Experience Island Life with Salt Lake’s Vibrant Pacific Islander Community
While Salt Lake may be named after the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, it’s still landlocked. Yet Pacific Islanders—people who hail from Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia which includes places like Hawaii, Samoa, and Tahiti—have long made their homes within the state’s borders.
Native Hawaiians first made their way to Utah in the latter half of the 1800s, followed by Maori people from New Zealand, Samoans, Tongans, and others. Today, the state is home to one of the largest populations of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the country—outside of Hawaii, that is.
Utah celebrates this thriving community, which is primarily based in the Salt Lake area, each year during Pacific Island Heritage Month. But you don’t have to wait until August to experience the Pacific Islands’ cultural, creative, and food traditions. Here’s where to go when you want a taste of island life.
Mo’ Bettahs is all about “spreadin’ da aloha” through its build-your-own menu of meats and sauces, plus rice and macaroni salad. The plate lunch, as it’s known, was a common meal among the plantation workers who labored in the pineapple and sugarcane fields. Moki’s Hawaiian Grill offers a more extensive menu that also includes the plate lunch, as well as two delicious dishes the islands are known for: musubi (rice and Spam wrapped in dried seaweed) and the soft serve-esque Dole pineapple whip cone.
Seeking island barbecue? Head to the Salty Pineapple (which operates a brick-and-mortar spot and a food truck) for Kalua pork and coconut shrimp. Vegetarians will enjoy the two tofu options. Don’t leave without a slice of candy-hued guava cake.
Many local performers showcase their cultures and heritages on stages throughout the region. Tausala is a group of Samoan singers and dancers who sometimes perform as part of Mondays in the Park—free summer events at Liberty Park. Malialole Polynesian Music and Dance is both an art school and a performance ensemble. Catch many of these entertainers at the annual Living Traditions Festival, held every May in downtown Salt Lake City.
The Utah Pacific Island Film Series is the only mainland U.S. film program dedicated to the work of Pacific Islanders. The free screenings are held across the state, including at Salt Lake’s Utah Film Center.