How many of you know that Macaroni Salad, aka Mac Salad, is an iconic staple side dish in Hawaii?
It’s just made in a very unique Hawaiian style. Soft and tender macaroni becomes plump and luscious when drenched in a very unique dressing for hours, so all the delicious flavors absorb into the noodles by the time you serve it…
Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is creamy and full of savory, sweet and tangy comforting flavors. It’s perfect for barbecues, summer cookouts, and their famous festive luaus. This is one side dish that you will find on every food truck and restaurant menu all over the islands, and is a common feature on all their plate-style lunches.
Learn how to make classic and authentic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad, and bring the island vibes to your next outdoor get together.
Recently we have been drawn towards a lot of Hawaiian classics, like their Kalua Pork, Loco Moco and Hawaiian Style Chicken. One side dish that we found will go well with practically any roast or barbecue style food is this Hawaiian style Macaroni Salad.
It’s a very simple and straight forward dish that can feed large crowds. Your guests won’t help but come for another scoop or two. The secret is in its dressing, and some tips and tricks to make it just perfect.
What is Hawaiian Style Macaroni Salad?
Creamy Macaroni Salad is one of the signature iconic side dishes in Hawaii. You will find lots of slight variations of this Mac Salad, from restaurants to food trucks to households.
The big bowl of this noodle salad will often times include grated carrots, grated onion or sliced green onions, and sometimes even boiled eggs in the mix.
But what is, of course, always a constant is macaroni noodles and their creamy, tangy and sweet dressing concoction. And this dressing is what makes it different from the rest of the macaroni salads.
Why is Macaroni Salad So Popular in Hawaii?
Plate lunches are a go-to meal for Hawaiians, which is both cheap and filling. You can find them all over in their roadside stands and trucks, and in almost every single restaurant.
These plate lunches can include many different types of proteins, like their barbecue meats or shredded pork or chicken. But they are always served with mayonnaise-based macaroni salad and two scoops of white rice, making the Hawaiian plate lunch a serious carb-loaded munching.
The plate lunch concept originated back in the 1880’s as a midday meal for workers at Hawaii’s sugar and pineapple plantations. Natives and the plantation workers from China, Japan and Korea would bring their lunches to work with them in bento boxes. Rice was used as an inexpensive way to bulk up whatever meats were leftover from the previous night’s dinner.
By the 1930s, new mobile meal services called lunch wagons popped up to cater to laborers and drive-in customers. The food was served in compartmentalized paper plates instead of bento boxes, hence the name “plate lunch.” By the 1950s, the plantation era ended, but the plate lunches remain a staple at drive-ins and free-standing restaurants across the islands.
Some believe Mac salad evolved from potato salad brought to the island by European chefs, who simply replaced potatoes with pasta to make it more economical.
Since Hawaii is a cultural melting pot with immigrants from all over, it reflects in their plate lunches. A typical plate lunch might have Japanese style Katsu pork or Chinese char siu-style pork, or Filipino adobo, or very popular local native Hawaiian dishes like Loco Moco, Kalua Pork, or Spam Musubi.
Rice has been a staple of the plate lunch from the beginning. Macaroni salad was added sometime later, when Europeans introduced dry elbow macaroni and mayonnaise to the islands, as something that would appeal to many different palates.
Locals loved macaroni salad as it was affordable, stores well, and is easy to make at home. You will find heaping scoops of their beloved macaroni salad with most of their meals.
Its creamy delicious flavor balances the bold strong flavors of Hawaiian BBQ lunch plates, often loaded with Teriyaki and BBQ sauces.
Hawaiian Macaroni Salad Ingredients
- Elbow Macaroni – Elbow Macaroni is traditional in Hawaiian Macaroni Salad. Saying that any short, small pasta can be used.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – This is what gives the tang to the macaroni salad.
- Veggies – Carrots, celery and green onion.
- Dressing – Mayonnaise (any good quality like Duke’s or Hellman’s), milk, brown sugar, salt and pepper.
How to Make Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
1. Make the Dressing: Great tasting macaroni salad starts with a delicious dressing that has the perfect mix of sweet, savory tang. Mix all dressing ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk together until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
2. Boil the pasta: Hawaiian macaroni salad is known for softer macaroni noodles, not al dente, so as to absorb the dressing better. To achieve this, add an additional 5 minutes to the cooking time mentioned on the package. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add macaroni and cook until very soft, but not mushy, about 10 to 12 minutes.
3. Soak up the cooked macaroni with apple cider vinegar: Drain and return the pasta to the pot, and immediately toss with vinegar. Cover and let it cool for 10 minutes.
4. Dress the salad and add the vegetables: Add half of the dressing to the cooked pasta, and stir well to coat the macaroni all over. Cover for another 20 minutes so the pasta can absorb the dressing. Add the remaining dressing, green onions, celery, and grated carrot to the pasta, and stir well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
5. Chill it in refrigerator: Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. Gently stir when serving.
Tips and Tricks for the BEST Hawaiian Mac Salad
- Boil the pasta in well salted water for a longer time than what’s instructed on the packet. This makes tender noodles that absorb the dressing well, making it super delish.
- Add apple cider vinegar to the drained hot noodles immediately, so it absorbs well into the noodles, giving a great tang to the salad.
- To make the salad creamier, you can reserve some of the dressing and add it right before serving.
- Use good quality mayonnaise.
Hawaiian Mac Salad Variations
- Add hard boiled eggs, either chopped or grated.
- Though not as traditional, sometimes you will find a little more in this Mac Salad. Add extra add-ins like chopped cooked ham, diced pineapple, cooked and crumbled bacon, chunks of boiled potatoes, tuna or cooked peas.
- Make it vegan. Simply swap the mayo for a good quality vegan mayo, like Hellmann’s Vegan Mayonnaise.
Hawaiian Mac Salad Serving Suggestions
Hawaiian macaroni salad pairs perfectly with grilled meats, braised meats and all kinds of barbecues. It’s a pure comfort food along with rice in their plate lunches.
Serve it with Loco Moco, huli huli chicken, Hawaiian style kabobs, sliders, Hawaiian shoyu chicken, or smoked ribs. We loved it with Kalua Pork, which we will be posting very soon.
It goes great with Asian inspired meals like Katsu, char sui pork or Teriyaki Chicken.
Serve this Hawaiian style Mac Salad with anything that you would normally serve regular macaroni salad with.
How Long to Store Mac Salad
Hawaiian macaroni salad, like most pasta salads, are great leftovers. Just cover it well and refrigerate it in airtight container for up to 3-4 days. Stir it gently before serving. If it seems a little too dry, mix in a little mayo and milk to dress it again.
The next time you’re cooking BBQ, the next time you’re invited for a potluck, or the next time you are having a Hawaiian style luau party, make a giant batch of this Hawaiian Macaroni Salad.
People will notice the difference, and will wonder why it’s so much more creamy and delicious than what they’re used to.
We have a feeling that you’ll love this macaroni salad, Hawaiian style, so much that you will come back to it again and again. This one is a sure keeper for all your future get togethers and parties.
Hawaiian Macaroni Salad, on our Gypsy Plate… enjoy!
Try these other great cookout sides!
Rainbow Pasta Salad
Mexican Street Corn Salad
Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
Hawaiian Macaroni Salad, AKA Mac Salad, is a uniquely tangy and creamy twist on your classic cookout side dish.
- 2 cups mayonnaise
- 2 cups milk
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp slat
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 big carrot, peeled and grated
- 2 large celery stalks, diced small
- 4-5 green onions, diced small
- In a medium bowl, make the dressing by whisking together milk, mayonnaise, brown sugar, salt, and pepper until smooth. Refrigerate until needed.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add macaroni and cook until very soft, but not mushy, about 10 to 12 minutes. (see note 1)
- Drain and return the pasta to the pot and immediately toss well with vinegar. Cover and let it cool for 10 minutes.
- Add half of the dressing to the cooked pasta, and stir well to coat macaroni all over. Cover for another 20 minutes so the pasta can absorb the dressing.
- Add the remaining dressing, green onions, celery, and grated carrot to the pasta, and stir well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. Gently stir before serving.
- Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is known for softer macaroni noodles, not al dente texture, so as to absorb the dressing better. To achieve this, add an additional 5 minutes to the cooking time mentioned on the packet.
Nutrition InformationYield 12 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 342Total Fat 29gSaturated Fat 5gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 23gCholesterol 19mgSodium 264mgCarbohydrates 17gFiber 1gSugar 5gProtein 4g
Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.
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