I tried to get some idea of which luau to attend by checking online reviews. Big mistake (based on my office review experience, you'd think I'd know better). Most were negative, with entirely unrealistic criticisms. Complaints included "there were bugs flying around" (you're outside, FFS), "the poi was terrible" (yes, but that's the point), and (my favorite) "they had an open bar and my husband got drunk. The hotel should know better."
Pricing for a luau is a racket. Generally they start at expensive. Then, once you've decided to go, they try to sell you on different levels of seating, because apparently the "expensive" seats are shitty. So if you want to, say, actually SEE the luau (as opposed to being seated behind a banyan tree) your options are ridiculously expensive, ludicrously expensive, and fucking insanely expensive tables. The last puts you close enough that you get an extinguisher on your table "just in case" during the fire-dancer routine.
There are 3 traditional foods at a luau.
The first is roast pork, also called Kalua Pork. For the record, it has nothing to do with Kahlua. Kalua means "cooked underground" in Hawaiian.
Luaus generally begin with what’s called the imu ceremony
|"He said imu, not emu."|
If you read the brochures, this is portrayed as some sort of mystical, quasi-religious, experience. Actually, what really happens is that 2 buff guys in grass skirts (no wonder Mrs. Grumpy wanted to see it) dig up a dead pig that’s been cooking underground all day, then hack it to pieces. If you're planning on actually eating said pig, you probably don't want to watch this. It's not pretty (unless you're looking at the beefcake).
The pig is trussed up, put on top of hot coals, covered with banana leaves, and then buried in a pit for several hours. This traditional cooking method results in an outside layer of pork that's basically charcoal, an inside layer that's raw, and, somewhere in between them, 1mm of perfectly cooked meat for tourists to fight over.
The 2nd traditional luau food is poi. This is the root of the taro plant, beaten to a purplish sludge.
|"Still not willing to talk, eh? You leave me no other choice."|
In Hawaii it's a traditional comfort food, and, if you were raised on it, I'm sure you like it. I, on the other hand, can't stand it. It may be the blandest thing on the face of the Earth.
The luau staff, however, are well aware that the haole expect it, and even want to try it, as part of the "luau experience." So they put out a small dish on the buffet, well aware that nobody will take too much or come back for seconds. Traditionally, you're also supposed to eat it with your fingers, and the thickness is graded by how many fingers are needed to do so (one finger poi, 2 finger poi, 5 finger-and-3-toe-poi, etc.). At least they use a spoon to serve it.
The 3rd traditional luau food is an open bar with unlimited drinks. This is to help you forget the fact that you just took out a 5th mortgage so you could have carbonized pork and taste poi.
The modern luau is really a lot more Vegas than Hawaii. An MC (think Max Quordlepleen) comes out, welcomes you, belts out a few numbers, and works the crowd a bit. He makes typical jokes about newlyweds, asks who's celebrating anniversaries and birthdays, etc. My favorite part was when he was asking different groups what state they were from, and one family yelled "Oakland!"
Then they begin the dances. Usually he tells the story behind it ("this next dance is the traditional one a village did when their kids medaled in the math olympics, or at least caught a decent sized fish") followed by the music and dance. They also do a few numbers where they try to get intoxicated audience members up on stage to do something they'll be sorry got on Face Book and have no recollection of having humiliated themselves like that.
The closing act is always the fire dancer. Technically, this is Samoan, not Hawaiian. It features a loud drum piece playing while a guy twirls a flaming baton around for 2-3 minutes. Occasionally he drops it, but the stage doesn't suddenly go up in smoke. He also does a few stunts like briefly setting his lips on fire (a coating of poi protects them from damage) or touches it to the soles of his feet.
For the record, this is NOT real Samoan fire dancing. In Hawaii they use a baton, usually metal, wrapped with kerosene-soaked rags at each end. In Samoa it's much more exciting because it actually involves a machete, with flaming rags at both ends. I am not making this up. The midsection, where you hold it, is sharpened so that if you grab it on the wrong side you might lose a thumb and/or a few pints of blood.
This is still done in Samoa, probably because they have fewer worker's comp lawyers there. It's an ideal thing to attend if you're the kind of doctor who loves to jump up and yell "I'm a doctor!" when you see a horribly gruesome flaming knife injury occur in front of you.
Walking out, you generally pass several tables of local artisans (likely one of the few times in this blog the term isn't being used sarcastically) selling statuary, jewelry, carved driftwood & seashells, etc. In my mind these things, while often cool to look at, require dusting and should therefore NEVER be brought home. A few years ago a patient gave me a small elephant carved from banyan wood. It only gets dusted on the day prior to his appointments, and that's at Mary's insistence.
|"It'll fit in the plane's overhead bin, no problem."|
And that's the way it is.