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!

Be sure to check out some of our other popular pasta recipes like BLT Pasta SaladTuna Noodle Casserole, and Classic Frog Eye Salad!

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. 

It's similar to classic macaroni salad, 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 Side Dishes Perfect for Summer Cookouts

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Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

4.78 from 35 votes
Amy Nash
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Cooling Time 2 hrs 40 mins
Total Time 3 hrs 5 mins
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 10 servings
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!

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
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 5 green onions white and green parts sliced thin
  • 2 large celery ribs chopped
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • ¼ cup grated onion

Instructions
 

  • Combine all dressing ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk together until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Transfer to a large serving bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for 2 hours until completely cool before serving.

Video

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

Calories: 508kcal | Carbohydrates: 40g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 35g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 20g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 21mg | Sodium: 542mg | Potassium: 221mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 2272IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 54mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe? Show me on Instagram!Mention @HouseOfNashEats or tag #houseofnasheats!

More States I Have Visited in my American Eats Series

Alabama • Alaska • Arizona • Arkansas • California • Colorado • Connecticut • Delaware • Florida • Georgia • Hawaii • IdahoIllinoisIndianaIowa • KansasKentuckyLouisiana • MaineMarylandMassachusettsMichiganMontanaNew YorkOregonPuerto RicoSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaTexasUtahWisconsin

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About the author

Hi, I'm Amy

I enjoy exploring the world through food, culture, and travel and sharing the adventure with mostly from-scratch, family friendly recipes that I think of as modern comfort cooking.

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Reader questions and reviews

  1. I've made your recipe a few times. This is very authentic-tasting, very good! It's even better after sitting overnight. Thanks for the recipe!

  2. There’s things I like about this recipe, but found it to be over powering with onion flavor. Would adjust next time. 

  3. I love your recipe and can't wait to try it out. I love Hawaii and I'm trying to find recipes that I can reminisce on our trips there. Your recipe seems easy to follow and very informative. Thanks for sharing with us 

  4. We ate this delicious salad for family dinner and love it! It was easy to make and I will definitely make it again! It's a good, creamy, sweet and tangy balance. I didn't add all of the onions for personal reasons and it was great!

  5. I spent time in Oahu and this recipe is very authentic. I have also eaten it at food trucks in Hawai’i where they used spaghetti pasta. I personally added extra vinegar for my taste.

  6. I have a friend who loves Hawaiian Mac salad so I made this for a luncheon we are both attending. I think it is DELISH! I hope she likes it too. I will say that I too thought it seemed a tiny bit heavy on onion flavor but not a problem for me since I love onions!
    This recipe is a keeper.

  7. Your Hawaiian macaroni salad is essentially correct. It is definitely a part of Hawaii'a local cuisine. I remember my mother making it, adding canned tuna. That's how I know it. Today, it is popular to make mac potato salad as a local side dish. I don't particularly like it, but it has gained a lot of popularity here, and the mac salad of old is practically extinct. My salad didn't really have the same taste as my mother's, but you EXPOSED her secret. Cider vinegar. When I tried that, the flavor explosion in my mouth made me tear up. I am 79. I lost my mom 11 years ago, and now I have found another way to honor her memory. Thank you. And..try the tuna, it'll make you smile.

  8. I have been searching for a Hawaiian Mac salad recipe for some time now (years) and your technique is different then anything I have seen. Some recipe call for milk and some call for vinegar. I have tried both and neither were right. I did not add the celery because that is not how I have had it in Hawaii, But that being said your recipe is awesome. And is officially in my repertoire from here on out . Thank you!!!!

  9. LOVE this recipe.  

    Have made it for Hawaiian “plate lunch“ (for dinner) several times since first trying it for my Hawaii-raised husband and his family a few weeks ago.   It was a huge hit with their taste buds then, and has continued to be a huge hit with my hubby and I every time I’ve made it since.   I’ve been adding a potato (and subtracting about 1/4 of the elbows and keeping all other Ingredient portions the same), per hubby’s request.   That has been a nice texture and flavor.  

    I’ve found that, when adding the vinegar, pouring half the vinegar over the pasta/potatoes, then stirring to disperse, then pouring the rest of the vinegar over the pasta/potato (and stirring again) to be a help in getting a cider-zing spread throughout.  

    Very much recommend this recipe!  So yummy!

  10. worked great, family loved it, thank you. I would bring this to a gathering.  I did not use any mix-ins, did not thin it needed it.

  11. I have been searching for a great Hawai'ian Mac salad for some time, and finally settled on making this version. I LOVED it!! Because my significant other does not really care for macaroni salad, I made half a version. I cut all the ingredients in half, and the only variations were that I used a little less onion and I did add the frozen peas. It turned out great and I will make it again and again.

    I think that the secret to this recipe is the apple cider vinegar and overcooking the pasta. It gave the pasta the right consistency and tanginess that I enjoy when I am in Hawai'i. Mahalo for sharing!

  12. I only had 1% milk, so I added two TBLS melted butter to the dressing. It gave the dressing a nice sheen and seemed to compensate. I did have to add more milk in general, too; otherwise, this recipe worked very well. I approached the grated onion with slight trepidation, and so used a sweet onion. The flavor truly blended in. I was so surprised!

    Thank you for sharing the recipe. Merry Krimmas!

  13. The flavors all together are so good! I made it for a family get-together and didn't have the time to "wait 5 minutes, 20 minutes..." It was still delicious! Sitting in the refrigerator to chill worked just fine to mix flavors.

  14. Have you ever used boiled eggs with this. It seem like slices of boiled egg would go really well with the rest of the ingredients.

    1. If the onion is overwhelming, you could try halving it next time. Or you can also soak your onion in cold water for 10 minutes before draining and adding. That will take away the bite of the onion.

  15. I just got back from the Big Island and had the Mac salad as a side in a few places. The first tasted like simply macaroni and mayo. The second visibly included carrots and was OK. The third place was my favorite and included chopped eggs. They also had been featured on Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives and their food was fantastic!

    I can’t wait to try yours!