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This Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is a creamy, comforting, authentic side dish from the islands that’s perfect for summer cookouts, barbecues, and luaus (obviously). We’re talking local Hawaiian plate-lunch style classic macaroni salad here, and it’s delicious!

An image of a large bowl of Hawaiian macaroni salad.

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

When I was brainstorming recipes and foods that Hawaii is known for, one of the first ones that immediately came to mind was this Hawaiian macaroni salad.

It’s definitely one of the 50th state’s signature dishes and perfect for my American Eats series. And since it’s summertime, this needs to be on your menu whether you are just cooking for your family or heading to a potluck.

Hawaiian macaroni salad goes with practically any grilled meat. In Hawaii, it’s known for being one of the critical components in the Hawaiian plate lunch. A plate lunch can have a number of different proteins from grilled teriyaki chicken (my personal favorite) to kalua pork, but they are always served with this mayonnaise-based macaroni salad and two scoops of sticky rice.

Why do Hawaiians eat macaroni salad?

The plate lunch is a cheap and filling dish that originated back in the 1880’s as a midday meal for workers at Hawaii’s sugar and pineapple plantations. Now a Hawaiian plate dish lunch with macaroni salad is served at roadside stands, drive-ins, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants throughout Hawaii and at a number of restaurants on the mainland like L&L Barbecue and Ono’s.

The creamy, carb-loaded macaroni salad was an inexpensive way to bulk out a plantation worker’s lunch, which was usually made up of leftovers from the previous day.

 An image of classic macaroni salad with a mayo vinegar dressing.

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad Ingredients

Real Hawaiian mac salad is just elbow macaroni, mayonnaise, a little milk to think out the mayo a bit, apple cider vinegar, grated carrots, salt and pepper. Sometimes (often) chopped celery and green onions are also added, which is what I like to do because I love the flavor and texture they add. 

But there are a few key distinctions you need to know about to get that true authentic Hawaiian macaroni salad texture and taste.

First, you will need to intentionally overcook the macaroni noodles. It feels so wrong to cook pasta beyond “al dente” perfection, but overcooked pasta absorbs the other flavors much more than al dente pasta, in addition to giving you the correct texture to achieve the same kind of macaroni salad that you get in Hawaii. 

Another key point is that you have to use real mayo in this recipe. Miracle Whip just won’t work and gives a different taste than true mayonnaise like Best Foods/Hellmann’s or Duke’s. It’s important. Trust me.

The third thing you need to know is that the apple cider vinegar in the recipe needs to be added when the pasta is still hot, just after draining. The hot, overcooked noodles will absorb the vinegar which is important to the flavor of the pasta salad.

How to Make Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

  1. Make the dressing:  Combine all dressing ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk together until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
  2. Cook the pasta:  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the stove over high heat, then cook the macaroni noodles in it according to package directions. Except add an additional 5 minutes to the cooking time so the pasta will be very soft and plump and can absorb the dressing better.
  3. Let the hot macaroni absorb the vinegar:  Drain the macaroni well in a colander, then return it to the pot and add the apple cider, stirring until the warm pasta absorbs the vinegar. Cover with a lid and let sit for 20 minutes.
  4. Dress & toss to coat:  Add half of the dressing to the cooked pasta, stirring to coat, then cover with the lid again for another 20 minutes so the pasta can absorb some of 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, as needed.
  5. Chill completely:  Transfer to a large serving bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for 2 hours until completely cool before serving.

An image of a pot of boiling water with macaroni noodles on the stove. An image of the ingredients for Hawaiian macaroni salad dressing. An image of macaroni noodles in a pot with a creamy mayo dressing poured over them for macaroni salad. An image of a bowl of macaroni noodles coated in a creamy mayo-based dressing with grated carrots, green onions, and celery for macaroni salad.

What can I serve with macaroni salad?

How long is pasta salad with mayo good for?

  • Hawaiian macaroni salad, like most pasta salads, will last for a few days in the fridge. Just cover it well and store it for up to 4 days, then give it a stir before serving. If it seems a little too dry, mix a little mayo with some milk and fold that in to loosen things up.
  • Be sure not to leave macaroni salad out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.

An image of a serving bowl filled with authentic Hawaiian macaroni salad.

More Pasta Salad Recipes Perfect for Summer Cookouts

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Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
Yield: 10 servings

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

This Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is a creamy, comforting, authentic side dish from the islands that's perfect for summer cookouts, barbecues, and luaus (obviously).  We're talking local Hawaiian plate-lunch style classic macaroni salad here, and it's delicious!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Cooling Time 2 hours 40 minutes
Total Time 3 hours 5 minutes

Ingredients

Dressing

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons grated yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Pasta Salad

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 5 green onions, white and green parts sliced thin
  • 2 large celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1/4 cup grated onion

Instructions

  1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk together until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the stove over high heat, then cook the macaroni noodles in it according to package directions. Except add an additional 5 minutes to the cooking time so the pasta will be very soft and plump and can absorb the dressing better.
  3. Drain the macaroni well in a colander, then return it to the pot and add the apple cider, stirring until the warm pasta absorbs the vinegar. Cover with a lid and let sit for 20 minutes.
  4. Add half of the dressing to the cooked pasta, stirring to coat, then cover with the lid again for another 20 minutes so the pasta can absorb some of the dressing.
  5. 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, as needed.
  6. Transfer to a large serving bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for 2 hours until completely cool before serving.

Notes

These HIGHLY optional mix-ins are sometimes seen in Hawaiian macaroni salad, but they definitely decrease the authenticity of the dish: 1 cup frozen peas, 1 cup crumbled bacon, 1 cup cubed ham, 1 small, drained can pineapple tidbits, 3-4 chopped hard boiled eggs.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

10

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving:Calories: 408 Total Fat: 34g Saturated Fat: 6g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 28g Cholesterol: 21mg Sodium: 519mg Carbohydrates: 21g Fiber: 2g Sugar: 5g Protein: 4g

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Curious about foods from other states in my American Eats series? Check them out below!

Alabama • Alaska • Arizona • Arkansas • California • Colorado • Connecticut • Delaware • Florida • Georgia • Hawaii • Iowa • Louisiana • South CarolinaTexas