This classic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad recipe is an iconic side dish across all the Hawaiian Islands served on lunch plates and food trucks. It’s a bit tangy and sweet and very creamy, perfect for backyard summer cookouts or anytime throughout the year.
Authentic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad Recipe
My daughter’s friend has parents who own a Hawaiian BBQ place and I used to beg her to bring me home some of this Hawaiian Macaroni Salad until they showed me how to make it myself.
Macaroni salad is absolutely iconic in Hawaii and is a lunch plate and food truck staple. If you ever travel to Hawaii, you will see it offered on the menu frequently, which is how we first fell in love with it. You’ll typically be served a large ice cream scoop serving of this salad alongside other dishes like chicken katsu or Huli Huli chicken, with some steamed white rice.
To make this an authentic Hawaiian macaroni salad, you’ll need to set aside a bit of time as you’ll need to gradually add the dressing to the pasta, stirring frequently as it slowly cools to room temperature. It may seem like a bit of an unusual method (and I’ve provided the lazy version instructions below too, ha) but trust me – when you have your first bite of this tangy, creamy salad, it will be worth it!
Why You’ll Love This Easy Side Dish
Hawaiian macaroni salad has become one of our favorite pasta salad recipes. Here’s why.
- The flavor. A little tangy, a little sweet, and very creamy…this macaroni salad just has the perfect balance of flavors.
- Great for serving a crowd. One batch of this salad makes enough for 12 people to have a full cup serving, which means it’s ideal for summer BBQs and any gatherings where you need to feed a crowd.
- Easy to customize. While I kept this recipe as authentic as possible, there are still some fun customizations you can make – like adding fried spam or making it spicy! See below for some ideas.
What’s In Hawaiian Macaroni Salad?
You may be surprised by some of the ingredients on the list but trust me – each one plays its role in making this salad great.
(Scroll below to the printable recipe card for details and measurements.)
- Macaroni pasta – While you can make this with any small pasta, macaroni is what’s traditionally used.
- Apple cider vinegar – Adds the tangy flavor to the salad.
- Carrot – Adds flavor, texture, and color.
- Onion – Grated onion adds flavor to the salad.
- Scallions – Scallions add a pop of green color and a subtle peppery flavor.
- Whole milk & heavy cream – The base of the creamy salad.
- Mayonnaise – Using Best Foods mayonnaise (or Hellman’s brand depending on the region) is ideal for the dressing.
- Granulated sugar – Sweetens the salad and balances out the vinegar.
- Spices – Hawaiian macaroni salad is seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.
Optional Add-Ins and Variations
There are many different variations on Hawaiian mac salad – some include a mix of cooked potatoes & macaroni (like a combo of potato salad and macaroni salad), and some mix in chopped hard-boiled eggs, cooked peas, cubed ham, or tuna for more protein.
I love it with pan-fried cubed SPAM, which is very popular in Hawaii and so yummy. Don’t knock the SPAM until you try it! It really does add another layer of flavor. However, locals don’t usually include any of these ingredients and they definitely don’t include pineapple or ham like Americans do on Hawaiian Pizza.
That said, here are some optional add-ins:
- Fried spam (my favorite!)
- Crushed pineapple
- Celery ribs
- Sriracha sauce or Tabasco (for a spicy kick)
- Cooked potatoes (reduce the amount of macaroni)
How to Make Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
This authentic Hawaiian macaroni salad is made just the way I was taught, with slightly overcooked pasta and slowly adding the dressing in parts.
(Scroll down to the printable recipe card for all the details and don’t miss the helpful tips and video below.)
- Prepare the pasta. Cook the macaroni according to the package directions then tack on an extra 3 minutes to cook until it’s fat and soft. Drain and return to the pot, off the heat. Pour the apple cider vinegar over the pasta, gently stir to help the pasta absorb the vinegar, then stir in the carrots and onions. Cover and cool for 10 minutes.
- Make the dressing. Whisk together all dressing ingredients in a bowl until smooth.
- Add the dressing to the salad. Pour half of the dressing into the salad, toss to coat, then let stand with the lid on for 20 minutes. Stir every 5 minutes to help the pasta absorb the dressing. Transfer to a mixing bowl then top with the remaining dressing as well as the scallions. Stir, then let cool for another 20 minutes at room temperature.
- Chill. Cover the salad and refrigerate for at least an hour. Stir, adding in more milk if needed. Garnish with diced scallions and enjoy cold.
Tips for Success
Here are a few key tips to making this easy macaroni salad recipe.
- Cook the pasta to your preference. The locals typically overcook the pasta until it’s really soft and plump, which really helps absorb the dressing. Staying true to the authentic salad, that’s how I’ve written the recipe, but I usually cook the pasta until just tender. This is just a matter of personal preference. Try it both ways and you decide!
- Be sure to use regular mayo. Don’t use low-fat milk or light mayonnaise. It will make the dressing less creamy and too thin. The heavy cream and whole milk, however, can be replaced with half-n-half.
- Add the vinegar before the creamy dressing. To prevent the vinegar from curdling the milk, always add the vinegar directly over the hot macaroni, stir the mixture, and let it cool.
- Chill for several hours. While you can technically serve this after letting it chill in the fridge for as little as an hour, I really recommend giving it at least 4 hours.
- The quicker way to make Hawaiian macaroni salad. The authentic way to make this mac salad is by letting the vinegar-soaked pasta cool, then adding half the dressing and cool again, adding the remaining dressing and cool again whole stirring every few minutes, and finally chilling in the fridge. This allows the pasta to really absorb the flavors of the vinegar and dressing. BUT If you’re in a pinch for time (or lazy HA!), you can simply stir in all of the dressing at once, let it cool a bit, and then cover and chill until ready to serve. The flavors won’t be as deep, but it’s still good!
Video: Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
What to Serve with Macaroni Hawaiian Salad
The traditional way of serving it is a large ice cream scoop portion per plate. Of course, you can serve it any way you want.
How to Store Leftovers
Hawaiian macaroni salad can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days. Just be sure to keep it covered or in an airtight container. Give it a good stir before serving and note you may need to add a splash more of whole milk if the noodles have absorbed the sauce.
More Pasta Salads:
Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
FOR THE SALAD
- 1 pound dry elbow macaroni pasta
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 large carrot , peeled and grated or shredded finely
- 1/4 cup grated onion
- 4 scallions , diced small
FOR THE DRESSING
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 2 cups small cubed fried spam
- crushed pineapple , drained and blotted dry
- 2 celery ribs , diced
- 5 scallions , diced
- Cook the pasta. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the macaroni according to package directions, except tack on an additional 3 minutes until it's fat and soft (see note below.) Drain and then dump it back into the pot, off the heat. Pour the apple cider vinegar evenly over the top and gently stir until the pasta absorbs the vinegar. Stir in the carrots and onion. Cover and let it cool for 10 minutes.
- While the pasta is cooling, make the dressing. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a medium bowl until smooth.
- Remove the lid from the pasta pot and pour in HALF of the dressing.
- Gently toss to coat, then place the lid back on and let stand for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, so the pasta can absorb the dressing.
- Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl, then pour the remaining dressing over the top along with the scallions and stir to combine.
- Let it cool for another 20 minutes at room temperature.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (ideally at least 4 hours.)
- Gently stir before serving, adding in 1 to 2 tablespoons milk, if needed, to thin it out a bit.
- Garnish with small diced scallions and enjoy cold.