Everybody prepares Thanksgiving dinner a little differently. What you serve on your table often reflects things like your family, culture, and lifestyle. Across the U.S., regional pockets within states have different dishes on their tables — casseroles in the Midwest, sweet potato pie in the South, sourdough bread stuffing in California. In Hawaii, the native culture is blended with Thanksgiving traditions to have a table filled with lots of different dishes. We interviewed three people from Hawaii to ask what they cook up for the holiday, one of Northwest University’s education and ESL professors, Dr. Susan Kobashigawa, who was born and raised in a rural part of O‘ahu, Melina Sagabaen, a native Hawaiian and student attending Northwest University, and Kathy Chan, a Hawaiian local and author of the blog Onolicious Hawai‘i.

In the Aloha State, having family over for a Thanksgiving meal means the entire family comes — multiple generations all gather together in a shared space. Cooking begins early, and everyone brings food to share around noon. Then, the rest of the day is spent eating, watching football, playing games, and catching up with family.  

Dr. Kobashigawa’s Table: Rice, sashimi, poke, & mochi

Dr. Kobashigawa grew up on a small farm in O‘ahu with her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, two brothers, and thirteen cousins. Thanksgiving for her family is no small ordeal, and a lot of the food her relatives contribute to the table are grown on their farms. “We have turkey and stuffing, but it is easier for us to serve rice instead of mashed potatoes,” Kobashigawa said. They also prepare sweet potatoes — in fact, these are grown on her grandmother’s farm — but instead of putting brown sugar, maple syrup, or marshmallows on them, they steam them or eat them deep fried like tempura.

For side dishes, Kobashigawa said “each of the families will bring different dishes. There will be sushi rolls, sashimi — usually sliced tuna — poke, Hawaiian-style macaroni salad, noodles — chow fun or chow mein — and whatever the aunts want to bring.” For dessert, they have pumpkin pie, mochi, and other assorted desserts her relatives make or buy. For Kobashigawa, Thanksgiving is “a big meal holiday” all about her family around the dinner table.

Melina Sagabaen’s Table: Beef teriyaki, Kalua pork & wontons

As a student at Northwest University, Sagabaen has experienced Thanksgiving in other states because she can’t always fly home to Hawaii for the brief Thanksgiving break. Compared to her Hawaiian family’s Thanksgiving, her friends’ Thanksgivings were significantly smaller, and the food included the traditional turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole. Even though the food was different, Sagabaen says it was “still amazing and I promptly went into a food coma afterwards — it was just not what I was used to.”

Instead, her family’s Thanksgiving in Hawaii takes place from noon until dark, with her immediate and extended family all gathered together in one house. Her dinner still has turkey, but also “all of the local and ethnic foods we love such as, beef teriyaki, rice, Filipino pork and squash soup, wontons, Kalua Pork and cabbage, and many other delicious things,” Sagabaen said.

Kathy Chan’s Table: Hawaiian boiled peanuts, Furikake Chex Mix & chicken long rice

Chan describes Hawaiian cuisine as “a melting pot of cultures and all the good food that goes along with it.” Her Thanksgiving table contains a mix of local Chinese and Hawaiian dishes, like ahi poke platters, sashimi from local markets, fried saimin, and chicken long rice. Turkey is also on her table, and one of her favorite childhood traditions is “being able to make turkey jook (congee) the next morning for breakfast” with the leftover turkey.

As a food blogger, Chan shares a lot of recipes she and her family serve on their Thanksgiving table. The first is Hawaiian Boiled Peanuts, which differ from the boiled peanuts found in southern states because of their seasoning — Hawaiian sea salt, star anise, sliced ginger, and black peppercorn. They usually eat these as a snack on Thanksgiving. Another snack they graze on during Thanksgiving is Furikake Chex Mix, made from honeycomb cereal, corn and wheat chex, Fritos, Bugles, and pretzels, all drizzled in a sweet and salty butter-soy sauce syrup.

Chan didn’t forget about Thanksgiving dessert, which for her family is usually “fruit and a ‘crunch’ dessert.” A crunch is a dessert that has a crust made from yellow cake mix, chopped nuts or toffee (which gives it the crunch), melted butter, lemon curd or pumpkin filling, and then a topping of whipped cream. Her favorites are pumpkin crunch and lemon crunch. To round off the dessert table, Chan says “there is also always mochi from one of the many wonderful fresh mochi shops in Honolulu. And hot tea to go with it all.”