Catch of the Day
With an assortment of fresh seafood caught in the Pacific waters surrounding the islands, Hawaii is highly acclaimed for having some of the most delicious seafood dishes in the world.
Seafood has been a staple of the islanders since the first Hawaiians arrived in their canoes, and many of the islands’ most delicious regional recipes call for fresh catches. Today, seafood dishes are so popular that Hawaiian citizens eat more than twice the national average.
Many of the fish species found in the waters surrounding Hawaii are versatile in their uses as well as in their flavors. With the high popularity of seafood in Hawaii, the fish supply is limited. Even the most abundant fish species are limited in their availability due to the changes in season, and you will find that in the off-seasons, the islands’ restaurants will frequently have to substitute some of the fish items on their menus.
Most of Hawaii’s fish species can be categorized into four groups: tuna, including albacore, bigeye, yellowfin, and skipjack; billfish, such as Pacific blue marlin, shortbill spearfish, and striped marlin; bottom fish, such as snapper and grouper; and other species found in the Hawaiian waters like dolphinfish, wahoo, and moonfish. Still, ordering seafood at one of Hawaii’s restaurants can be a little confusing for anyone that’s not a local. Some of the menus at the local restaurants have the Western names of the seafood dishes, but many classify the items by the native names. Below are the names of some of the fish you will frequently find on restaurant menus in Hawaii that may help you when ordering:
- ahi – yellowfin tuna used most frequently in a dish called sashimi, in poke at sushi bars, as well as in some of Hawaii’s authentic cuisine
- aku – a skipjack tuna often used in various day-to-day cooking and poke
- ehu – a red snapper with a delicate and delicious taste
- hapuupuu – grouper or sea bass, prepared in a number of ways
- hebi – a spearfish with a mild flavor that many restaurants feature as the “catch of the day”
- kajiki – Pacific blue marlin, also called au, with a firm flesh and high fat content that make it a plausible substitute for tuna
- kumu – goatfish, a luxury item on Chinese and upscale menus, served en papillote or steamed whole, Oriental style, with scallions, ginger, and garlic
- mahimahi – dolphinfish (the game fish, not the mammal) or dorado, a classic sweet, white-fleshed fish requiring vigilance among purists, because it’s often disguised as fresh when it’s actually “fresh-frozen”
- monchong – bigscale or sickle pomfret is a delicious exotic fish; often hard to find, it is becoming increasingly popular on Hawaiian Island menus
- nairagi – striped marlin that is also called au; good as sashimi and in poke, and often substituted for ahi in raw-fish products
- onaga – ruby snapper, a luxury fish that is versatile in its uses, has moist and flaky meat
- ono – a wahoo fish that is more firm and dry than the snappers, and is often grilled and served on sandwiches
- opah – rich and fatty moonfish with a variety of uses and methods of preparation including cooked, raw, smoked, and broiled
- opakapaka – pink snapper that is light, flaky, and luxurious; suited for sashimi, poaching, sautéing, and baking; the best-known upscale fish
- papio – jack trevally, light, firm, and flavorful; a favorite in island cooking
- shutome – broadbill swordfish with a beef-like texture and rich flavor
- tombo – albacore tuna, with a high fat content that makes it suitable for grilling
- uhu – parrotfish that is most prepared by steaming in the Chinese style
- uku – gray snapper that has clear, pale-pink flesh with a delicate flavor and moist flesh
- ulua – large jack fish with firm flesh
Other terms that may be useful to know when ordering seafood in Hawaii include sashimi which is bite-sized pieces of raw tuna fish. Not to be confused with sushi, which is served on servings of rice, sashimi is also often served with soy sauce and wasabi.
An excellent way to experience a new and exotic culture is by sampling its regional cuisine. So, while visiting the islands of Hawaii, enjoy some of the region’s delicious seafood dishes for which the Aloha Islands are famous.