Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

Authentic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad has soft noodles, creamy dressing, and lots of shredded carrots. It’s also a crucial component of Hawaii’s “plate lunch.” 

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is a somewhat specific, non-tropical pasta salad featured heavily at parties, potlucks, and restaurants all over the islands of Hawaii.

If you were expecting pineapple and coconut, you’ll be sorely disappointed! But who wants coconut in pasta salad anyway?

Everyone is different when it comes to vinegar, but I just want you to have a dish that you’ll make again and again, because you love it so much. (You’ll see in the comments that some readers find the original recipe way too vinegary, while others think it’s just perfect!)

Authentic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad has soft noodles, creamy dressing, and lots of shredded carrots. It's also a crucial component of Hawaii's "plate lunch."

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is one third of a traditional meal known as a “plate lunch.” Similar to the way a bento box has standard components, a plate lunch has a meat entree, two scoops of sticky rice, and a spoonful of this creamy, luscious macaroni salad. Sounds like lunch to me!

First, the noodles. Cook your macaroni to the point of overcooking it. The noodles should be soft, fat, and ready to soak up lots of sauce.

To get a vinegar bite without curdling the dressing, add vinegar straight to the noodles while they are still hot.

Authentic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad has soft noodles, creamy dressing, and lots of shredded carrots. It's also a crucial component of Hawaii's "plate lunch."

Second, the sauce. Thick and creamy, use full-fat milk and mayonnaise, and lots of it. If you find your dressing dries out before serving time, you can stir in small amounts of warm water to loosen the overall consistency.

Last, the vegetables. Shredded carrots are crucial. Celery and scallions are common but not required. They add a pretty green color and plenty of crunch.

Make this for your next birthday party or barbecue! Or, if you like your Macaroni Salad a little more traditional, try my favorite version.

Authentic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad has soft noodles, creamy dressing, and lots of shredded carrots. It's also a crucial component of Hawaii's "plate lunch."
4.42 from 12 votes
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Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

Authentic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad has soft noodles, creamy dressing, and lots of shredded carrots. It's also a crucial component of Hawaii's "plate lunch."

Course Salad
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Chilling time 1 hour
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 10 servings
Calories 444 kcal

Ingredients

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar (see notes)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped

Instructions

  1. In a large stockpot, bring 4 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil, Stir in pasta and cook until very soft, about 15 minutes, stirring often. 

  2. Drain well, transfer to a large bowl, and stir in vinegar. Cool at least 10 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together milk, mayonnaise, brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper. Pour over cooled noodles and stir until evenly coated.

  4. Fold in scallions, carrots, and celery and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour. 

Recipe Notes

  1. I love the vinegar flavor in this recipe. I personally think it tastes great. BUT. If you think 1/2 cup vinegar sounds like too much, feel free to use less. Perhaps add 1 tablespoon at a time. A couple of readers have suggested this had way too much vinegar and they were disappointed. I want you to love the recipe!
  2. If the pasta salad seems dry, stir in warm water, one tablespoon at a time, to loosen.
  3. Adapted from Best Potluck Recipes.

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21 comments


  1. Thanks for this recipe. There is a teriyaki grill near my daughters home, and they serve this salad. We love it. It’s amazing how such simple ingredients combine to make something really delicious.

    • That’s so great to hear, Mimi! I appreciate your kind words. I love how easy this is. The one I always used to make has a million mix-ins – ham, bacon, broccoli, carrots, peppers, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, plus all this stuff. It’s just exhausting after a while! But you can throw this one together in a flash. Thanks again for reading!


  2. This is certainly the kind that would be served on plate lunches, as is a good all-purpose recipe. I just wanted to add, however, that there is also a more substantial recipe that is sometimes found at potlucks and that kind of thing. I first had it when my Filipino roommate made it. It had the basic ingredients, plus chopped ham, chicken and pineapple. I’ve made it many, many times, although I don’t usually add chicken. The pineapple tidbits work the best, although sometimes I just cut up the chunks. I use it more as a main dish, with a green salad, maybe a cooked vegetable, and Asian style rice. My high school, in Hawaii, Waipahu, served a more basic macaroni salad, on a bed of raw watercress, with a few side dishes, for lunch, quite often, and it was one of my favorites!


  3. This is one of my favorite salads. My family is vegan so we adjusted the recipe a little to fit our needs but it still turned out delicious! 

    • That’s awesome Nicole! What are the vegan adjustments? Did you just use vegan mayo? I’d love to know. Thank you so much for the comment! Take care.


  4. I made this today, followed the recipe, I think, but I doubled everything. It turned out REALLY vinegary. I used apple cider vinegar. I did use big macaroni noodles instead of small, and didn’t end up putting the vegetables in because it was so bad, and I figured inns probably have to throw it away anyway.

    Is it supposed to be vinegary? I checked quantities a lot, so I don’t think I put too much un, but I can’t figure out what I did wrong.

    • Hi Megan, I’m sorry to hear that. I am guessing it is the noodle size that messed things up, perhaps they didn’t absorb the vinegar as well as the small noodles would. If I try to visualize it in my head, the large noodles would have a lot more space between them, would not lay in the bowl as well, and therefore might not have the surface area with the vinegar. It might be a pile of noodles sitting in the bowl, all the way to the top, the vinegar pooling in the bottom and not coming in to contact with them. This is just speculation of course, maybe all the apple cider vinegar was absorbed because you stirred it often. If you didn’t add the vegetables, that might have changed the flavor too or balanced it out.


  5. I just tried your receipe and it was exactly like the local Hawaiian Grill that I was trying to replicate!!!

    Thank you!


  6. We just got back from Hawaii and absolutely love the Mac salad in their plate lunches. Wanted to hopefully duplicate it so we could continue to enjoy it and came across this recipe. Well I just have to say this recipe definitely hits the nail on the head for an authentic Hawaiian Mac salad!!! Thank you so much Meggan! This recipe is a keeper!!! I’m going to try some of your other recipes too😊


  7. Just a tip. One thing I was taught in Hawaii is to grate an onion. The smallest setting so it is the same consistency as applesauce. It is the bomb! I was told a very popular restaurant known for their mac salad in Hawaii did this.


  8. I just made this tonight to go with our smoked rib dinner and it was a hit! It tastes exactly like the Hawaiian restaurant around the corner and I love it!!! Thanks so much 

  9. Wondering if I can make this a day in advance?


    • I made this for my daughter’s Moana party a few days after asking this question… I made it a day in advance and it turned out fantastic!! I was a little apprehensive because my husband is Hawaiian (and doesn’t actually like Mac salad). Not only did this taste similar to what we have had with plate lunch, my husband actually thought it was delicious!

    • Thank you so much for this comment, Andrea! In case you read any of the other comments, this recipe tends to be quite polarizing – people either love it or hate it. So this makes my day! I’m glad you liked it and your husband liked it too – I’m amazed. :D Also, Moana is my favorite Disney movie ever. FYI. Take care and thanks again! -Meggan

  10. I just made it, and it was way too vinegary. Is there a way to cut down the vinegar flavor in a batch that is already made? I made a half recipe.

    • Hi Debra, I would try adding more mayonnaise and sugar (you could try some white sugar instead of the brown) and maybe just a pinch of salt or so. I’m sorry you didn’t like it with all the vinegar! I feel like this recipe is really polarizing. Some people love it, some people hate it.


  11. I did half the vinegar consistency to 1/4c as some of the reviews stated that it’s too vinegary. I never really liked macaroni salads that are too sour, but after decreasing vinegar amount, it worked out well; my family loved it. Although next time I’ll try to cut it a tad bit more. Otherwise, it’s really good esp paired with Kalua pork and steamed cabbage. Thanks for sharing your recipe.


  12. This is the second time I’ve used this recipe. It was way too watery the first time. The second time I cut the milk to about 1/4 what is stated. Other than that it’s great as an authentic Hawaiian Mac salad. Thanks!


  13. Good, but way too much vinegar in the recipe.  Next time I will cut that in half. 

    • Hi Jennifer, after reading your comment about the amount of vinegar in the recipe (along with a few others that had concerns), I had to get down to the bottom of it and retest the recipe myself. I retested it with 50% vinegar, 75% vinegar, and 100% vinegar. I must admit, I like the 75% vinegar the best, if eaten IMMEDIATELY. However, If the recipe followed exactly and refrigerated for at least an hour, I like my original recipe the best. But, you should note that salt and vinegar chips are some of my FAVORITES, so I would say if you like things with a vinegar taste, do the full amount. If you don’t, you should definitely cut it down! I have updated the recipe notes to let others know about the vinegar. Thanks for your thoughts on this, it definitely helps others make the tastiest salad! :D -Meggan

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