Thanksgiving Hawaiian Style

By Lanai Tabura

Photo: Peter Liu.

Kalua turkey, fresh fish, lau lau…don’t these sound like great Thanksgiving foods?

In Hawaiʻi, these foods are standard for Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is one of the most amazing days for celebrating and feasting the local’s way.

Kalua Turkey

If you sit down at any local family’s Thanksgiving Day table, you will smell the smoky scent of kalua turkey that has been prepared in an underground oven called an imu. With Hawaiians having hundreds of years of experience cooking underground, it’s only natural that every November someone in the neighborhood will be digging an imu for the big day. The same place we cook our pigs is where you will find us placing our turkeys for Thanksgiving.

Like anything good and worthwhile, cooking a turkey in an imu requires a lot of prep work and muscle for a great payoff. My tutu (grandmother) and tutu kane (grandfather) always prepared our turkey with Portuguese sausage, garlic, Hawaiian salt, and a few other secret ingredients. They stuffed the turkey, wrapped it in aluminum foil, placed it in a foil pan, and it was ready for the imu.

The concept of the imu is simple, but the actual work is hard and complicated. In its simplest form, it’s a hole in the ground consisting of rocks, kiawe wood, banana tree stumps, banana leaves, empty potato sacks and a lot of steam.

The end result is a moist, smoky, and “every piece ono” (delicious) turkey.


Of course the turkey is the star of the table, but we can’t forget the Hawaiian style side dishes. I’m talking about everything from macaroni salad to fried fish.

Okinawan Sweet Potatoes

Photo: chotda.

In place of yams, you might find Okinawan sweet potatoes, which were introduced to us in the late 1800’s during the plantation days by the first Japanese immigrants from Okinawa.

Sausage Stuffing

Photo:  Cooking Hawaiian Style.

Photo: Cooking Hawaiian Style. See recipe below.

Our stuffing has many different versions. Two local favorites are Portuguese sausage stuffing and lup cheong sausage stuffing. Lup cheong is a Chinese sausage and, like the Portuguese sausage, has a distinct flavor. Whether using Portuguese sausage or lup cheong, we first fry the sausage to bring out the oils. When the sausage is combined with the bread, the oil will get infused and create a unique local style stuffing. Both sausages are a big part of the local diet, and you can find them on plate lunches or in bento boxes.

Poi, Rice, and Potatoes

Photo: Peter Liu.

A Hawaiian Thanksgiving table always has poi (pounded taro mixed with water) or rice. And we are not afraid to have two or three starches, so don’t be surprised if you see mashed potatoes on the table, too.


Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson.

Living on an island in the middle of the ocean, of course we always have fish. Fried, steamed, or raw, you will always find fish at any feast or gathering in Hawaiʻi. Poke (which means to cut into pieces) is probably the best supporting star on our Thanksgiving tables. There are many different kinds of poke. Grade A ahi (yellow fin tuna) cut into cubes and seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil and limu (seaweed), is a must. Besides ahi, poke is also made with tako (Japanese for octopus) and a variety of other fish. Every Thanksgiving table will have three or four bowls of poke, each a different style.


Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson.

As long as I can remember growing up, there was never a Thanksgiving gathering without sashimi. Next to Japan, Hawaiʻi is the capitol of raw fish consumption, so we can’t forget fresh cuts of pink ahi sashimi on Thanksgiving Day. We eat sashimi by the platter with shoyu (soy sauce) and fresh wasabi. During Thanksgiving and New Years, you will see the price of ahi skyrocket, because every household throughout the islands is feasting on fresh sashimi.

Add some island flavor to your holiday gathering with this popular recipe from Cooking Hawaiian Style.

Shiitake Lup Cheong Stuffing

A Local Thanksgiving Recipe from Cooking Hawaiian Style
Prep Time: 15 | Cook Time: 45 | Ready In: 60


3 strip bacon, diced
4 pieces lup cheong, sliced
1/4 Pound ground pork
8 Ounce shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced 1/8″
1 each onion, diced 1/8″
1/2 Cup parsley, chopped
1 Cup green onions, sliced
1 Can water chestnuts, chopped
1 bag diced stuffed bread, 13 oz.
1/4 Pound Butter
3 Cups Chicken broth
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

Cooking Process:

1.In a medium sauté pan, sweat bacon, lup cheong and ground pork
2.When cooked through, add in mushrooms, onion and celery.
3.Cook for 3 minutes.
4.Add parsley, green onions and water chestnuts.
5.Add cooked ingredients (fat and all) to the bread crumbs and fold.
6.Moisten with butter and broth to taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
7.Place in oven-proof pan, cover with foil and bake at 325° for 45 minutes.

Mahalo to Cooking Hawaiian Style for this recipe.

  • User Info and Leaderboard

  • Sanitize your phone with UV rays