Let me start this this post by saying a luau is pretty much a perfect party theme. Because they are a part of Hawaiian history and culture, luaus are timeless. They are also season-less. A summer luau is a natural excuse to celebrate outside. And a winter luau is a fun and unexpected way to heat things up when it’s cold outside. I’ve got everything you need to know about how to throw a luau.
History of the Luau
This excerpt is from Hawaii-luaus.com, which has all kind of tips about luaus:
“In ancient Hawaii, men and woman ate their meals apart. Commoners and women of all ranks were also forbidden by the ancient Hawaiian religion to eat certain delicacies. This all changed in 1819, when King Kamehameha II abolished the traditional religious practices. A feast where the King ate with women was the symbolic act which ended the Hawaiian religious taboos, and the luau was born.”
A traditional Hawaiian luau feast took place on the floor and people ate with their fingers instead of utensils. The word “luau” comes from a traditional dish with the same name that was made from taro leaves combined with chicken, then baked in coconut milk. Tables would be covered with leaves and flowers.
When ocean liners made tourism to Hawaii more popular from the 1930s to the 1950s, the iconic hula girls and ukuleles were added into the mix. Today, luaus present a fun opportunity to share a taste of Hawaiian culture, no matter where you are.
Host Your Own Luau
I find luaus to be one of the most fun parties to host because they embrace delicious food, tiki drinks, and themed attire and décor. What more are you looking for in a celebration?
Your Luau Invitation
Your invitation should set the theme for the event. Make it easy on yourself and send a Paperless Post luau invite.
For a classier event, purchase some Paperless Post credits and send a full invite. I chose the Lime in My Coconut design for my Winter Luau.
I love Paperless Post invitations because they are electronic, but look so classy. Your guest receives a digital envelope that opens to reveal your customized invitation.
If you want to save the financial investment, you can now choose Paperless Post Flyers as well. Flyers can be shared anywhere with a link. They also do allow for basic RSVP collection, but you won’t have all the customization and reminder options that come with the full Paperless Post invitations. I recently used a flyer for a holiday “pop-in” where it wasn’t as important that I have an exact count. For a luau, I might use a flyer like Tropicana.
Make sure to include that tropical, tiki or Hawaiian attire is encouraged on your invitation!
If you are lucky enough to live near a Hawaiian-inspired restaurant, you may be able to partner with the owner to host your party. I have hosted two luaus at Perch, a Scott’s Addition restaurant owned by Mike Ledesma who lived in Hawaii and is passionate about the cuisine.
For the first party, Mike roasted a pig and paired it with appetizers and sides. I paid for the whole party in honor of my birthday. For the second event, Mike prepared a selection of traditional Hawaiian dishes. I sold tickets to the party and donated a portion of the sales to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Don’t have a Hawaiian restaurant handy or just prefer to cook on your own? Host the party in your house, back yard, or even at a pool. Mike has provided some handy menu items you can prepare yourself.
Lomi Lomi Salmon
Recipe courtesy of Mike Ledesma. This traditional luau side dish is an easy take on ceviche. The hardest part is remembering to prep the salmon a few days in advance.
6 oz. salted salmon, diced small
4 oz. Maui onions, diced small
12 oz. ripe tomatoes, diced small
3/4 oz. green onions, sliced thin
Crushed ice to taste
To make salted salmon: 3-4 days ahead of your event, coat salmon filets with a thin layer of Hawaiian salt. Cover and refrigerate. The salt will cure the salmon.
Preparation: Soak salmon in water to remove excess salty flavor. Gently mix together all of the ingredients except the ice. Add crushed ice as needed to keep the salad moist.
Oven Kalua Pig
Recipe courtesy of Mike Ledesma. The main event for your luau, this slow-roasted pork is simple, classic and full of flavor.
Preparation: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a roasting pan with the banana leaf and place 4 ti leaves over it. Put the pork on top of the ti leaves. Make deep scores in the pork and rub the liquid smoke and salt all over it. Place remaining ti leaves on top of the pork, then put the other banana leaf on top of that. Add water to the pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for five hours or until pork is fork tender. Shred pork and moisten with drippings before serving.
Recipe courtsy Mike Ledesma. Serve this with a simple salad alongside the pork.
10 oz. tamarind paste
1 quart pineapple or orange juice
3 Tbsps. red thai curry paste
2 cups honey
3 cups canola oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
Preparation: Combine tamarind paste and juice in a saucepan. Simmer until tamarind paste has dissolved. Add curry paste and honey and stir until curry paste has dissolved. Pass mixture through a fine strainer, reserving tamarind puree and discarding seeds. Stir in tamarind puree using a whip (large whisk). Slowly add the oil until it has been incorporated. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, then serve. Makes 6 cups of dressing.
Recipe courtesy Mike Ledesma. Haupia is a traditional coconut pudding that’s smooth, cool and satisfying.
3 cups coconut milk, separated
2/3 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsps. cornstarch
Preparation: Strain coconut milk. Combine 2 cups coconut milk and granulated sugar together in a pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Combine 1 cup coconut milk with cornstarch to create a slurry. Stirring constantly, slowly add slurry to coconut milk and sugar mixture. Simmer thickened mixture for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour into a 12 x 10-inch pan lined with parchment paper. Level and place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the haupia to keep a skin from forming. Chill, cut and serve.
Of course any luau isn’t complete without tiki drinks! You can make a punch or single cocktails, but either way you’ve got to garnish them properly. I’d go with a Pineapple Express created by Belle Isle Moonshine.
Courtesy Belle Isle Moonshine
1 bottle Belle Isle Honey Habanero Moonshine
6 oz. lime juice
50 oz. pineapple juice
1 lime, sliced
1-2 scoops of ice
Preparation: Combine moonshine, lime juice and pineapple juice in a large container. To serve, fill a glass with ice, then top with drink. Garnish with a lime wheel. Yields about 12 cocktails.
Notes: This drink will require about 2.5 liters or 2/3 gallons worth of space in a drink dispenser or punch bowl.
You can’t host a luau without fun cocktail garnishes. To begin, classic umbrella picks are a must.
You can get 144 picks for just $8 via Amazon Prime. Not bad.
Palm Tree swizzle sticks are great for drinks served in taller glasses. Get 50 for $10.
These Marlin swizzle sticks were a hit when balanced on top of a punch at another party I hosted.
You can also find edible flowers at Whole Foods and other specialty grocery stores. These make a stunning cocktail addition as do pineapple stalks, cleaned and rinsed.
Speaking of drinks, if you’re also planning to serve some cold, frosty beverages, you might want one of these festive coolers as well.
Instead of worrying about fancy tiki drinks, at another luau I hosted, I put pineapple drink containers at each spot and allowed my guests to fill them with the drink of their choosing and/or take them home as favors. They also added visual appeal to the table.
Because I chose to serve pork, I also gave my guests little bags of gummy pigs.
You also have to give your guests leis. Or, if you’re hosting a fundraiser, “sell” the leis for a charity donation. This set of 30 leis is high quality, comes with a variety of styles, and only costs $13.60.
If you have gone crazy with tiki drinks and party favors, you shouldn’t need too much more in the way of decor. I’d decorate the tables with additional banana leaves and leis, also hanging them on the walls or pinning them around if needed. You might also consider a tiki photo booth area with props like this set from Amazon.