No Luau in Hawaii is complete without a big, juicy, steaming laulau. The translation of the word laulau in a food context literally means “wrapped package,” and is truly a little gift of ono (oh-NO; delicious). Today, salted pork or beef is the usual meat source for laulau. In ancient times, Hawaiians used dog as the main source because pigs were reserved for ceremonial purposes and not consumed as often.
Over the years, technology has allowed laulau to become more accessible. It can be found pre-made and sold in the refrigerated or frozen sections of any grocery store in Hawaii (just microwave and enjoy!). And instead of selling cookies for fundraising ventures, many Hawaii schools, church groups, sports teams and hula groups often sell laulau.
During your visit to Hawaii, try laulau at any luau or stop by one of the Hawaiian food shops that serve it. You can also make it yourself in the comfort of your hotel room.
Here is a recipe with the ingredients and tools used for making laulau. It is good to remember that every island and ohana (family) does things a little differently, and I am only sharing what has been taught to me. I altered this a bit so that you should be able to find all of the ingredients in a local grocery store.
Pork Laulau (Makes about 10)
Luau can be the festivity you attend while in Hawaii, but it also refers to the leaves of the taro plant. When cooked, it tastes a bit like spinach. Luau must be cooked as the heat breaks down and neutralizes the calcium carbonate crystals (druses and raphides for you sciencey folk) in the Luau, thus making it edible. You can tell if a laulau hasn’t been cooked all the way if your throat becomes itchy!
These chunky salt crystals are a kitchen staple in any Hawaiian home. Look for the “Old Time” brand at any grocery store.
Small pieces of fish such as mahimahi or butterfish can be an optional addition to your laulau.
The ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa) is an extremely useful plant in pre-contact and present Hawaii. It can be used for medicine, clothing, cooking and has even been made into liquor! In this case, the ti leaf is used to wrap up the laulau in order to seal in all the flavor and juices. *Note: If ti leaves are not accessible, you can wrap your laulau in foil instead.
Traditionally, laulau was cooked in an imu (underground earth oven). Though imu are still used today, many also choose to cook their laulaus in modern stovetop steamers.
Laulau can be bought at the store. It’s a popular fundraising item for schools and sports clubs.