations, but are mostly centered around Waikiki.
Insider Tip: Sign up for the newsletter on the website, as tickets do sell out for events and evening receptions.
When: September 27, 2014
The annual Rice Fest at Ward Centers celebrates rice, a unifying element of Hawaiian culture and cuisine. A free event, it features cook-offs and contests, as well as local bands and demonstrations by local celebrity chefs. Restaurant and street food vendors hail from a variety of ethnicities to provide as many variations of rice dishes as possible.
Insider Tip: A highlight of the festival is the Spam Musubi Eating Contest. The winner gets a year's supply of rice.
Hawaii Chocolate Festival
When: Fall 2015
The 50th state is the only state in the U.S. that produces chocolate, and the Hawaii Chocolate Festival celebrates this unique fact.The event caps off a month of local chocolate-themed activities and features tours, tastings, culinary classes, molds and chocolate for sale, a nursery section with cacao plants, hula entertainment, and kids' activities. A ticket includes 10 tastes of treats made from local beans: everything from chocolate truffles to chocolate beer to chocolate bacon.
Insider Tip: 2015 will be the fifth year of the festival, which will likely be moving both in location and to a fall date, so check the website for updates.