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Hawaiian Luau

Luau…a Hawaiian-style buffet!

One of the favorite activities for locals and visitors alike is eating and nothing defines Hawaiian food more than a luau!

Hawaii is famous for its “luaus”, a Hawaiian style buffet of foods featuring an imu(pit)-cooked pig.  This “kalua pig” is made by first digging a hole in the ground, approximately 6-7′ across and about 3′ deep.  This pit is then lined with smooth lava rocks and as much firewood as it will hold.

The idea is for the fire to heat up the rocks, which will provide most of the heat to cook the pig.  Chicken wire is most commonly used to wrap the pig in and to hold it together after it is cooked.  The pig is cleaned and liberally salted with Hawaiian salt.  The open cavity and slits which are cut at each leg joint have hot rocks stuck into them.

Directly on top of the coals are placed banana stumps, which have been split down the middle, and lots and lots of ti-leaves.  Both of these provide added moisture, as well as adding a smokey smell to the cooked pork.  The pig is placed on top of this layer of stumps and leaves, covered by more ti-leaves, then its all covered with wet burlap bags to help keep the smoke in and the dirt out.  More recently, plastic tarps have been used, as burlap bags get harder and harder to obtain.  Yes, the final step is to bury the whole pile with dirt until there is no more steam escaping from this earthen oven.

Now, all that’s left is the waiting…usually about 8 to 10-hours, depending on the size of the pig.  Once its determined to be cooked, the process is reversed and the pig lifted using the chicken wire cradle to transport it to where ever the final breaking up and serving will be done.  (The best pieces are the crispy bits of skin that are stuck to the chicken wire!)

That’s the traditional kalua pig.  Today, most of the kalua pig served at restaurants throughout the state are prepared in commercial sized ovens.   Still flavored with Hawaiian salt and lots of ti-leaves for that smoky flavor expected from kalua pig.

If you can get your hands on ti-leaves, you can make your own oven kalua pig…see the recipe section for the recipe.

Of course, the kalua pig is just the main course served at a luau.  You will typically also get chicken long-rice (not sure just how this Chinese dish came to be a staple at a Hawaiian luau, but…), fried chicken (always a good fall back for picky eaters), rice, macaroni salad (of course), poi, lomi-salmon or ahi, and the usual salad spread.

Dessert is often headlined with haupia (a coconut pudding) and a variety of cakes.  Drinks are often included with the luau, although, if you go to the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center, these will be non-alcoholic drinks, as the PCC is both sponsored and operated by the Mormon Church of Hawaii.

Oahu Favorite Luaus

Probably the best luau and accompanying show on Oahu is the one held at the Polynesian Cultural Center.  The next best, especially for those desiring alcoholic beverages and/or an audience participation type show, would be a toss up between Germaine’s and Paradise Cove, both located near the Ko Olina Resort on the west shores of Oahu.

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