*WARNING – this post is rated ME for Meat Eater as the content is descriptive and contains graphic photographs. It may not be suitable for vegetarians.
As I mentioned in earlier posts, I have two basic exceptions to my diet of inconvenience. The first is that I won’t turn down an invitation to a home-cooked meal, regardless of the ingredients that went into it. After all someone made it from scratch even if it wasn’t by my own set of rules. The second, most applicable when I’m traveling, is to seek out local food and local restaurants whenever possible. Following the initial misstep at a PF Changs on my first weary day of travel, I fell into a wonderful world of authentic food and culture starting with the three-day celebration that was my nephew’s wedding.
If you’ve traveled to California, you’ve hopefully enjoyed the rich Pacific Asian- American culture and food there. My nephew was about to marry into a family that has roots in the Philippines and Guam, as well as Hawaii. The luau is a tradition that transcends all of those cultures. It’s basically a feast that celebrates accomplishments or honors important people. As an extended relative I couldn’t have felt more honored or welcomed by the people and the food that was put out in front of me, and what a terrific way to celebrate my nephew’s love and his new married life.
The two luau feasts (yes two – one after the wedding rehearsal and the second the day after the wedding ceremony) were catered by extended family members of the bride. We were all assured that the food was not only authentic, but some of the ingredients were flown in from the islands in order to recreate the feast. I’m describing just a small sampling of what I can remember was available from both banquet-style meals that believe me, didn’t seem to have an end to it.
The centerpiece of any luau is the pig. While my former next-door neighbors used to dig a fire pit in their back yard and roast a pig each summer (seriously), I’ve never been to a pig roast before. But there it was, all crispy and brown lying peacefully on a bed of banana leaves on the dining room table. To me this was the epitome of from-scratch cooking as too often our society is far removed from the fact that meat comes from an animal. Yes it was tender with a slightly smoky taste to it. Dee-licious.
One of my favorite dishes, chicken long rice, was a Chinese-style side dish made with what I call cellophane noodles (which are really made from a bean). I found it funny how there was no rice at all in this dish, and that a bean can be made into a noodle. It was so good that I went back for seconds. Another dish I really enjoyed I don’t remember the name of, but it was a pulled pork filling that was wrapped in both kalo or taro leaves, and Ti leaves, then steamed like a tamale. While I’m not a fan of poi, the taro leaves taste a lot like cooked greens or spinach, which I really enjoy.
I’m not a big fan of salmon, so I passed by the Lomi Lomi salmon, a diced up salmon dish similar to ceviche with tomatoes and onion, served cold on the side like a salad. To be polite, I did take a small serving of poi – a purple colored paste that’s made by pounding the taro root. This is a staple in the island diet, and I had tried it before on a trip to Hawaii years ago. I should have paid more attention to how other guests were eating it – I guess it’s best topped with some Hawaiian sea salt and raw onions, which I didn’t add to mine. To me poi tastes like, uhm… a purple colored paste. Enough said.
For me one of the most unusual foods on the table was haupia. At first glance I thought it was small blocks of plain tofu, but it’s actually a coconut milk pudding that is made rather thick like gelatin, and then cut into cubes. While I’m not a fan of coconut (I hate the stringy texture that to me is like small fingernails) I do like the flavor of coconut milk. By the end of the evening I was dipping these little goodies into the chocolate fountain.
The feast went on and on with sauces and side dishes and salads and desserts set on every available table and counter space in the house. I’m grateful to have had this wonderful food experience and count my new extended family as one of the blessings I have in my life.
Fandango – Slang for ‘come and eat’ – or as Eleanor, mother of the bride said, “Way bigger than just a luau – a celebration!”