Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

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This beloved recipe for Hawaiian Macaroni Salad, aka “mac salad,” has soft noodles, creamy dressing, and lots of shredded carrots. It’s perfect for a plate lunch, luaus, and barbecues.

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad being scooped out of a blue serving dish.


 

Hawaiian Plate Lunch is based on the Japanese bento box: serving inexpensive food in separate compartments. Plate lunches were first served in the late 1800s, feeding immigrant workers in sugar cane and pineapple fields.

Workers from Portugal, the Philippines, Japan, China, and Korea all brought their culture to Hawaii, so the lunch plate is a true multi-cultural experience.

These days: plate lunch is usually 3 components (these are examples but not a comprehensive list):

  1. Meat entrée: Pork Katsu, Kalua pork, a hamburger patty topped with a fried egg, Chinese-style pork, or salmon teriyaki. If you have more than one entrée, it’s often called a mixed plate.
  2. White rice: Two scoops, and leftover cooked rice is just fine.
  3. Hawaiian mac salad: Added later, when food trucks and roadside stands started selling plate lunches to the masses.

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for Hawaiian macaroni salad.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Apple cider vinegar: Adding cider vinegar to the cooked noodles to make them more absorbent so they hold the flavors of the dressing better. If you don’t love vinegar or feel unsure, omit completely or start with 1 tablespoon. Rice wine vinegar can also be used.
  • Scallions: One white or yellow onion, grated on a box grater, may be substituted for the scallions.

Step-by-step instructions

  1. In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Stir in macaroni noodles and cook until very soft (not al dente), about 15 minutes, stirring often. Drain well, transfer to a large bowl, and stir in apple cider vinegar. Cool at least 10 minutes.
Cooked macaroni pasta in a clear bowl.
  1. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together milk, mayonnaise, brown sugar, and salt and pepper to taste (I like ½ teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons pepper). Pour over cooled noodles and stir until evenly coated.
Cream being poured onto cooked macaroni pasta in a clear bowl.
  1. Fold in scallions, carrots, and celery and stir to combine.
Hawaiian macaroni salad ingredients being mixed together in a clear bowl.
  1. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour. 
Hawaiian macaroni salad in a blue serving dish.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This recipe makes 12 (1-cup) servings.
  • Storage: Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Make ahead: Make this macaroni salad 1 day in advance. Stir to recombine before serving.
  • Dry: If the pasta salad seems dry, stir in warm water, 1 tablespoon spoon at a time, to loosen.
  • More mix-ins: Some cooks swear by adding green olives, chopped hard-boiled egg, finely chopped boiled potatoes, watercress, pickle relish, frozen peas, or even canned tuna. You could even add a protein like leftover chicken or ham (it’s not traditional, but it would taste DELICIOUS!).
  • More sides: Fill out your BBQ menu with potato salad, broccoli salad, or even a fresh garden salad.
  • Tropical Party: I wanted to create a Tropical Party menu, and I knew it wouldn’t be complete with Hawaiian Macaroni Salad. Coconut Shrimp and Pineapple Salsa are great snack options on the theme. Classic Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is a fun, retro dessert choice. For cocktails, a Blue Hawaiian is a frosty blended drink that looks just like the ocean(but a Mai Tai or Piña Colada would be great, too!).
A table setting for a tropical party.
Tropical party menu with Hawaiian Macaroni Salad, Coconut Shrimp, Pineapple Salsa, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, and Blue Hawaiian cocktails.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best mayonnaise?

This is a deeply personal question, and it really depends on who you ask. Some people love the Hellmann/Best Foods mayonnaise (the brand changes depending on which side of the Rocky Mountains you reside). Folks in the South may love their Duke’s real mayo. I have a lot of family members in the Midwest who will only eat Miracle Whip. Mayo plays a starring role in this side dish, so you should use whichever you love!

More recipes to try

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Hawaiian macaroni salad in a blue serving dish.

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

This beloved recipe for Hawaiian Macaroni Salad, aka "mac salad," has soft noodles, creamy dressing, and lots of shredded carrots. It's perfect for a plate lunch, a luau, or a barbecue. 
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Chilling time 1 hour
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 12 servings (1 cup each)
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Calories 430
4.70 from 26 votes

Ingredients 

Instructions 

  • 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. Drain well, transfer to a large bowl, and stir in vinegar. Cool at least 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together milk, mayonnaise, brown sugar, and salt and pepper to taste (I like ½ teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons pepper). Pour over cooled noodles and stir until evenly coated.
  • Fold in scallions, carrots, and celery and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour. 

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Apple cider vinegar: Adding cider vinegar to the cooked noodles to make them more absorbent so they hold the flavors of the dressing better. If you don’t love vinegar or feel unsure, omit completely or start with 1 tablespoon. Rice wine vinegar can also be used.
  2. Scallions: One white or yellow onion, grated on a box grater, may be substituted for the scallions.
  3. Yield: This recipe makes 12 (1-cup) servings.
  4. Storage: Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  5. Make ahead: Make this macaroni salad 1 day in advance. Stir to recombine before serving.
  6. Dry: If the pasta salad seems dry, stir in warm water, 1 tablespoon spoon at a time, to loosen.
  7. More mix-ins: Some cooks swear by adding green olives, chopped hard-boiled egg, finely chopped boiled potatoes, watercress, pickle relish, frozen peas, or even canned tuna.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 430kcalCarbohydrates: 33gProtein: 7gFat: 30gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 20mgSodium: 266mgPotassium: 199mgFiber: 2gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 1831IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 65mgIron: 1mg
Did you make this recipe?Tag @culinaryhill on Instagram so we can admire your masterpiece! #culinaryhill
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Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.

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Comments

  1. I was concerned about the vinegar so I appreciated the suggestion to substitute a lesser amount of rice wine vinegar – I used 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar and followed everything else as written and it was great!! I’m not a fan of the bite of raw onion or an overly-dressed soupy mac salad so the use of scallions and the amount and consistency (after refrigeration) of the dressing in this recipe really hit the marks for my liking.

  2. please do not call it Hawaiian macaroni salad if you have apple cider vinegar,milk and sugar in it. being born and raised in Hawaii and learned from the best chefs and kapunas(elderly) never has anyone used these 3 ingredients. call it macaroni salad but not Hawaiian please. if you ever went to a party in Hawaii and made that salad i guarantee you , after people try it they will not come back for seconds.

    1. Hi Jimmy, thank you for taking the time to write feedback on this recipe. What would you recommend we use instead of vinegar, milk, and sugar? If we omit them from this salad, we would just be left with noodles, scallions, mayo, carrots, and celery. Thank you again, I appreciate it. – Meggan

  3. 5 star, original Hawaiian macaroni salad. Perfect amounts of ingredients, just didn’t see any onion in the recipe so I added a half a yellow onion grated. Perfectly delicious and the real deal!5 stars

  4. I made your recipe exactly as you wrote it. My mix-ins were carrot, green onions, vidalia onion, red bell pepper and cilantro. I found the flavors of the salad to be spot on in terms of how a Hawaiian macaroni Salad should be! All the flavors were well balanced…perfect proportions of sweet, sour, and salty. Others commented on the vinegar being overwhelming, but I thought it was the ideal amount to counter the creamy fatty dressing. Thanks for sharing this gem of a recipe that’s going to be in heavy rotation in my kitchen. Tonight’s dinner guests are in for a treat with grilled Huli-Huli chicken and your salad!5 stars

  5. My best friend is from Hawaii, and makes Hawaiian Macaroni Salad to bring to cookouts often. In Hawaii, they use plain old Hellman’s mayo & scallions to make this salad, not Kewpi mayo or red onions.

  6. Scrumptious Macaroni Salad! The folks who said that it was “too this” or “too that”, need to know that is recipe is EXACTLY as its made in Hawaii. They should go ahead and make macaroni salad THEIR way, but don’t call it “Hawaiian Macaroni Salad”, unless they follow this particular recipe.5 stars

  7. Delicious, additionto our holiday party dinner!
    I used Kewpie mayonnaise (found in Asian market)
    Whole non homogenized milk (cream separates from milk, needs a good shake)
    Finely finely finely diced red onion. (Diced to the point of almost being grated)

    I saved a bit of the extra milk/Mayo to loosen the Mac before serving. Went great with the smoked kalua pork (6 hours in the smoker, wrapped up in banana leaves. Then finished in the oven. That’s another review)

    Thanks for a great recipe5 stars

    1. 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! 😀 -Meggan

  8. 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!5 stars

  9. 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.5 stars

  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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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!5 stars

    2. 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. 😀 Also, Moana is my favorite Disney movie ever. FYI. Take care and thanks again! -Meggan

  11. 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 5 stars

  12. 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.5 stars

  13. 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😊5 stars

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

    Thank you!5 stars

  15. 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! 5 stars

    1. 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.

  16. 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!5 stars

  17. 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.5 stars

    1. 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!

  18. 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.