A luau--or a lavish Hawaiian feast and celebration--offers a rich and varied buffet with a wide array of tropical dishes. To evoke an authentic Hawaii atmosphere, find inspiration from the same exotic foods and beverages that can be found at a genuine Pacific island luau.
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Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaiian cuisine has been influenced by Asia, the U.S. mainland and its Polynesian neighbors. But the food at luau revolve around native tropical ingredients grown on the island.
Most luau entrees include roast pork and fish, served with side dishes made with seaweed, purple potatoes and taro root. An abundance of tropical fruits are an absolute must for Hawaiian fare, so plan on using coconuts, papayas, bananas and pineapples. Other local ingredients are coffee, chocolate and Macadamia nuts.
A traditional luau revolves around a "kalua pork" that is made by roasting a pig in an underground oven, or imu, for several hours. If you're feeling ambitious enough to try this, look for online instructions from the Maui Culinary Academy (see Resources).
Chances are, you'll want a variation that doesn't require a whole pig and a huge pit. Pork butt or shoulder makes a good substitute, and there are several online recipes to prepare it in the slow-cooker or oven. For an authentic taste, however, you'll need banana leaves, which can also be found online.
Another traditional, but nearly impossible to replicate, dish is poi. This paste-like dish is made by cooking the corm of a taro plant, then mashing it with water. It's an acquired taste, but if you're committed to authenticity, poi can be ordered and shipped worldwide.
Lomi-lomi salmon is a salad, made with fresh tomatoes and raw salmon that has been salted and diced. It is served cold, or on crushed ice. Other tropical recipes, such as chicken luau, shrimp and pineapple kebabs, Macadamia-crusted Mahi-mahi and several others, will bring the island flavors home. Start the meal with a Pu Pu platter loaded with with Chinese-American appetizers, such as eggrolls and fried wontons. Epicurious, the Food Network and many other cooking sites offer recipes and extended menu ideas.
Fruits & Drinks
No luau would be complete without platters of tropical fruits. Bananas, pineapple, papayas, mangoes and coconut flavors can be used to enhance savory dishes. Coconut rice, for example, or pineapple-based marinades will lend an exotic flavor to the meal.
Fruit are also essential for classic Pacific island cocktails, such as Mai Tais, daiquiris and pina coladas. If you can find (and crack) enough coconut shells, use them to serve the drinks. Or try presenting them in a large punch bowl, surrounded by fresh fruit. And of course, no tropical cocktail is complete without a cocktail umbrella.