posted by Lisa

There’s no way to soft peddle this one:  We like the luaus.

Last year, we attended a really terrific one at the Grand Hyatt Kauai: great food, fun entertainment, and an unparalleled site in the garden at the edge of the beach.    The appeal was doubled by the fact we could walk there, so there was no limit on the mai tais for me and Kory. Which meant no limit on the juice for the kids. Which was much fun for all, even though we didn’t know that our children were capable of using the bathroom 47 times in 3 hours.  This year, Ella and Finn knew a little about what they were getting in to: the music, the dancing, a big feast. They dressed up.

This year, we opted for Smith’s Tropical Paradise, regularly voted “best on the island”, which we had to drive to, but we hoped the spectacle and setting would balance out the restricted liquid consumption.

And Smith’s gardens are gorgeous, well worth a visit even if you’re not there to eat and see the show.

Abundant native fauna, roving peacocks and other fowl, and a short tram ride that can take those with more limited walking capabilities (like those with young children) to the farther corners of the property.  We bought bird food, and lobster boy and luau girl had much diversion feeding them.

The center of any luau is the imu pig.  An imu is an underground Hawaiian oven, in which one can steam a whole pig, sweet potato, breadfruit, rice puddings, etc. It’s filled with porous rocks, and wood, then lit on fire, the fire heats the rocks, and after the food is lowered, covered with banana leaves, and sealed with dirt, the rocks’ residual heat cooks the food over several hours.

Smith’s has several ovens on their property which at the end of cooking look like this.

The exhuming ceremony begins with a blessing, and a resonant blowing on conch shells to the four points of the compass, after which the earth is dug out.

And yes, it is sort of sexy. Ella and Finn were spellbound.

The banana leaves are lifted, out, then the pig.

And the pig is a wonder to behold.

After the ceremony we proceeded into the open air dining area to eat.  There were long tables, and we sat with some other nice tourists, and as Kory & I helped ourselves to the mai tais, Finn & Ella helped themselves to the hawaiian punch, which may well have been the very thing we drank in the 1970s.  It was red and sweet and probably full of corn syrup, and they thought it was just great. Finn, especially, drank it in enormous gulps, like a fish, or a boy who had been deprived of liquid sustenance for many hours.

We had to wait for our turn at the food, which was served buffet style, but there was some great live music, to enjoy with the drinks.  And a hula lesson which lobster boy and hula girl had been looking forward to.

The food was good, if not excellent, and it was pretty standard luau fare. The centerpiece was the pig, about which the kids were very excited. And even though it was delicious, I had my doubts about whether they would eat it. It’s very brown, and shredded.  But when we set the plates in front of Ella and Finn, the imu pig got 4 big thumbs up.

In spite of the juice jag, they ate pretty well, and so once more, it seemed to be the case that the more they know about where their food comes from, the more likely they are to try something new.  It was certainly not just about the taste of the pig, which was excellent–tender, highly seasoned–and by far the best part of the meal, but about the whole culture of the meal:  the grounds, the train ride, the peacock, the imu, the unearthing ceremony, the fact of the entire enormous pig cooked to perfection right in front of them, the music, the dancing, and even the company of the other guests at our table. They knew that it was special, and that the new food was part of the general excitement.   It didn’t matter to me so much that the food was not as good as it had been at the Hyatt, or that they drank more juice in one night than they had in the previous year, but that they had a night where the food was really different, and they began to understand it was part of a larger and different culture, even though, of course, it was a big tourist event.

And, yes, after dinner, there was a show, in an open air theater, with a live volcano, and a lagoon separating the dancers from the audience. It seemed to be the case that this celebration of Pacific Rim cultures has likley not changed since the 1950s, but parts of it were pretty great.  The kids, of course, loved it.

And as we left, the tiki torches were lit, which are always magical.  And a good photo opportunity for our little warrior.