Food and Fun the Hawaiian Way
A lu‘au is a celebration of legendary cultural caliber. Attending this event provides an all-inclusive opportunity to feast on traditional food and delight in ancient.
These festive occasions have evolved over the past two centuries. Historically, strict rules were enforced and certain activities and food were kapu (forbidden) to everyone except ali‘i (royalty). Men and women dined separately and only members of the Hawaiian monarchy could feast on food such as kalua pork and bananas. The affairs were referred to as ‘aha‘aina or “meal gathering” and honored milestones, including war victories or canoe launchings.
Rules became more lenient after King Kamehameha II came into power. By the time King Kalakaua governed the Hawaiian Islands in the late 1800s, lu‘au was synonymous for food and fun. Kalakaua, also known as the “Merrie Monarch,” incorporated Hawaiian entertainment with the elaborate feasts and, while a lu‘au today might not fall under the same lavish category, it follows a similar model. Moreover, past traditions like sitting on the ground on woven hala leaves and eating with fingers gave way to dining with silverware on tables adorned with ti leaves and flowers.
Kama‘aina (Hawai‘i residents) hold lu‘au to commemorate special events like a baby’s first birthday or a high school graduation. Unless you know someone in Hawai‘i, however, you’ll more likely have to book a reservation with one of the many companies, including hotels, that offer these magical soirées.
Waikiki Starlight Lu‘au provides the perfect example of a South Pacific lu‘au. It’s held on a rooftop at the Hilton Hawaiian Village so you don’t have to drive an hour outside of the city to experience this open-air celebration. The gorgeous venue offers a bountiful buffet, as well as a mini one for keiki (children). An ample selection of local food is available to appease all diets, such as huli huli chicken, local greens, lomi lomi salmon made with diced onions and tomatoes, and haupia (coconut custard). This is also your chance to try poi made by pounding taro root into a paste thinned with water to create a pudding-like consistency.
Service of food at a lu‘au typically begins with a ceremony in which a pig that was cooked in an imu (underground oven) with hot coals is unearthed. This won’t be the case here but the kalua pork that is provided for tasting is just as juicy and offers insight into the ancient techniques of Hawaiian food preparation.
Executive banquet chef Joseph “JJ” Reinhart enjoys preparing the kalua pork, along with other ethnic food of the Islands, for as many as 550 people, five days a week.
“I get inspired from the amazing ingredients that are abundant around us and the many cultures that are present here,” he says.
But it’s not an easy task.
“You’ve got to be organized and ready to accept any spur-of-the-moment challenges,” he adds.
Reinhart, who was recently hired as Hilton Hawaiian Village’s new banquet chef, attended culinary school at Scottsdale Culinary Institute. He spent many years perfecting his craft working at establishments in California, as well as several in Honolulu, including five-and-a-half years at other Hilton Hawaiian Village eateries.
His famous feast is followed by entertainment by Tihati Productions featuring everything from elegant Hawaiian hula to passionate Polynesian displays of Samoan fire knife dancers and hip-popping Tahitian performers. Guests are taken on a journey through Polynesia called, “Voyage Across the South Seas” via song and dance. What really sets this show apart, however, is that the venue features a “stage in the round,” whereby the audience encircles the stage and has a maximum viewing opportunity. Be prepared to participate in conch shell blowing, tattoo demonstrations, wood carving and maybe even some dancing.
Besides the possibility of swaying your hips to the melodies, be sure to wear something comfortable. It’s rare for anyone to dress up in Hawai‘i so anything from aloha shirts and shorts for the men to sun dresses and a light jacket at night for the ladies is perfect.
If you’re concerned about sitting at large, banquet tables with strangers, don’t worry. With the abundant flow of mai tais (which, by the way, are not part of the ancient tradition), it won’t be long before you make new friends and revel in the fun time you’re having together.
A lu‘au is an experience steeped in ancient culture and is unlike any other. The authentic festivity is sure to be the cherry on top of your Hawai‘i vacation sundae.