The well-known Hawaiian feast, the luau, is one event that’s a must on your island to-do list. The history of the Hawaiian luau goes back centuries with origins rooted in island culture, religion, and royalty.

In times long past, diners at this traditional feast would gather to share the abundance of foods offered as part of Hawaii’s natural habitat. Luaus were common when a new king was chosen to lead the indigenous island community. It was a celebration and a deeply important cultural ritual that brought together the islands’ early residents.

Hawaiian luau

Before 1819, men and women were segregated during the luau, eating in different places. It was taboo for men and women to eat certain dishes together according to cultural lore. However, in 1819 King Kamehameha II broke with tradition and banished these ancient taboos. The King welcomed the women to join together and share in the islands’ bounty.

The word, luau, comes from the name of a popular dish traditionally served at these festivals. Luau is a taste-tempting island favorite that includes chicken, taro leaves, and coconut milk baked until the flavors meld and dinner is served.

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The Luau: Plan to Enjoy a Meal Fit for a King

Luaus play an important role in island history and culture. Each king would plan a feast bigger and grander than his predecessor, and the people would celebrate for days.

King Kalakaua, known as the Merry Monarch, prepared a luau feast for more than 1,500 of his closest friends. However, in 1847 King Kamehameha III threw one of the biggest bashes in Hawaii’s colorful history. At this one event, 271 roasted pigs cooked over an open fire, along with salted fish, more than 2,200 coconuts, and 4,000 taro plants used to make the
island staple food, poi – a thin or thick paste made from mashed taro root. Always a traditional dish served at luaus.

Traditional Island Food Favorites

The traditional foods served at a Hawaiian luau are a luxurious display of the abundance of food the islands offer. Today, many of these traditional foods are served at luaus across the islands of Hawaii.

So what’s for dinner?

Try the roasted pork cooked in an imu oven. The imu oven is a pit filled with wood and baseball-sized rocks. Once the rocks are heated, they’re placed in the pig and lowered into the imu pit. The main course is cooked slowly over a fire that’s covered with banana leaves to lock in heat and give the pork a smoky flavor that has to be experienced to be believed.

Another popular favorite? Laulau is made from taro leaf tips and fish or chicken steamed in ti leaves. Starting to get hungry?

Save room for the Lomi – salted fish, usually salmon, that’s marinated in lemon juice and served with fresh tomatoes and onions. Want more?

Go back for seconds and enjoy ahi poki – ahi tuna marinated in seaweed, chilies, and oils from the island nuts that grow in abundance.

But, hey, we’re just getting started. Your feast is also likely to include plantains, yams, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, opihi, limu and an island favorite, inamona – a relish, made from nuts, that makes any dish stand out.

Still hungry? Try some slices of really “just-picked-from-the-tree” pineapple, mangos, banana dishes, and a long table of tasty treats that are, indeed, fit for a king.

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Planning an island visit? Add luau to the top of your to-do list.

This is one meal you don’t want to miss on your vacation in paradise so bring a hearty appetite and settle back to enjoy the wonderful cuisine, the dancers and musicians, and all that makes any visit to Hawaii vacation to remember for a life time.

Don’t let an eating disorder hold you back.

It won’t if you get help for eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. These harmful behaviors cause serious health risks, and if left untreated, victims of dangerous eating behaviors may die.

If you, or a loved one, have an eating disorder contact Hawaii Island Recovery, a small, evidence-based treatment facility that’s delivered a better quality of life for countless people just like you.

Come for the food, stay for a better, healthier life.

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