Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

January 27, 2020 (Last Updated: March 9, 2020)
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Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is a staple in a Hawaiian plate lunch. This classic side dish features elbow macaroni smothered in a mayonnaise dressing with grated carrot and onion. It’s the perfect tangy and creamy counterpart to any meal.

Macaroni salad made with elbow macaroni and grated carrot, serving in a decorative glass bowl

A trip to Hawaii sounds really amazing right now! In lieu of a plane ticket, harness the flavors of Hawaii through a simple recipe for an island classic. I’m not referring to Kalua pork or tuna poke, although you can serve this recipe alongside either of those if you’d like. Surprisingly Hawaiian macaroni salad, or mac salad, is perhaps as ubiquitous on the islands as pineapples. You can easily create this recipe in place of any macaroni salad. It’s fantastic with burgers or ribs. It’s great for picnics and potlucks.

You can also include this fantastically simple Hawaiian mac salad in a classic plate lunch. This terminology refers to a plated meal consisting of a serving of protein, steamed rice, and mayo-based salad. This can include macaroni (or mac) salad, potato mac salad or even tuna mac salad. Make your own classic Hawaiian plate lunch by pairing this easy Hawaiian mac salad with another standby: Loco Moco.

Loco Moco (white rice topped with burger patty, gravy, and fried egg) with a scoop of macaroni salad on the side

What is Hawaiian Macaroni Salad?

There are similarities between Hawaiian mac salad and other American macaroni salads. A few specifics set the Hawaiian version apart from all the rest. First of all, you absolutely must use Best Foods or Hellman’s brand mayonnaise for the dressing. These are the only brands of mayo that are used in this dish. They are technically the same brand, but have different names depending on the US region where you purchase them. A few other ingredients in the dressing include apple cider vinegar for acidity, a touch of sugar for sweetness, and a little milk. There are few ingredients in this salad in addition to the pasta, and mayonnaise-based dressing. Grated carrot and onion make up the remainder of the ingredients list.

A large metal mixing bowl with elbow macaroni and grated carrot next to a small metal mixing bowl with a mayonnaise-based dressing

From my understanding locals tend to overcook their macaroni, so the noodles are soft and fat. I have made this macaroni salad multiple times, trying it with both al dente and more tender macaroni. Both are good. This is a situation where the chef can make the choice on how long to cook the noodles. Err on the longer side for a more traditional textured mac. Again, there are many different variations to the basic salad, but this is a good starting point. In my experience most recipes stick to the basics with a few tweaks here and there.

The serving size for this recipe is based on an ice cream scoop of salad per plate. You can even halve the quantity in the recipe below (I have), and it was still plentiful. If you desire more macaroni per person, make the full recipe, or even double it for a party or potluck.

Close up of a forkful of Hawaiian macaroni salad

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Overhead view of a bowl of Hawaiian macaroni salad with grated carrot, served in a decorative glass bowl.

What’s your favorite way to make macaroni salad? Have you ever tried the Hawaiian version? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and don’t forget to rate this recipe. Thanks!

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is a staple in a Hawaiian plate lunch. This classic side dish features elbow macaroni smothered in a mayonnaise dressing with grated carrot and onion. It's the perfect tangy and creamy counterpart to any meal.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Resting Time1 hr 10 mins
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Hawaiian
Keyword: pasta recipes, pasta salad recipes
Servings: 6 to 8 servings
Calories: 443kcal
Author: Victoria


  • 8 ounces dry elbow macaroni
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 carrot peeled and grated
  • 2 tablespoons grated onion it will be liquidy
  • 1 1/4 cups Best Foods or Hellman’s mayonnaise (I use Light Hellman's–same great taste, less calories!)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni according to package directions (see notes). Drain and transfer to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the apple cider vinegar over the top, add the carrot and onion, stir, and let it cool slightly, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, milk, and sugar. Stir the mayonnaise mixture into the macaroni, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. Gently stir before serving, and if needed thin it out with a teaspoon or two of milk or a little more mayo.

Notes & Nutrition

The locals tend to overcook the pasta until it’s soft and fat. I prefer to cook until tender but not really overcooked. This is a matter of personal preference.
Servings 6.0 * calories 443 * Total Fat 34 g * Saturated Fat 5 g * Monounsaturated Fat 8 g * Polyunsaturated Fat 20 g * Trans Fat 0 g * Cholesterol 17 mg * Sodium 306 mg * Potassium 112 mg * Total Carbohydrate 30 g * Dietary Fiber 2 g * Sugars 2 g * Protein 5 g
*All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.*

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Photo collage: top photo is close up of forkful of macaroni salad. Bottom photo is macaroni salad in a decorative glass bowl.

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