Grab Your Grass Skirts and Celebrate Hawaiian Style

Hawaii - June 28, 2002 - The word “luau” means festival in Hawaiian, conjuring up images of grass skirts, bamboo torches, hula dancing and roasted pig. Steeped in ancient island tradition, the luau can be traced back 500 years when natives of New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga migrated to Hawaii.

According to Rex Flemming, luau manager at the Maui Marriott Resort, Hawaiian settlers hosted the luau for any number of reasons ... to celebrate a successful hunting or fishing trip, the birth of a child, the completion of a new canoe or to welcome inter-island visitors. Songs and dancing were used to communicate since no island language yet existed.

The celebration continues to be an important fixture in Hawaiian culture. However, today’s reasons to celebrate are likely to focus on graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, retirement or just because! Since not everyone can make it to Hawaii, Flemming offers the following tips to plan an authentic luau in your own backyard.

Set the Stage: No Hawaiian celebration is complete without presenting guests with traditional flower necklaces, called the lei. They are simple to make: String a long needle with thread or ribbon that has a knot at the end. Using the needle, thread sturdy flowers onto the string one at a time. When the lei is filled, knot the string at the end and tie ends together. Hawaiians often use small orchids, which are native to the islands and hold up well. However, any sturdy flower will work. Modern twists on the lei include nuts or candy wrapped in netting.

Here are more ideas to set the mood: - Decorate with tropical flower prints bursting with color and plenty of shells and sand - Ask guests to dress in Aloha shirts, grass skirts or muu-muus - Play soothing Hawaiian ukulele music. You can’t go wrong with the late Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on his album titled Facing Future - Light torches at night for added drama - Burn tropical incense for pleasing aromas of coconut and jasmine


Dine Hawaiian Style: The traditional luau meal begins with the cooking of a pig in an underground pit called an imu. Other native foods play a large part in the celebration, such as Poi, which is the root of the Hawaiian taro plant and is considered a delicacy; fresh pineapple; and local fish dressed with Macadamia nut sauce.
Additional ideas are to: - Fashion centerpieces out of pineapples, bananas, coconuts and mangos. Another nice touch is to float orchids or candles in water-filled glass bowls - Use big shells, halved coconuts or wooden bowls as serving dishes - Serve tropical-inspired cocktails, embellished with tiny paper umbrellas (Mai Tai recipe to follow) - Prepare oven roasted pork or chicken seasoned with soy sauce, ginger and garlic

In addition, Randal Ishizu, executive chef at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa in Oahu, suggests the following two traditional Hawaiian recipes that can easily be made at home.

Haupia (A luau dessert)
Ingredients: 5 tablespoons of cornstarch // 5 tablespoons of sugar // ? of a cup of water // 1 can of coconut milk // 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Directions: In a medium pot, combine the cornstarch, sugar and water. Mix thoroughly until the cornstarch is completely dissolved.

Next, add the coconut milk and vanilla extract to the pot and stir for a few seconds. Once the mixture looks consistent, place the pot over medium heat, constantly stirring the mixture until it thickens to the consistency of thick pudding.

(Important Note: It will take about 10 minutes for the mixture to thicken with constant stirring. If the mixture is left on the stove without stirring, it will have large clumps and will not thicken evenly)

Once the mixture is thickened, remove the pot from the stove and pour the contents into a small 8"x 8” pan. Cover the pan and place it in the refrigerator for an hour to chill. Once the mixture has cooled, it can be cut into cubes and served. This recipe can be doubled for large groups.

Mai Tai (In Tahitian this means “Out of this World”)
Ingredients per glass: 14 ounces of ice // 1 ounce of 151 rum // 1 ounce of Orgeat mix // 4 ounces of pineapple juice // 4 ounces of sweet and sour mix // ? ounce of dark rum // Squeeze of lime

Directions: Shake all but the dark rum and lime with ice. Strain into glass and top with dark rum and a squeeze of lime. Garnish with pineapple.