Traditional Polynesian Luau Foods
Whether you’re an adventurous eater or a bit more finicky, you probably want to know what it is you’re about to put in your mouth. It’s not always self-explanatory when you look at a menu in an authentic Hawaiian restaurant. Dining locally in Hawaii will expose your palate to new flavors, and one place where this is especially true is at a luau.
Though modern luaus are quite a bit different from their ancient forerunners, one thing that hasn’t changed is the sizable feast spread out in front of you. And part of that feast, then and now? Dishes like poi, laulau, and lomi-lomi.
Sound appetizing? If you understand the menu, seeing these dishes would make your mouth water, so before you head out to enjoy some authentic Hawaiian food and entertainment, let’s some of the foods you may find at a luau.
Many traditional luau foods are cooked in an imu, or underground oven. A pit is lined with blazing hot lava rocks. Food is wrapped in taro or banana leaves and buried in the oven to steam and roast for several hours.
When it comes to the luau buffet, kalua pig is one of the most common items you’ll find. Kalua pig is incredibly tender due to it long roasting in the imu. The pig is placed in the oven dug into the earth and covered in banana leaves to help it steam. The slow cook, the moisture from the pig, and the steam from cooking all blend together to create a succulent dish that simply melts in your mouth. You’ve never had pulled pork like this before. We promise.
In the imu, along with kalua pig, you often find laulau. This is a traditional dish of salted fish, sometimes with pork or chicken, and vegetables wrapped with taro leaves and steamed in the imu in ti leaves. Another name for taro leaves is luau, which is where the feast gets its name.
You may may not have thought that the starchy root of the taro plant would make for a very good dessert, but it really does. To create it, grated taro is mixed with coconut flesh or milk and sometimes sweetened with brown sugar. Baked for hours in the imu, it becomes dense and delicious.
A popular dish not just at luaus but in most Hawaiian households, poi is a delicious, starchy side served with fish and other rich foods. Taro root is steamed and then pounded into a thick, pudding-like consistency. The flavor comes from the lightly-fermented taro, which has quite a bit more starch than typical potatoes.
Although poi is a Hawaiian staple, its consistency can be a bit off-putting for some. Give it a try, you just might come to love it as much as the locals do.
A luau isn’t complete without something from the sea. Lomi-lomi (“massaged”) salmon is a popular side dish made from salmon cured with salt, tomatoes, and onions. The fat and salt of the fish are balanced by the contrasting flavors of the sweet onion and tomato.
Raw fish is common in Asian cuisine, and this dish is inspired by the classic Japanese sashimi. Where sashimi is sliced thin, poke is served in cubes. Yellowfin tuna (ahi), salmon, and even tofu common poke ingredients.
There are many different types of poke, from spicy to something a little sweeter. Luau buffets often offer shoyu poke, which is prepared with soy sauce, sea salt, and sweet Maui onions. Limu, a type of seaweed from the Pacific, is also added for a burst of marine flavor.
Polynesians have found many delicious uses for the coconut. One popular luau treat made from this tropical staple is haupia, a deceptively simple mix of coconut milk, water, arrowroot or cornstarch, and sugar.