The word “luau” refers to the Hawaiian word for celebration. As is true of many cultures, food usually plays a key role in festivities, and Hawaiian food is no different. What is unique though, is the fact that Hawaiian food does not represent just one culture – it is truly a melting pot of the best of world cuisines.
The food served on local Hawaiian menus include locally grown ingredients such as macadamia nuts, peppery watercress, and an incredible abundance of fresh fruits including the pineapples, mangos and papayas, plus an assortment of fruits that can only be pronounced (much less recognized) by native speakers.
To Plan a Luau
- Determine your party menu and guest list. Send out invitations at least two weeks in advance.
Ask your guests to dress for the occasion (guys should wear a Hawaiian shirt —“aloha casual” as we say in the islands — and women should wear a muumuu or Hawaiian dress, or of course a grass skirt and coconut top if they prefer!).
Calculate the amount of food needed. Plan to serve a well-rounded menu that offers something for everyone. Don’t forget the color, texture and flavors of the food when planning.
Make up grocery shopping list. Organize your list according to areas in the grocery store where like products are featured. Don’t forget extra ice for the day of the party.
Give a simple purchased macaroni salad a Hawaiian twist — add some wasabi or Japanese horseradish to make it unique without a lot of time. Plan to cook a pork dish with pineapple. Think about serving mango sorbet.
Party supplies—inflatable palm trees, serving trays shaped like coconuts, grass skirts, leis, and tropical drink umbrellas for beverages. Pretty party plates and napkins are an option.
Purchase inexpensive cloth white napkins for your guests. Then purchase foam decorator stamps (palm trees, sunglasses, turtles) and fabric paints. Brush paint on stamps, then press onto napkins in decorative design.
Skirt the serving table with a couple of grass skirts and use tropical fabric for a covering.
Use a silk or floral arrangement of birds of paradise for centerpieces
If your guests don’t know each other cut out a name tag in the shape of an aloha shirt for each guest. Use aloha wrapping paper and cut in the shape of a shirt. Or look up your guests name in Hawaiian and feature it on the nametag for fun.
Talk to your florist about getting discarded flower petals for creating a trail to your backyard.
Consider a plastic children’s wading pool as a drink dispenser—fill with ice and canned beverages.
Offer leis for neckware and floral orchids for putting behind the ear upon arrival.
- Send out your party invitations in a card shaped and designed to look like a Hawaiian shirt.
- Purchase Hawaiian fabric and cut out a shirt-shape. Attach written invitation with fabric glue
- Send your invitation out in a tube. Include a plastic lei or a tropical swizzle stick with the invitation
- Paste a tropical drink umbrella to the front of your hand-made invitation
There are many ways to personalize your party. Bring out the “pupus” or little bites and let the party begin. After all, showing friends and family that you spent time and care to think of all the details makes a truly memorable party.
The delicious food will guarantee comments of “ono” (or delicious) with a “hana hou” (repeat) luau requested.
Hayley Matson-Mathes is a culinary professional who lives and writes in Hawaii.