Punahou Carnival is an annual weekend event that takes place at Punahou School in Honolulu. There are games and rides, and most importantly…amazing local food! From malasadas to teri burgers and saimin, here’s what to eat at Punahou Carnival.
Volunteers working the malasada booth
What Is Punahou Carnival
The annual Punahou Carnival is held the first weekend of each February. It’s a two day event and a big deal in Honolulu. Punahou Carnival is unlike any other. It has all the usual rides and games, but what everyone really comes here for is…the food!!
Pricing for the Jams and Jellies booth
The Carnival is an annual tradition that started in 1932. It’s been held consecutively every single year since and is fundraiser for Punahou’s financial aid program. The Carnival is staffed entirely by volunteers (the junior high school class is responsible for organizing Carnival).
It’s really fun when you see everyone get into it. All the faculty and teachers volunteer. The alumni also love to volunteer (friends usually sign up as a group and work a specific booth, like the malasada booth!) and many student parents pitch in.
A hot malasada!
Where Is Punahou Carnival
Punahou Carnival takes place at Punahou School in Honolulu. The entire school campus turns into one giant carnival field for the weekend. The parking situation is always tough, best if you can get dropped off or take a car service.
Waiting in line for malasadas
When Is Punahou Carnival
The first Friday and Saturday of February (rain or shine!) 11am-11pm. It gets crazy packed on Friday night and all Saturday. Some of the good stuff (like mango chutney and lilikoi butter, more on that below) will run out by Saturday. I like Punahou Carnival best on Friday afternoons.
What To Eat At Punahou Carnival
This is the important part! Punahou Carnival is all about the food. I don’t even bother with the games or rides (though I love to visit the art gallery…don’t miss that).
The food booths are arranged throughout the entire carnival grounds. You need to buy scrips from the scrip booth. Then pay for the food using scrips.
Here’s what to eat:
I attended Punahou so I might be biased but…these are definitely the best malasadas in the state. The malasada booth is a huge production that requires many volunteers to make the dough, roll out the malasadas, fry them in these giant vats of bubbling oil, roll them in sugar, and serve them to the many hungry people waiting in line. The make thousands and thousands of malasadas over Carnival weekend. I usually eat 2-3 of these on a carnival day and then take home a dozen for the family.
Note: Punahou published the recipe for these famous malasadas, but everyone knows that’s not the actual recipe. The actual recipe is a super secret. All we really know is that nutmeg and cinnamon is blended into the sugar mix that coats each hot malasada.
The Hawaiian Plate is a must-eat item at Carnival. It includes a sampling of many key Hawaiian dishes. You might want to split it with a friend so that you have stomach space to try all the other Carnival food! Hawaiian Plate includes the following items (clockwise from top left):
Teri Burger (Teriyaki Burger)
In Hawaii, we prefer teri burgers over hamburger. A teri burger is like a regular hamburger but with the teriyaki sauce mixed into the hamburger patty. Teriyaki sauce is made primarily of: shoyu, sugar, and garlic. Teri burgers a definite must try if you haven’t yet!
Note: locals call it teri burgers. If you call it teriyaki burger, we’ll know you’re a visitor 🙂
Saimin! Here’s the whole post on everything saimin in Hawaii. Saimin is Hawaii’s iconic noodle soup dish (like how Japan has ramen and Hong Kong has wonton mein). Saimin is a clean and light noodle dish in a dashi broth. It’s usually topped with kamaboko (fish cake), char siu, egg, and green onions.
Portuguese Bean Soup
Portuguese Bean Soup is another iconic Hawaii dish! It’s a warming stew-like soup with a broth base made from ham hocks and crushed tomatoes. The soup includes Portuguese sausage (SO good), kidney beans, and macaroni. It’s comforting and even better with a scoop of rice.
We are lucky to have an abundance of fresh fruit in Hawaii and we do not take that for granted. Load up all the good local fruits (think avocado, mango, tomatoes, etc). You see how this is so different from a “regular” carnival? ^_^
Chili and Rice
In Hawaii we eat chili over rice. I’m not sure how chili came to be such a popular thing in Hawaii, but it’s a definite loved dish. Zippy’s is most famous for chili (some say the secret ingredient is mayo), Rainbow Drive-In makes a great chili and hot dog with rice plate. And Punahou makes an excellent chili. I used to each this same chili over rice dish for school lunch all the time (Punahou has an impressive cafeteria), and look forward to it at Carnival every year.
Gelato, Sorbet, and Acai
Gelato, Sorbet, and Acai all made with fresh local fruits! They have unique and “very Hawaii” flavors like taro-haupia gelato, mango sorbet, lilikoi (passion fruit) sorbet and…
…of course, the mighty acai bowls!
Jams and Jellies (Mango Chutney and Lilikoi Butter)
The Jams and Jellies booth is serious business. A ton of volunteers get together for multiple weekends before Carnival to seemingly endless jars of jams and jellies. The most popular flavor is Mango Chutney. It sells out within hours of opening, so you must go early or have an inside connection.
The second most popular flavor is Lilikoi Butter (my personal favorite). I love hot toast with butter and lilikoi butter spread all over. I’ll even eat lilikoi butter straight from the jar or alternate spoonfuls of lilikoi butter with fresh whipped cream. Lilikoi butter is really wonderful.
Prices for the 2020 Punahou Carnival
Punahou Carnival: Insider Tips
- Friday and Saturday nights are the most crowded. Go Friday early afternoon to avoid the crowds.
- If securing Mango Chutney and Lilikoi Butter is important to you, go early (as in right when they open at 11am).
- Parking is difficult. Try to get dropped off. If you’re driving, check out parking options and prices on Punahou’s website here.
Line at the Portuguese Bean Soup booth