Kauai Luau History

Although the luaus on Kauai itself are rooted from the ancient royal traditions of Hawaii, the modern Kauai luau was born in 1819 during the reign of King Kamehameha II. Prior to Kamehameha’s legendary banquet, the women and men of the island never ate together and certain foods were off limits to Hawaiians who were not of royal birth. The 1819 luau shattered these social taboos when the king shared traditional dishes with both women and commoners. One meal in particular stood out at these feasts, a combination of chicken and taro leaves baked in coconut milk. The chicken dish, named “lu’au”, is today the name by which Kamehameha’s unforgettable feast is known.

Although other things changed, the customs of the luau remained as the years went by. Participants in Kauai luaus covered the floor on traditional lauhula mats eating the fish, meat, fruit and vegetable dishes set out with bowls of poi. The delicious foods were rivaled only by the amazing centerpieces of Hawaii’s legendary flowers and lush greenery. Over time, young and old eagerly anticipated luau time, and between the lovely hula dance and the introduction of fire knife dancing from Polynesia there was a lot to look forward to! The history of the Kauai luau includes some of the biggest parties in Hawaii’s history. King Kalakaua, the merry Monarch, threw a 50th birthday luau for 1500 guests, but may have been upstaged by King Kamehameha III in 1847 when he served up 271 roast pigs, 3,125 salt fish, 2,245 coconuts, and 4,000 taro plants. While a modern day Kauai Hawaii luau may not quite equal those numbers, the generosity of spirit is exactly the same.

Because of the abundant spirit of the luau on Kauai of today, these uniquely Hawaiian celebrations never fail to delight those who attend. Kalamaku luaus are enjoyed by Hawaiian locals and visitors alike. The most frequent occasion for a luau is one we are all familiar with – a child’s first birthday. Another reason for celebration is a high school graduation in the family. Visitors to the island need no excuse to participate in a Kauai luau, and often attend dazzling productions at beautiful resorts where they get to enjoy the customary feast along with the hula and Polynesian dances. The Kauai Grand Hyatt Luau is another favorite of the locals and visitors.

The Feast

Kauai luau feasts combine all the traditional Hawaiian cuisine described below with recognizable mainland fare like mixed vegetables and pasta salads. The Kauai Luau Kalamaku and the Kauai Hyatt luau serve many of these wonderful dishes.

Roasted pulled pork cooked in an imu oven, known for a smoky flavor and sometimes salty taste.

Imu – the depression in the ground where the pig and its garnish are cooked. The large hole is filled with small round stones, wood, and kindling which are set on fire. The heated stones are then used to stuff a prepared pig. The rest of the stones remain in the pit under ti and banana leaves. The stuffed pig and trimmings are lowered on top of the stones and leaves and smothered in another layer of leaves and covered with a thick cloth. Then the dug out pit is filled in again so the food can slowly cook underground. This style of cooking is at the heart of the Hawaiian tradition known as luau!

Lu’au – steamed not baked, the luau’s namesake dish is made of meat, coconut milk and taro leaves.

Poi – an unusual Hawaiian dish with varying textures that take their names from how many fingers Kauai luau guests need to eat it. The consistency can be anywhere from “one-finger poi” to “three-finger poi”. The poi consists of cooked taro roots ground into a paste and thinned with water. The paste is then customarily fermented creating a purple mixture similar to a runny pudding. It can be recognized by its plain flavor and tangy bite. Poi is a mainstay of the luau, and used to clear the palette between dishes.

Laulau – tender tips of young taro leaves combined with fish or chicken, then wrapped in ti leaves and steamed or baked.

Lomi salmon – Introduced to the luau by sailors in the early trading days, it is a salted fish in a marinade of lemons, tomatoes and onions.

Ahi Poki – marinated in seaweed, chilies and nut oils, this mixture of ahi tuna and other seafood reflects the influence of Asian culture in Hawaii’s sugar plantation days. This dish rarely turns out the same way twice, so for a true sampling attendance at more than one Kauai luau is recommended.

The trimmings – going in the pit at the luau along with the pig are plantain bananas, yams, breadfruit, and sweet potatoes.

Opihi – limpet

Inamona – nut relish

Limu – seaweed