Historic Luau Taro Traditional Luau

History and Hawai'ian Food Traditions

History of the Luau In ancient Hawaii, men and woman ate their meals apart. Commoners and women of all ranks were also forbidden by the ancient Hawaiian religion to eat certain delicacies. This all changed in 1819, when King Kamehameha II abolished the traditional religious practices. A feast, where the King ate with women, was the symbolic act which ended the Hawaiian religious taboos, and so the luau came to be.

The favorite dish at these feasts is what gave the luau its name. Young and tender leaves of the taro plant were combined with chicken, baked in coconut milk and called lau lau.

The traditional luau feast was eaten on the ground. Lauhala mats were presented and a beautiful centerpiece made of ti leaves, ferns and native flowers around three feet wide was laid along the mat. Bowls filled with poi, commonplace in the Hawaiian diet created from pounded taro root, and platters of meat were set out and dry foods like sweet potatoes, salt, dried fish or meat covered in leaves were laid directly on the clean ti leaves.

Much to the consternation within the proper Victorian visitors, utensils were not used at all for a luau; instead everything was eaten with the fingers. Poi of various consistencies got its name from the quantity of fingers needed to eat it… three finger, two finger, or the thickest, one finger poi.

A guest at King Kalakaua’s coronation luau in 1883 described the lavish decorations usual for the traditional luau, “Tables were draped with white, but the entire tops were covered with ferns and leaves massed together so as almost to make a tablecloth of themselves; quantities of flowers were placed about mingling with the ferns… The natives had turned out in great numbers, and the scent associated with leis of flowers and maile leaves was almost overpowering.”

These royal luaus were rather big. Among the largest that has ever been hosted was by Kamehameha III in 1847. The list of foods prepared included: 271 hogs, 482 large calabashes of poi, 3,125 salt fish, 1,820 fresh fish, 2,245 coconuts, 4,000 taro plants and numerous other delicacies. King Kalakaua, who was referred to as the “Merry Monarch” for his love of parties and dance, invited over 1500 guests to his 50th birthday luau. These folks were fed in shifts of 500!

Luaus today usually are not as huge as those hosted by Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s, but they’re a lot of fun and have the same traditional foods… and utensils are allowed.

Foods Commonly Served at a Luau

Haupia is a coconut pudding.
Kaulolo is a taro pudding.
Laulau are bundles of meat and fish wrapped in tea leaves.
Liliko’i is a passion fruit. The juice is often used in the preparation of sauces and desserts.
Lomi Lomi is a salad of tomatoes, onions, chili peppers and salted fish, usually salmon.
Papaya is a widely available fruit.
Pineapple is a widely available fruit.
Poi consists of taro roots cooked and smashed into a paste. It’s very popular in Hawaii to simply buy poi already prepared – often in a can.
Poke is chopped raw fish (often skipjack or yellowfin tuna) sprinkled with Hawaiian salt, ground kukui nuts and limu (seaweed).

Waikiki Meatballs

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
2/3 cup cracker crumbs
1/3 cup minced onion
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp. shortening
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 can (13 1/2oz) pineapple tidbits, drained-reserve syrup
1/3 cup vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/3 cup chopped green pepper

Mix thoroughly beef, crumbs, onion, egg, salt, ginger, & milk. Shape mixture by rounded tablespoonfuls into balls. *Melt shortening in large skillet; broun and cook meatballs, remove balls; keep warm. Pour fat from skillet. Mix cornstarch and sugar. Stir in reserved pineapple syrup, vinegar ans soy sauce until smooth. Pour into skillet cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute. Add balls, pineapple and green pepper. Note: I cook my meatballs on a cookie sheet for about a half hour. I then put them in a crockpot and pour the pineapple syrup mixture over the meatballs. Add the green pepper. Cook on low.

This recipe was originally published on this page.

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