When it comes to any traditional Hawaiian luau party, the right food is essential. Luau food is made to be as beautiful as the celebration it accompanies. While the heart-stopping entertainment celebrates Hawaii’s rich culture, luau food celebrates the islands. It commemorates the bountiful nature of this tropical paradise and all its unique crops.
From coconut, breadfruit, taro, and sweet potato to succulent kalua pork – Hawaiian luaus are, first and foremost, feasts. They invite guests to share in the cuisine they can’t get anywhere else. But what makes traditional Hawaiian luau food so unique? Well, it starts with preparation.
Before the luau begins, the first planners of the party are the islands themselves. Hawaii’s rich soil and pristine saltwater homes crops and fish you can’t get anywhere else.
You know how they say it’s the water in New York that makes their pizza so good? The same rules apply here. The nutrients native to island plants and feeding its animals give Hawaii something truly unique.
However, that’s only the beginning. What comes after are dishes passed down for generations. One of the most famous among them:
The centerpiece of many aha’aina and pai’ina luaus, kalua pig is an entrée to fly in for. Kalua is the Hawaiian method of cooking a pig in an imu pit. An imu is an underground oven covered with various foliage to keep the steam. Look at our deep dive into what is a luau to make sure you get the perfect imu pit dug.
The cooking takes a long time, but once the pig is ready, there’s nothing like it. Served much like pulled pork, it’s shredded, salty, and succulent. It also pairs especially well with:
In ancient Hawaii, poi was a staple of the luau. Today, it’s a staple starch for almost all Hawaiians similar to rice in Asia or potatoes in the US. It’s created by mashing the cooked corms of taro roots. This turns into a greyish sauce with nearly the consistency of hummus.
Across Hawaiian history, Poi has been revered and is an absolute must-try for any visit to the islands.
What would an island luau be without saltwater fish?
In addition to Ahi Tuna, Lomilomi is another staple of Hawaiian luaus. Interestingly, this dish also shows how Hawaiian culture has evolved throughout history.
Salmon was introduced to the islands by sailors stopping in Hawaii on their return from discovery expeditions. Foods on long voyages were preserved with an abundance of sea salt. When Hawaiians received the salmon, they needed to lomilomi (massage) the salt out of the salmon before preparing; which is how Lomilomi Salmon got its name. Another interpretation of the Lomilomi Salmon is that the flesh was massaged off the bone of the fish itself!
This shredded meat was then mixed with the other ingredients. Onions were also introduced to the islands in 1778 by Captain Cook, making Lomilomi a world of influences on your plate. Whether shredded, served cold, or dashed with fresh sea salt, Lomilomi definitely massages the taste buds.
Sometimes presentation is key. Nothing feels more authentic to a traditional Hawaiian luau than having your pork, chicken, or fish served in taro leaves. These vibrant greens not only add to the beauty of your plate, but the taste. Although inedible themselves, taro leaves seep a wonderful flavor all their own.
Venturing to the islands for an authentic Hawaiian luau is always wonderful. However, even if we don’t live close by, we can bring the luau magic home. While we recommend every food, we’ve already mentioned for your at-home luau, crafting your own imu pit can be challenging.
With that in mind, here are some ideas for luau party food. Starting with:
Huli Huli Chicken
Bursting with tropical flavors, Huli Huli chicken is a must-have Hawaiian luau food. If you stop at a roadside stand, there’s a good chance they’ve got this on the menu.
Coined in 1955 by Ernest Morgado, “huli” in Hawaii means “turn.” Morgado barbequed the chicken with an array of sauces between two grills. The consistent turning gives a wonderful chargrilled sumptuousness.
You can also find the special Huli Huli sauce and marinade at various locations around the islands!
Although far from a traditional Hawaiian delicacy, macaroni salad can be found at almost any modern luau. Elbow macaroni served with mayonnaise and sometimes pickle relish, celery, or carrots – it’s a fantastic fixing.
Molokai Sweet Potatoes
For something a little more traditional and colorful, check your local grocery store for Molokai sweet potatoes. These distinctive purple potatoes have a long and storied history in Hawaii.
They were planted during times of famine, and the leaves’ milky sap was used as a natural balm. When roasted or baked, a sprinkle of shredded coconut brings the flavor of the islands home.
Chicken Long Rice
Although a derivative of a Chinese dish, chicken long rice is served at most modern luaus. It’s often a mixture of delicious ingredients like chicken, onions, ginger, garlic, and long rice. With tons of variations, chicken long rice is a staple of Hawaiian luau food. Once combined and cooked, this Hawaiian luau food is sure to be a memorable dish for your next party!
To give the perfect accent to all these amazing dishes, you need the right beverage. Some pineapple juice, coconut milk, and rum variations are vital at any Hawaiian luau. While we love the rich sweetness of anything pineapple, we’d love to draw your attention to this local favorite:
The Original Mai Tai Recipe – A Waikiki Cocktail
In 1944, “Trader Vic” Bergeron created the original Mai Tai cocktail. It was then brought to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1953. Many have tried to claim the throne of Hawaiian cocktail, but this original recipe still reigns. Sip the perfect blend of sweet and savory at your next Hawaiian luau.
To prepare, mix these in a shaker with ice:
These remarkable dishes are some of many to be found at our traditional Hawaiian luau.
We invite you to sample the culture and taste the bounty of the Hawaiian islands. With the ultimate in Maui-style entertainment and onolicious cuisine, join us at Old Lāhainā Lūʻau. We pride ourselves on keeping a focus on Hawaiian history and culture.
At Old Lāhainā Lūʻau, our luaus are held daily during sunset hours. This makes for a stunning show, breathtaking photo opportunities, and food cooked to perfection in traditional imu pits. Your traditional Hawaiian luau experience is just a few clicks away. If you would like to learn more about our show, then check out our detailed show information page.