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What you need to know before attending your first Hawaiian luau

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If you’re visiting Hawaii for the first time, you need to attend a luau. Besides being a fun night to remember, luaus are a great way for visitors to experience a variety of Hawaiian and Polynesian entertainment as well as sample some delicious Hawaiian and local foods!

Traditionally, the Hawaiian word ‘luau’ means the leaves of the young taro plant, which were used in dishes with coconut milk and chicken, squid, or octopus to make a delicious Hawaiian dish, also referred to as luau.

In the 1800s, the word started being used to refer to a feast with food and dance.

Today, luaus are held as community gatherings and as entertainment and a traditional greeting or celebration for visitors.

Luau Food

There isn’t a fixed menu that every luau conforms to, but there are a few dishes you can expect to find at any luau:

  • Kalua pig – roast pulled pork traditionally cooked in an imu, or underground oven, but can also be cooked above ground. The flavor of kalua pig comes from salt, smoke, and the pig’s own juices.

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  • Poi – a porridge made of taro. Poi is traditionally prepared by pounding taro root with water. Fresh poi can be sweet, but becomes sour and thick if kept longer than a day.
  • Poke – seasoned fish served uncooked. While initially off-putting, poke is a common local dish. Most often ahi (tuna) is seasoned with onion, shoyu (soy sauce), or spicy sauce.

poke

  • Sweet potato – Usually steamed or roasted in an imu. Can be yellow/orange or purple in color.
  • Laulau – pork, chicken, or fish wrapped in luau leaves. Can be cooked in an imu or steamed.
  • Lomi salmon – a tomato and salmon salad, served cold.

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  • Haupia – a dessert made with coconut milk; consistency can be like jello or thick pudding.
  • Kulolo – a dessert made of taro and coconut. While considered a pudding, kulolo mostly resembles fudge, with a caramel-like flavor that may be smoky if cooked in an imu.

Besides the above, luaus will most likely serve local favorites such as fried rice and beef or vegetable curry, and may also have more traditional buffet fare such as salads, bread, chicken, and prime rib.

Luau Entertainment

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It isn’t a party without music, and a luau is a party like no other.

Luaus will typically have live music throughout, with dancing acts beginning halfway through the night.

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These acts include Hawaiian hula of traditional and contemporary styles, as well as other Polynesian traditional performances such as Tahitian hula and Samoan fire knife dancing.

Whether you’re interested in Hawaiian food & dance or just want a fun night with dinner & a show, attending a luau is something every visitor to Hawaii needs to do at least once.

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Some, like the Waikiki Starlight Luau, even encourage audience participation!

There’s no better way to experience authentic Hawaiian traditional food and dance during your visit, regardless of which island you’ll be staying on.

Luaus are held in many places across the islands, so there’s bound to be one happening near you on any night of your stay.

Check out the following popular luaus:

Oahu

Aha Aina Luau is held at Waikiki Beach, Polynesian Cultural Center holds nightly luaus in Laie on the North Shore, while Paradise Cove is held at Ko Olina Resort for those staying on the West Side.

Maui

Old Lahaina Luau in Lahaina is Maui’s most popular luau. Other awesome luaus are the Royal Lahaina Luau held on Kaanapali Beach and Te Au Moana in Wailea on the South Side of Maui.

Big Island

The Big Island’s biggest luaus are Legends of Hawaii held in Waikoloa and the Island Breeze Luau in Kailua-Kona.

Kauai

The two biggest luaus on the Garden Isle are Smith’s Tropical Paradise held along the beautiful Wailua River and Luau Kalamaku in Lihue.

 

Have you been to a luau before? Are you planning to attend a luau and have other questions? We’ll be happy to answer them in the comments!

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