For a long time Hawaiian cuisine was left in the shadows, ceding the spotlight to more prominent styles of cooking or whatever was the hot restaurant or tourist trend.
But today, Hawaii boasts it own burgeoning food scene focused on local ingredients and flavors with helping hands from the various influences that have come to the Aloha State in the last century.
The calendar is full of various food and drink-related events year-round, but the fall is particularly fruitful, with a nice variety of festivals and fairs that offer entertainment and the opportunity to try new and innovative dishes.
The festivals, many of which bring in star chefs from the mainland and other countries, serve as a chance to create new "ambassadors" for Hawaiian cuisine. They are introduced to Hawaiian ingredients and styles of cooking and then take those lessons back to their own cities and restaurants.
While some festivals are dedicated to cultivating the Hawaiian food scene, such as the Hawaiian Food and Wine Festival, Kona Coffee Festival and Aloha Festival block party, other fall events, like the Okinawan Festival, feature different cuisines.
Here are some of the highlights:
Okinawan Festival: One of the largest ethnic celebrations in the entire state, the 35th installment of the Okinawan Festival will be Sept. 2 and 3 in Waikiki's Kapiolani Park. While much of the celebration is dedicated to art and music, there is also an array of food booths that offer the opportunity to sample some interesting dishes not found in restaurants. Typical items include andagi, an Okinawan deep-fried doughnut, pig's feet soup, Okinawan soba, and the andadog, Okinawa's version of the corndog.
Aloha Festival Block Party: The annual Aloha Festivals celebrate Hawaiian culture over the course of several marquee events on Oahu. Food lovers will want to mark the annual Hoolaulea, or block party, on their calendars for Sept. 23 from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. Thousands of people attend the event on Kalakaua Avenue
in Waikiki each year, and there are numerous food vendors on hand serving a wide range of Hawaiian delicacies.
Chef Fest: For travelers who want to steep themselves in luxury and gourmet, celebrity-chef prepared food, this event at the Four Seasons Hualalai is a good fit. The event, held Oct. 4 to 7, includes interactive cooking classes, a beachside cookout and a gala grand tasting dinner. Local winemakers and farmers participate in the event, showcasing island ingredients and products, and the chef lineup this year includes James Beard Award winner Andy Ricker, author of "Blood, Bones and Butter" and owner of New York restaurant Prune Gabrielle Hamilton; "Top Chef Masters" participant Neal Fraser; Ivan Ramen owner Ivan Orkin; and New York and California restaurateur Jonathan Waxman. The event is exclusive to resort guests except for the grand tasting dinner, which is open to the public.
Hawaii Chocolate Festival: The 2017 dates are yet to be announced, but this annual festival celebrating all things cacao is held in October in Waikiki's Ward Village Courtyard. The festival was created to raise awareness about Hawaii's growing cacao industry. Visitors can learn about the chocolate-making process, hear from guest speakers, participate in family activities and take in live entertainment while sampling as much chocolate as they want.
Hawaii Food & Wine Festival: This two-week festival from Oct. 22 to Nov. 5 includes a host of events on Maui, Hawaii Island and Oahu, offering numerous opportunities for people to join in the culinary fun. The Sheraton Maui on Kaanapali Beach is hosting a Global Street Food Fair, and the Waikoloa Beach Marriott on Hawaii Island will feature the Cuisines of the Sun dinner with a cadre of top talent, including Alan Wong and Francois Payard. The program culminates Nov. 5 on Oahu at the Halekulani Culinary Masters Gala, an extravagant affair featuring food from Alexandre Trancher of La Mer in Honolulu, Hawaii-born and California-based Trey Foshee of George's at the Cove in La Jolla, Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes and Jean-Philippe Maury, 1997 winner of the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France, given to the country's best pastry chef.
Kona Coffee Cultural Festival: What better place to try the Aloha State's beans than in the place that put Hawaii coffee on the map. The 10-day event (Nov. 3 to 12) on the Island of Hawaii is one of the longest-running in the Aloha State, dating back to 1970. Guests can attend coffee and food tastings, learn about the beans and how they are roasted and visit a coffee farm. The festival also includes coffee-inspired art, music and other live performances. On Nov. 10 there is a lantern parade that winds through Historic Kailua Village and then closes with an evening of song and dance at Hale Halawai. Then, on Nov. 11, there is a block party and cultural festival featuring a an ethnic food market, arts and crafts vendors, all-day live entertainment, a lei contest, and poi making tutorials.