What Makes Hawaiian Macaroni Salad Unique

Few will disagree that pasta noodles are best enjoyed when they are al dente or "to the tooth," which means the noodles are firm, not mushy and chewy without being too hard, per Taste of Home. Al dente also means that less of the starch has been unlocked by cooking, so the noodles aren't likely to trigger any sugar-related highs and lows.

That rule gets tossed to the side when a Hawaiian macaroni salad is involved. The noodles used in this particular salad are meant to spend more time in boiling water than the Italians which invented it say they are meant to. This means, in the words of Onolicious Hawaii, that the noodles are "ideally overcooked." 

Far from becoming the pasta dish that every veteran cook warns us about, the mushy macaroni packs a punch when served in Hawaiian mac salad. The New York Times writer Ligaya Mishan, who grew up in Hawaii, describes the carb-heavy dish as "a condiment unto itself" — and a platform for its star ingredient, mayonnaise.

Mac salads can only be made with a specific mayonnaise

While most macaroni salads found in the continental United States might consider mayonnaise as an optional add-in, Hawaiian mac salads appear to be made of the stuff. Hawaiian Chef Mark Noguchi — or Gooch — warns The New York Times, "Just so you know, you'll be using a lot of mayo. Obscene, guaranteed-going-to-make-you-raise-your-eyebrow kine of lot." And not any mayonnaise will do either, because it needs to be Best Foods brand, or Hellmann's as it is known in some parts of the country. In fact, using any other type of mayonnaise could well be considered a form of culinary sacrilege. "Some people get fancy with Kewpie [mayonnaise]  and that's fine, but it's not mine," the chef sniffs.

That's not all. Taste says Hawaiian mac salad does without mustard, sugar, or even MSG — although the jury appears to be out on whether or not vinegar should be involved. Chef Sheldon Simeon prefers to go without, while cookbook author Alana Kysar says mac salad is bland sans vinegar. "Where's the tang? It's so flat if you don't put vinegar in," she says.

Mac salads are an important part of a plate lunch

No one can quite figure where or how Hawaiian mac salad came to be. Onolicious Hawaii reckons the dish was an adaptation of the potato salad which made it to the islands either through the efforts of European hotel chefs who made the potato salads for guests or through the islands' sugar and pineapple plantation managers, who might have made the same with potatoes too. Local staff are believed to have made the ingredient swap from potato to macaroni because the latter was cheaper and less perishable.

Mac salads have their fans. Local food author Arnold Hiura tells Taste that the late actor, Pat Morita, would go to his favorite bar in Hawaii and "order a drink and a double order of mac salad. [Morita] would eat the whole thing by himself."

Today, mac salad's most memorable role is as a supporting actor in a Hawaiian plate lunch, the ubiquitous meal that includes a serving of meat, white rice, and a few greens. Chef Simeon says mac salad plays an important role in plate lunches: "With all the big flavors we have in Hawaii, it's a good moment to fill your palate and get a balanced bite."