Hawaiian Luaus

Hawaiian luaus.

The Polynesian Cultural Center, where many people go for Hawaiian luaus.

Since ancient times, the Hawaiians used luaus as means to celebrate special occasions. People all over the world choose to celebrate bridal showers, rehearsal dinners or graduations. But in the Aloha State, it common to celebrate special and memorable events with Hawaiian luaus. 

Originally “luau” did not refer to a gathering or feast, but rather to young edible taro leaves. But later, the word luau became associated with an entire festive occasion. Now, foods and entertainment once solely associated with Hawaiian culture have been, over time, integrated with foods from other cultures.

Experiencing a Luau for the First Time

For most visitors, their first luau experience at a luau will be at an establishment specializing in them.  Upon arrival, many luaus will give leis to visitors. It signifies they are welcomed to join in the spirit of aloha. Fragrant flowers permeate the whole luau adding to the sensory delights of an Hawaiian experience. Guests will dine on the finest of Hawaiian foods and will watch hula dancers, and numerous performers recount histories and folklore. As the odor of kalua pig permeates the air, you can understand how this tradition has transcended time.

What Is Typically Served at Hawaiian Luaus

A luau’s main dish of kalua pig is traditionally roasted in an underground pit or imu. Other key dishes include poi and laulau, a dish of pork and fish steamed in a wrap of taro leaves. Today, luaus include foods not originally from Hawaii. These include: lomi salmon (salted salmon, marinated with tomatoes and onions), pipi kaula, (sliced dried and spiced beef), chicken long rice (sliced chicken pieces and clear noodles in chicken broth) and pieces of raw sweet Maui onions with Hawaiian rock salt on the side. Dessert typically consists of haupia or coconut custard and kulolo or poi custard.

Another place for Hawaiian luaus.

The Old Lahaina Luau in Lahaina, Maui.

Where to Go for Hawaiian Luaus

Everyone from Hawaii knows what makes a great luau. And we have found ones that you will not want to miss. No matter what island you find yourself enjoying, you can find a luau near you. Our recommendations are: The Old Lahaina Luau on Maui, The Luau at Kona Village on the Big Island, Ali’i Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Centre on Oahu and a romantic luau is the Kalamaku Luau on Kauai.

Throw Your Own Luau

Are you feeling in the mood for Hawaiian food? Or do you plan to throw a Hawaiian luau before your trip to the islands? Here are some ideas on how to make your luau more authentic.


Appropriate luau attire would consist of aloha shirts for males. Floral attire or a mu’umu’u would be appropriate for women.


Start with some of the contemporary Hawaiian songs for mood music. Recommendations could include those from the Cazimero Brothers or Kalapana, slack-key guitar music (played by artists such as Gabby Pahinui, Makana or Mike Ka’awa) or some ukulele songs (by artists like Jake Shimabukuro or Bryan Tolentino). This is a great way to set the tone for the evening’s festivities.

Kalua Pig Recipe

If you’re like most people and can’t cook kalua pig in a traditional way, here is a good alternative:

  • One 4 to 6 pound pork shoulder or pork butt roast.
  • 1 tablespoon liquid smoke, hickory or mesquite flavor.
  • 2 to 3 teaspoon red Hawaiian sea salt (or alternatively regular sea salt) for a smaller roast, 2 to 3 tablespoon for a larger one.
  • Banana leaves are optional.

Wash and pat dry the pork and place in the slow cooker. Pierce the pork all over with a fork. Pour the liquid smoke evenly over the roast and sprinkle liberally with the sea salt. Place the lid of the slow cooker on and set the time for 8 to 12 hours on low. Check it every 8 hours to see if it is done. If not, let it go the full 12 hours, checking every hour. Either remove the pork from the pot. Then shred it with a fork and return to pot or shred in the pot when it’s done. You can remove some of the liquid before shredding the pork. Then add some back in to keep the pork from drying out.


Here’s a relatively easy recipe to make that tasty Hawaiian dessert known as haupia:

  • 2 cups coconut milk.
  • 1 cup whole milk.
  • 6 tablespoons sugar.
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch.
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla (if desired)

Pour one cup of coconut milk into a saucepan. Combine sugar and cornstarch stirring into coconut milk. Add vanilla as desired. Heat ingredients over low setting, stirring consistently until thickened. Add remainder of coconut milk and whole milk and continue to heat until thickened. Pour into 8 inch square pan and chill until firm.

Awards & Affiliations

Hawaii's Best 2023
American Society of Travel Agents
Authorized Disney Vacation Planner