Mom’s Hawaiian Mac Salad (25-Minute Macaroni Salad)

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE SALES LINKS. PLEASE SEE MY FULL DISCLAIMER POLICY FOR DETAILS.
Few local-style Hawaiian dishes are more iconic than mac salad! My Mom (born & raised in Honolulu) makes the best Hawaiian Macaroni Salad this side of the Pacific. Her easy recipe folds perfectly cooked pasta into a creamy mayonnaise dressing with grated carrot & fragrant spices – an ideal side dish for a classic plate lunch, summer cookouts, potlucks, & so much more. Simple, perfect comfort food, guaranteed to broke da mouth! 😁🌺🤙🏼

Naturally vegetarian & dairy-free, easily gluten-free & vegan.

Featured In Local Hawai'i Favorites
Finished hawaiian mac salad in a white serving bowl with a wood serving spoon inside. The mac salad has been garnished with extra grated carrot and thinly sliced green onion. The serving bowl sits atop a peach colored textured surface with a blue linen placed underneath. It is surrounded by a small white bowl filled with thinly sliced green onion and a small wooden pinch bowl filled with kosher salt.

The Iconic Plate Lunch Staple: Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

My Mom was born and raised in Honolulu, where Macaroni Salad is absolutely ICONIC. Aside from rice, it’s probably the most popular side dish on the islands.

Ever since we started sharing more local-style Hawaiian recipes here on PWWB, it’s been one of our most highly requested recipes. Needless to say, I’m so excited to finally share it with you today!

Mom’s mac salad is a PWWB reader favorite – it’s so creamy, so easy to make, and perfect for any occasion!

Mom’s Hawaiian mac salad is super creamy, super satisfying, and super special – practically everyone begs for the recipe after they try it but it does stray from tradition slightly in 2 ways:

EXTRA SPICES. Mom uses the littlest bit of paprika and turmeric, which creates an eye-catching orange hue. We’re obsessed with the extra flavor they provide!

AL DENTE PASTA. While classic Hawaiian macaroni salad is made with well-cooked, soft, and tender noodles, Mom’s uses al dente elbow macaroni for a satisfying bite. (As a pasta purist, I can’t resist the texture of al dente pasta!)

It’s an amazing shareable side dish to bring to a potluck, serve at a cookout with friends, or to enjoy with a Hawaiian-style plate lunch. A true taste of Hawai’i at home! 🤙🏼

I can’t emphasize this enough – mac salad is absolutely iconic in Hawaii. It’s a staple of the plate lunch, an affordable meal that traces back to the plantation fields of the early 1900s.

Native Hawaiians and migrant laborers from Japan, Korea, and China often packed lunches of meat dishes from their homeland alongside a scoop of white rice. It was hearty, cheap, and good fuel for a day’s work.

Teriyaki grilled chicken and mac salad served in a styrofoam container to create a Hawaiian plate lunch. The containers sit atop a peach colored textured surface with a blue linen placed underneath. They are surrounded by a small wooden pinch bowl filled with kosher salt, a white plastic fork, bottles of Kona Light beer, loose thinly sliced green onions and a beer cap. The plate at center has a white plastic fork resting alongside.
Macaroni salad is an iconic Hawaiian side dish and a plate lunch staple. If you’ve never tried it, you’re in for such a treat!

It’s said that Hawaiian macaroni salad made its way onto the plate lunch once Europeans introduced dry elbow macaroni and mayonnaise to the islands. Locals quickly adopted these ingredients because mac salad was affordable, not perishable (unlike a potato salad), and easy to make at home. It’s also a creamy palate cleanser that balances a variety of salty, sweet, boldly spiced proteins.

Today, restaurants and street vendors always serve plate lunch with a generous scoop of Hawaiian macaroni salad along with meat and rice. Everything is better with a side of mac salad!

Key Ingredients

You need just a few simple ingredients to make this mac salad recipe – dry elbow macaroni, grated carrot for color and texture, a tiny bit of granulated sugar to balance out the richness, and a few choice spices.

Mom likes to use Lawry’s seasoned salt in her mac salad, which is not traditional but we think it’s the secret ingredient that makes her recipe so special and crave-worthy. I don’t stock my kitchen with Lawry’s, so you’ll see this mac salad recipe uses a blend of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, turmeric, and cayenne pepper to replicate its spiced flavor.

Dry elbow macaroni, carrot, Hellman's Real Mayonnaise, granulated sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, turmeric, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, and ground black pepper are arranged on a peach colored textured surface.

The one ingredient that is an absolute non-negotiable in this Hawaiian mac salad recipe is mayonnaise – specifically Best Foods Mayonnaise (or Hellman’s if you live in the Midwest or on the East Coast).

Ingredient Spotlight

Best Foods Real Mayonnaise

Best Foods Mayonnaise is the secret ingredient for an amazing Hawaiian macaroni salad – it’s a must for a perfectly satisfying, creamy mac salad. Since there’s nowhere to hide in such a simple dish, skimping on quality mayonnaise impacts both the flavor and texture of mac salad. Folks completely swear by it in Hawaii!

Never heard of Best Foods Mayo? ⇢ In Hawaii and on the West Coast of the United States this brand of mayonnaise is known as “Best Foods Mayonnaise.” But here in the Midwest or on the East Coast you probably know of it as “Hellman’s Mayonnaise.” If you’ve never heard of Best Foods Mayonnaise before, shop for Hellman’s instead – it’s the same product! The name just differs based on what region of the country you are in.

Need vegan macaroni salad? ⇢ Simply use your favorite vegan mayonnaise instead! I’m a big fan of Sir Kensington’s Vegan Mayo.

Variations

There are lots of different Hawaiian mac salad variations – it’s the kind of thing that everyone has a recipe they swear by. I’ve tried mac salad recipes that use a blend of potatoes and macaroni, while others mix in ingredients like hard-boiled eggs. But the 2 things that you’ll always find in a Hawaiian macaroni salad recipe are 1. Elbow macaroni and 2. Best Foods Mayonnaise.

How to Make Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

Aside from its flavor and creaminess, the reason you’ll love Mom’s Hawaiian mac salad recipe is because it’s SO simple – it comes together with 3 simple steps in 30 minutes or less, with just 2 dishes to wash!

A woman's hand pours dried macaroni pasta from a clear glass bowl into the boiling water. A creamy yellow oven mitt and a white colander rest behind the pot of water with white subway tile in the background.
For perfectly al dente pasta, check for doneness a few minutes earlier than the indicated “al dente” cook time on the package.
Al dente macaroni pasta fills a large white colander that rests inside of a large white double handle pot to drain. The pot sits atop a peach colored textured surface and is surrounded by a creamy yellow colored oven mitt and a small wooden pinch bowl filled with kosher salt.
After draining, rinse the pasta with cold water to prevent it from continuing to cook and to help it maintain its al dente bite.
1

Boil the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water and cook your macaroni (or mac salad pasta of choice) to al dente. Classic Hawaiian macaroni salad is made with very tender noodles, so this is not especially traditional but I prefer the little bit of texture al dente pasta adds.
Once cooked, drain the pasta, rinse with cold water, and set aside. Why? ⇢ While I don’t typically condone rinsing cooked noodles, pasta salad is the exception. Rinsing the pasta shocks the macaroni, preventing it from continuing to cook and wilting the other ingredients in the mac salad.

Cooled al dente macaroni pasta, grated carrot, mayonnaise, sugar, garlic, powder, onion powder, paprika, turmeric, & cayenne pepper are added to a large clear glass mixing bowl. The bowl sits atop a peach colored textured surface.
Once the pasta has been cooked, drained, and rinsed add in the remaining ingredients and spices.
Mixed Hawaiian macaroni salad in a large clear glass mixing bowl with a white spatula resting inside. The bowl sits atop a peach colored textured surface.
Toss, toss, toss until combined for an easy side dish!
2

Assemble the Hawaiian macaroni salad. Combine grated carrot, Best Foods Mayonnaise, sugar, and spices to a large bowl, then add the cooled elbow macaroni. Season with salt and ground black pepper, then stir to combine until every piece of macaroni is coated evenly.

3

Serve immediately. I love to add some finely sliced green onions or chives to a bowl of Hawaiian mac salad for a little pop of extra color before serving. Enjoy right away once prepared!

Meal Prep Tips!

It’s best to assemble this thick and creamy mac salad right before serving. If mixed too early, the pasta really soaks up the mayo, which impacts the overall texture of the mac salad.

If you want to make mac salad ahead of time without impacting its creamy, dreamy texture is to toss the cooked pasta with the carrot, sugar, and spices. When you’re ready to assemble, simply fold in the mayonnaise – easy!

A close up of Hawaiian mac salad in a white serving bowl with a wood serving spoon inside. The mac salad has been garnished with extra grated carrot and thinly sliced green onion.
Garnish with extra grated carrot, thinly sliced green onion, or chives for a pop of color and fun presentation.

Serving Suggestions

Hawaiian macaroni salad pairs perfectly with boldly spiced stews, braised meats, grilled meats, and more. This includes many of the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese meat dishes commonly found in the classic plate lunch.

In my family, we serve a big scoop of Hawaiian mac salad alongside rice with our other favorite local-style dishes. Here’s a few ideas to get you started…

  • Shoyu Chicken – Creamy mac salad pairs perfectly with the savory-sweet shoyu sauce in this one-pot meal.
  • Kalua Pig – One of my family’s most treasured recipes! It’s rich, earthy, smoky, and another iconic Hawaiian staple, just like mac salad.
  • Hawaiian-Style Kalbi Short Ribs – A scoop of mac salad is the perfect pair for these fall-apart tender, savory-sweet Korean beef short ribs.

Beyond plate lunch, Hawaiian macaroni salad is a great pasta salad side dish for any occasion. It’s a deliciously fun way to mix things up when you would traditionally serve pasta salad.

Pair mac salad with burgers and hotdogs at a summer cookout or bring a big bowl along with you to your next potluck. I have a feeling that everyone will love it (and ask for the recipe!).

A close up of a Hawaiian plate lunches served inside of a styrofoam containers. The containers sit atop a peach colored textured surface with a blue linen placed underneath. The lunches are surrounded by bottles of Kona Light beer, loose thinly sliced green onions and a beer cap. The plate at center has a white plastic fork resting alongside.
Serve alongside your favorite savory protein or BBQ staples to balance out the richness – a natural palate cleanser!

I can’t wait for you to try Mom’s Hawaiian Mac Salad recipe. It’s pure local-style comfort straight from Mom’s kitchen to yours!

If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo and tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. We LOVE seeing your PWWB creations! Happy cooking! ♡

Print
clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
Finished hawaiian mac salad in a white serving bowl with a wood serving spoon inside. The mac salad has been garnished with extra grated carrot and thinly sliced green onion. The serving bowl sits atop a peach colored textured surface with a blue linen placed underneath. It is surrounded by a small white bowl filled with thinly sliced green onion and a small wooden pinch bowl filled with kosher salt.

Mom’s Hawaiian Mac Salad (25-Minute Macaroni Salad)

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 7 reviews
  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: serves 4-6 1x
  • Category: Side Dish Recipes, Pasta Recipes
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Hawaiian, American
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

Few local-style Hawaiian dishes are more iconic than mac salad! My mom, who was born and raised in Honolulu, makes the BEST Hawaiian Macaroni Salad this side of the Pacific – guaranteed to broke da mouth! 😁🌺🤙🏼

Mom’s easy mac salad recipe is classic with a couple of twists, folding elbow macaroni into a creamy Best Food’s Real Mayonnaise dressing with grated carrot and fragrant spices. Since this is a really creamy macaroni salad, we stray from tradition by using spices like paprika and turmeric for extra flavor and al dente pasta for textural contrast. Of course, you can easily omit the spices for a more classic appearance and cook the pasta longer for more traditional texture.

Mac salad the best shareable side dish to bring to a potluck or serve at a cookout with friends. Or enjoy build your own at-home Hawaiian-style plate lunch – try my family’s Shoyu Chicken, Kalua Pork, or Kalbi (Hawaiian-Style Grilled Korean Short Ribs). 

Be sure to refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for make-ahead and meal prep guidance, along with a couple of easy substitutions for gluten-free and vegan dietary preferences. 


Ingredients

Scale
  • 8 ounces dry elbow macaroni or short pasta of choice
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled as desired and grated
  • 1 cup Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise (also known as Best Foods Real Mayonnaise in Hawaii and on the West Coast)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • optional: up to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • kosher salt and ground black pepperHawaiian macaroni salad ingredients arranged on a peach colored textured surface: dry elbow macaroni, carrot, Hellman's Real Mayonnaise, granulated sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, turmeric, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, and ground black pepper.

Instructions

  1. Boil the macaroni: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, generously salt the water. Add in the pasta and cook to al dente, according to package directions. Drain the pasta, rinsing with cold water, and set aside.A white colander filled with al dente macaroni pasta for hawaiian macaroni salad rests inside of a large white double handle pot to drain. The pot sits atop a peach colored textured surface and is surrounded by a creamy yellow colored oven mitt and a small wooden pinch bowl filled with kosher salt.
  2. Assemble the macaroni salad: Add cooled elbows to a large mixing bowl with the grated carrot, mayonnaise, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, turmeric, and cayenne (if using). Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ground black pepper, as desired. Stir to combine, seasoning with additional spices and/or salt as needed.
  3. Serve immediately, garnished with finely sliced green onions or chives as desired. In Hawaii, mac salad is often served plate lunch-style, alongside rice with local favorites like shoyu chicken, kalua pig, teriyaki beef, kalbi, etc. Enjoy!Finished hawaiian mac salad in a white serving bowl with a wood serving spoon inside. The mac salad has been garnished with extra grated carrot and thinly sliced green onion. The serving bowl sits atop a peach colored textured surface with a blue linen placed underneath. It is surrounded by a small white bowl filled with thinly sliced green onion and a small wooden pinch bowl filled with kosher salt.

Notes

  • Dietary Restrictions: As written, this Hawaiian macaroni salad recipe is naturally vegetarian and dairy-free. With a few quick and simple swaps, you can also make it…
    • Gluten-free macaroni salad: Simply swap the macaroni with your gluten-free pasta of choice. Be sure to cook according to package directions to achieve the perfect al dente bite. 
    • Vegan macaroni salad: Simply swap the mayonnaise with your favorite vegan mayonnaise. I’m a big fan of Sir Kensington’s Vegan Mayo, which is made with aquafaba (chickpea cooking liquid) and has seriously amazing flavor and texture. 
  • Make-Ahead and Storage: This Hawaiian mac salad is best served immediately upon dressing (see Meal Prep tips, below, for a better make-ahead plan), though leftovers will keep for up to 3 days. Store the leftover macaroni salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • 10-Minute Meal Prep: If you’d like to do a little prep in advance to help cut down on the active prep time when toss together your mac salad, go ahead and boil + season the pasta:
    • Boil the macaroni according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions, above. Toss rinsed and cooled pasta with grated carrot, sugar, and all listed spices. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. To serve, simply fold in the mayonnaise – easy! (10 minutes active prep)

Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by KJ & Company, Kate Poskochil

Follow along with Plays Well With Butter on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest for more unfussy recipes that pack a big punch of flavor!

Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

Topics

Sign up for our newsletter

Leave a Rating & Comment

Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments

  1. 5.7.24
    Carly said:

    Hi- born and raised in Hawaii. Had never added that type of seasoning to my mac salad and I really loved it. I wanted to comment on the Wasabi comment. There are a few restaurants on Oahu that added wasabi (places that served more japanese food) to theirs and it’s so good but it’s definitely not the norm. You will find this style at most plate lunch places.






    • 5.7.24
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Carly! Thank you so much for your kind review, and for the clarification on the comment about wasabi!

  2. 1.25.24
    Jk said:

    I’ve been looking for Hawaiian mac salad for a while. I used to live in Hawaii and I actually loved Zippy’s mac salad. Going to try this soon.

    • 1.29.24
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Make sure to let us know what you think!! 🙂

  3. 6.1.23
    Shawn said:

    I lived in Hawaii for over 13 years. I was so very lucky to have had many Aunties to show me the Hawaiian way of making & preparing foods the traditional Hawaiian way. I feel so blessed that they allowed me to pass these recipes on. When I retired some of my recipes were lost. I remembered the ingredients but not the amount. So when I saw this recipe I was overcome with joy. It’s the real traditional way of making macroni salad. Thank you so much for putting the true resipes on here. I literally gagged when I saw some resipes calling for milk, vinegar etc.. that’s not Hawaiian macroni salad.






    • 6.2.23
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Shawn, it means so much to us to hear this!! Thank you for your kind review and we’re so glad to hear you’ve enjoyed these recipes 🙂

  4. 5.14.23
    Deb said:

    Hummnnn u say it’s dairy free but real mayonnaise is not dairy free.

    • 5.14.23
      Deb said:

      Disregard I guess u mean milk free. I always consider eggs dairy.

      • 5.15.23

        Hi Deb – Eggs do not contain any dairy; they are poultry (even though they’re placed next to milk in the grocery store, they’re not a byproduct of a mammal or a derivative of any dairy-containing products). This recipe is dairy-free.

        Jess

  5. 3.29.23
    Paula Simms said:

    This was amazing. I actually refrigerated it for an hour or so just because dinner wasn’t ready yet, and the flavors blended very well. It was next to corn on my plate and it tasted great together.






    • 3.30.23
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Paula, thanks so much for your kind review! We’re so glad to hear you loved this salad!!

  6. 1.24.23
    Nancy said:

    I used to live in Hawaii and loved our plate lunches. But I’m curious, although your recipe sounds really good doesn’t authentic Hawaiian mac salad have wasabi in it?

    • 1.24.23

      Hi Nancy. That’s interesting – I’ve never seen wasabi used in mac salad, personally. This recipe is how my family enjoys it most, based on my mom’s mac salad (born & raised in Honolulu). Jess

  7. 7.11.22
    Felecia Buice said:

    This is one of the best macaroni salads I have ever had. So easy and delicious. I used rotini because it’s what I had on hand and it was great.






    • 7.12.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Thanks so much, Felecia! Rotini is a great swap & we are thrilled to hear you loved it as much as we do!!

  8. 7.9.22
    Whitney said:

    Couldn’t stop eating this right out of the bowl! This recipe is a winner!






    • 7.11.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Thank you, Whitney!! So glad you enjoyed! ☺️

  9. 7.6.22
    Ana said:

    I made this as a side for a BBQ because I wanted to try something different than what I normally make (Italian dressing/olive/artichoke number). This got rave reviews and people were asking for the recipe! I’m so happy I made a double batch — thank you for sharing this, Jess






    • 7.6.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Can’t go wrong with a double batch!! 😋 We’re so glad you enjoyed, Ana!

  10. 5.12.22
    Audra said:

    Made this tonight with some teriyaki meatballs and it was so delicious and simple to throw together after work! My toddler who is usually a little pasta averse (I know..) had 3 servings!

    • 5.13.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Audra! Thanks so much for sharing – so glad to hear that the whole family enjoyed. It is such a crowd pleaser!! 🙂

      • 9.9.22
        Dawna Dahlgren said:

        If you have Lawrys seasoning, how much would you use in this moms Mac salad recipe?

        • 9.10.22
          Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

          Hi Dawna! While Lawry’s does have a lot of similar spices as the ones called for in this recipe we’ve never tested it with Lawry’s & would recommend sticking with the ratios of individual spices listed in the recipe. If that’s what you have on hand, you can certainly use it but would likely change the overall flavor described in the post. It’d be best to start with a little bit & taste and adjust as you see fit. Let us know if you give it a try!