What Is Kalua Pig?

Kalua pig is one of the traditional foods found at every luau

Kalua pig is one of the traditional foods found at every luau

Among the succulent options of any Hawaiian luau is a shredded pork dish called kalua pig. Most luaus even have an elaborate ceremony surrounding its presentation. But what exactly is kalua pig? Read on for the history behind this signature Hawaiian dish.

Where did kalua pork come from? How did it become a staple of the luau? While you don’t need to know the history of the dish to enjoy its robust flavors, like just about everything in Hawaii, it has an interesting past that’s worth knowing.

Kamehameha II made the modern luau possible. He was a snappy dresser, too.

King Kamehameha II made the modern luau possible.

When it comes to the history of kalua pig, we have to take a long journey back in time, to the time when the earliest settlers were arriving in the Hawaiian Islands. Being the most remote island grouping in the world, Hawaii wasn’t yet home to a wide variety of wildlife until Polynesian travelers crossed the Pacific as early as 300 CE, bringing with them things like coconut palms, taro, and, as you probably guessed, pigs.

The place of pork on the local menu evolved over the years. For centuries, women were forbidden under the laws known as ai kapu to eat pork. These laws remained in effect until King Kamehameha II did away with them in 1819, finally allowing women to enjoy kalua pig, as well as coconut and bananas. Since kalua pig was one of many “forbidden dishes” served at this first modern luau, it has been a mainstay of these parties ever since.

So, What Makes It Kalua Pork?

Luau food including kalua pig

Kalua pig takes center stage on many luau plates

What is kalua, anyway? Simply put, the word means “(from the) pit,” so basically, any food that has been cooked in an underground oven called an imu is considered “kalua.” The most famous—and most popular at luaus—is kalua pig, but many other foods including fish and vegetables are also cooked in this way. Virtually all Hawaiian luaus stick to this traditional style of cooking a whole pig, and many turn the opening of the imu into a ceremony that kicks off the party.

From a delicacy forbidden to half the population to becoming a staple of the Hawaiian menu, kalua pig has gone through quite a journey.

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