Gathered on the beach at Kona in the Hawaiian Islands, the guests of Mrs. Mona Lind Holmes bask in the glories of a Pacific sunset and the happy repletion that invariably follows one of the most monumental meals known to man—the luau. Since 4 p.m., when two pigs were ceremoniously buried in a pit lined with stones glowing red from a driftwood fire, Mrs. Holmes's 50 guests have been eating and drinking. There remains now only comfortable relaxation and an evening's entertainment with native dances and songs.
It is a proper moment to reflect on the luau, a meal that is more than a meal—a feast on the bounty of the Pacific isles, steeped in tradition, royal in its origins. An entire week goes into its preparation; dozens of native servants assist in it. There is only one place in the world where a real luau may be had—Hawaii—but inevitably the thought arises that perhaps it might be at least approximated at one's own home.
The answer is, it may. Trader Vic, the famous San Francisco restaurateur, has often catered one (how much is involved in the production of one may be gauged from the price of $15 to $20 a head, without drinks!). Trader Vic recently described to me the preparation of a proper luau and then went into detail as to how it may be approximated here in the U.S.
The luau table is always laid, like the one at Mrs. Holmes's party, with a profusion of ti leaves, flowers and fruits and decked with rare and interesting delicacies. There are lomi lomi (salmon pickled in lime juice), opihi (little mollusks covered with coconut cream), edible seaweed tidbits, oio (raw, boned fish) and squid. Steaming underground in the imu (the glowing pit) are the pigs, lobsters, laulau (pork and chicken or fish wrapped in taro and ti leaves), bananas in palm leaf baskets, sweet potatoes and grayish, pasty poi of taro root.
Here is Trader Vic's suggestion for a luau you can do at home:
Lomi lomi: Have your fish dealer slice fresh salmon in 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Sprinkle with fresh lime juice and let stand three hours. Drain, cover with chopped onions and tomatoes.
Opihi: Substitute the bay variety of scallops. Soak them in lime juice for an hour. Drain and cover with coconut cream.
Coconut cream: Open a coconut by striking it with a hammer and chisel at the end which hasn't the eyes (so as not to crack it and lose the milk, which you can use in the curry sauce). Grate the meat and squeeze it in a cheesecloth. The resultant liquid is the "cream."
The imu: In place of this pit you use either a steamer or a pressure cooker; or, for some foods, the oven or barbecue.
Pig: Substitute spareribs, done in the oven or over the barbecue pit. Baste with a barbecue sauce (Trader Vic's own brand is superb).
Lobsters: Either boiled or broiled on the barbecue.
Laulau: Make individual portion-sized bundles thus: Cut cooked chicken into one-inch chunks. Mix it with chopped Swiss chard (in place of taro leaves), chopped green onion, tried-out salt pork cubes, a dash of lemon juice and a sprinkling of monosodium glutamate. Wrap the mixture in two ti leaves, going in opposite directions, tie with string and steam 3/4 hour or pressure cook 20 minutes. You can buy ti leaves at most florists, but if you are unable to locate any, use aluminum foil. A curry sauce served with this is excellent.
Baked bananas: Bake firm, ripe bananas in their skins in a 300° oven about 35 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. These are served as a vegetable and sprinkled sparingly with salt when peeled.
Sweet potatoes: These, of course, are easy and require no substitute, but if you are serving a curry sauce with the laulau, rice is a perfect accompaniment.
Tahitian fruit poi: This home version is a marvelous dessert. Buy canned peaches and mangoes and drain them well, reserving juice. Make instant vanilla pudding, using the mixed fruit juice as a substitute for half the required liquid and cream for the other half. Cut up bananas and fry them in butter until delicately brown. In a baking dish make layers of pudding, bananas, pudding, peaches, pudding, mangoes, pudding. Bake in a 400° oven until brown on top (15 to 20 minutes). Serve warm or cold with coconut cream on top.
Tahitian rum punch—served before and all through the luau (Trader Vic's recipe): 2 pounds brown sugar, 5 dozen oranges, 4 dozen lemons, 10 bananas, 3 grapefruits, 2 sprigs mint, 10 bottles white wine, 6 bottles white rum, one bottle of Jamaica rum. Squeeze the fruit and slice the bananas and put everything in a crock, rinds and all, with the exception of the rum. Let this stand overnight. Next day add the rum. Strain off and discard the fruit pulp and rinds and put into a barrel or punch bowl with plenty of ice.