Categories: Oceania, Recipes

Recipes From Afar: Polynesian Food for a Crowd

Spam fried rice, Hawaiian meatballs, coconut chicken, pani popo—we’ve got you covered with recipes fit for Moana. Or just your next Polynesian party.

Polynesian food recipes: Spam fried rice and coconut chicken

Recently we agreed to host a Moana viewing party for some friends in our building, ranging in age from 1.5 to early 50s. Providing the couch and the TV was easy enough, and tropical cocktails seemed essential, but what where we going to eat? The answer, of course, was Polynesian food. And what was that, exactly?

In the film, Moana and her people are presented as generic Polynesian, displaying traits from several cultures in that part of the world: Hawaiian, Samoan, Maori, Tahitian, Fijian, and more. The story incorporates language, clothing, dance, and beliefs from this indistinct culture but little in the way of food. Sure, there are coconuts, but aside from that? A mention of pork, cooking a chicken, catching fish, and eating bananas on the boat. The good news, then, was we could be interpretive.

Popcorn mixed with Goldfish crackers for a movie night.

So I turned to Google and searched for “Moana party ideas.” Wrong! What turned up was a slew of beautiful Pinterest-friendly crafts I would never make. There were food ideas, but I wasn’t about to make heart-of-Te Fiti cookies or palm trees out of pretzels and chocolate. They looked adorable, but we thankfully weren’t throwing a kids’ birthday party, and we wanted something more culinarily evocative. (I did, however, copy the Kakamora idea, and let the kids color on some coconuts.)

A coconut decorated like a kakamora pirate from Moana.

So I narrowed down to specific cultures. Hawaii has plenty of well-known dishes that are relatively easy to create, so that was an obvious place to begin. I settled on Spam fried rice because (a) it was easy to make a lot of, and (b) I have always wanted to eat Spam. For some reason, this has slipped through the cracks of my culinary self-education! I’d never before had a reason to buy it, I suppose, so this was a win-win. And it was delicious (see the recipe at bottom).  

Spam is a must when making Polynesian food, specifically Hawaiian.

We needed some meat, and we weren’t about to roast a pig on a spit in our apartment, so I looked for a meatball recipe—kids generally love those. I went with these Hawaiian-style meatballs, but omitted the rice, so it was just homemade turkey meatballs in a pineapple-soy sauce-honey-ginger kind of sauce (I especially loved that this recipe included a non-Italian way of making meatballs at all, as that’s just not in my wheelhouse). I don’t, however, know if these are really Hawaiian or just Hawaii-inspired, but they were tasty and tropical-like, so everyone was happy.

Hawaiian-style turkey meatballs in a pineapple sauce, a Polynesian-inspired recipe

Also on the meat front, a friend brought this coconut chicken dish that was a big hit, super tender and coconutty. She skipped the coconut dipping sauce on the side (not on purpose!), but it so wasn’t needed. Think coconut-crusted chicken fingers.

King's Hawaiian sweet rolls about to be turned into pani popo for a Polynesian food party

Finally, something sweet: I came across a few recipes for pani popo, Samoan coconut bread, that seemed very easy to manage. This is essentially coconut milk, condensed milk, and sugar dumped over sweet bread rolls, and the rolls can be homemade, frozen, or even fresh. I’d planned on trying it with frozen rolls, but my supermarket only had them fresh (a package of King’s, a Hawaiian brand no less). So I got to make the easiest version of all, straight from King’s Hawaiian itself, and—despite my initial skepticism of baking already-fresh bread—I have to say these are ridiculously tasty. Just stupid good, like a coconut version of a Krispy Kreme doughnut. They disappeared quickly.

Pani popo, Samoan coconut bread, sweet rolls doused in coconut milk.

As this was a movie night, we also had popcorn, cooked stovetop in coconut oil and tossed with grated coconut, mini chocolate chips, and rainbow-colored Goldfish (because kids). Our guests provided the fruity vodka-based cocktails (also mojitos), and fun was had by all. What movie should we cook to next?

Spam fried rice in the wok, a Polynesian recipe


Hawaiian-Style Spam Fried Rice

Recipe adapted from Foodology Geek


3 cups cooked jasmine rice, preferably a day old and/or a little hard

3 eggs

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp soy sauce

Sesame oil

2 carrots, shredded/diced

1 shallot, diced

1-inch piece ginger, grated or diced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

Grapeseed/vegetable/canola oil

1 can Spam, diced

1 tsp sesame oil

2-3 Tbsp soy sauce (adjust to taste)

1-2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar (to taste)

1 16 oz bag frozen sweet peas

Scallions, sliced



1. First cook the egg. Combine egg with sugar and 2 tsp soy sauce, scramble it and cook it in your wok with a little sesame oil. You can stir it so it’s scrambled; I cooked it omelet-like, or rather just in big flat pieces, so that I could dice it up later. Remove from wok.

2. Brown the diced Spam. There is probably enough oil left in your pan, but add more if needed. Remove from wok.

3. Add a little grapeseed/veg/canola oil to wok. Saute the carrot, shallot, ginger, and garlic until tender, a few minutes.

4. Add the sesame oil and cooked rice to the pan. Mix well; I had to use my fingers to break up some clumps of rice. Get rid of the clumps any way you know how!

5. Add frozen peas in; mix until they’re hot.

6. Turn off heat, and add in your soy sauce and rice wine. Mix and taste; I found I needed to add seconds for enough flavor.

7. Stir in Spam and diced egg.

8. Sprinkle with sliced scallion. You’re done!


Young boy drinking coconut water from the coconut in a kitchen.
End-of-night bonus: fresh coconut water!


What to cook for a Moana viewing party: Polynesian food!



Published On: January 27, 2018

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