By Anni Caporuscio
What to serve when you invite 300-500 guests over for dinner? Everything! The meal for the lu‘au is plentiful in an all-you-can-eat kind of way, and varied in an all-Kaua‘i-culture kind of way.
The celebrated dish at the Smith’s Family Garden Luau is, of course, Kalua Pig, which claims center stage at the Imu Ceremony very close to the beginning of the lu‘au. The Imu Ceremony begins with high-spirited announcements from Walter “Kamika” Smith of what to expect for the evening, and moves in to a detailed explanation of the imu, its history, and place in Hawaiian culture, and the simple methods used to render a great meal. The ceremony also serves as a rallying point and a centering for what we’ll do: celebrate our own moments, and also celebrate Hawaiian culture.
Imu is a pit in which the pig is cooked. It’s filled with ironwood for a long, slow burning heat. The burning wood heats porous lava rocks, which are the ideal cooking element. Banana tree stalks hold water for a good steam. The whole thing is covered with ti leaves and a tarp, then covered in dirt for insulation. The pigs (pua‘a) are island-grown and about 130-200 lbs each. The only spice used is Hawaiian rock salt. There are four imu on the premises, each cooking a pig for nine hours. Kalua refers to the style of cooking in the imu: simultaneously steaming and baking. To add to this elaborate method, they’ll put lava rocks inside the pig as well, to cook it from the inside out as well.
After announcements, traditionally dressed, bare chested men arrive to blow the conch to four directions, and literally unearth dinner. When it comes from the ground, the pig still looks like a pig, but when it’s served in the buffet, it is pulled pork. The meat, after nine hours of steamy heat, is tender enough so the chefs just shake it and it falls off the bones.
Next in the order of events is claiming a seat in the vast covered open-air dining hall among the rows of family style tables and then grab a mai tai or two at the bar. They also have a full bar with the usual cocktails, beer and wine.
The buffet is a generous representation of Kaua‘i local dishes. Everything I’ve learned about Kaua‘i food boils down to this: each ethnicity contributes something to the menu, and then we make it our own. You can have all on the same plate: teriyaki beef, chicken adobo, stir fried vegetables, mashed potatoes, sweet n sour mahi mahi, lomi lomi salmon, kalua pork, namasu, fresh fruit, and the list goes on. So much of Kaua‘i’s immigrant cultures are represented and presented along with the traditional cuisine. I found it thoughtful as well as plentiful.
As guests, we were heavily encouraged to try poi. The staff recommended it with salty food, such as the pork or lomi lomi, as it would temper the salt and add some smoothness.
The luau is a family business. Kamika, the MC for the evening, said that there are about 15 immediate family members who regularly operate the events. The family aspect of the luau gave it a sweetness that I noticed right away. Because they recognize the importance of family, and are eager to share the celebration, they have an amazing Kama‘aina rate that extends to the entire party that comes with a resident. It’s $48 per person when residents bring their own family to the luau, an evening that everyone can celebrate.
Find Smith’s Family Garden Luau on the south bank of the Wailua River. Call (808) 821-6895 to make a reservation (highly recommended). Visit www.smithskauai.com for more information.
- Anni Caporuscio is a food lover and can be found daily at her Kapa‘a business, Small Town Coffee.