Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hawaiian vacation, day 5

Tonight we went to a luau. They're hokey, and I, personally, am not a big fan. But since it was my kids' first trip here we felt they should have the experience.

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.


Christine said...

I suspect that in Samoa they handle liability very similarly to New Zealand. And if you want to see envy amongst any sort of medical professional, get them to Google "Medical Mapractive in New Zealand". Hint: it's basically non-existent.

I've had the Samoan version by the way (the name escapes me) and must say it was cooked to a better standard. As for their side dish, they serve Palusami (boiled leaves of the Taro plant) - one of the words only unsuited tastes (it's less taste with every subsequent serving)

peace said...

Unbelievable man. Her in my peaceful part of the Middle East we have similar dish to kalua you described. We bury the meat, which we maniacally spice, in a mud lined hole( to minimize heat escape and fasting the process). We also cover it with banana leaves. I guess yours were undercooked! Mom use the same technique to cook beans, they somehow taste better

Candida Gomez said...

They are [i]not[/i] cooking the pig in the pit properly if it's not cooked all the way through. Sounds like they have the temperature far too hot, and minimal monitoring. (You have to keep checking the temperature of the soil on the surface, and put more on or take it away to control the amount of heat cooking the pig.)

At least the crafts for sale weren't artisan toothpicks. :P (Really, that's a thing.)

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you didn't enjoy the luau, especially since you were on Maui. Maui is our favorite island (of the three Hawaiian islands we've visited) and we went to a luau there.

The one we went to had a lovely lady who conducted everything, didn't tell Quordlepleen (nice reference, btw) jokes, nor try to make it quasi-mystical. And the food was wonderful.

Maybe we just got lucky. :(

Lisa said...

Well good; the kids had the experience. You will never need to do it again.

Packer said...

I am just back from vacation , so I had to catch up on Grumpy. I am very glad to see that the Hawaiians showed you their "hospitality"

Anonymous said...

For Christine: I used to live in NZ and you are absolutely correct about med malpractice there. Also practically non-existent is interference by the licensing board into your practice, no matter how bad.

Hawaiians have poi for comfort food - in NZ, it's marmite. Yech, yech, GAG!!

Is it just me, or does it look like the guy in the pic (I assume it's not Dr. Grumpy, but I don't know why I assume that)is trying to jaw-thrust the tiki to open his airway? Tricia

J said...

I just had my own artisan luau.

Corn dogs (the jalapeno ones) with mustard on a paper towel.

BobF said...

4 years at Hickam, we have been to far too many of those things. If on Oahu I suggest Polynesian Cultural Center (do the bus tour/Center/Luau and save the driving) and the Hale Koa. Each different but at least there's no ripoff.

Best attended was wedding of Korean and Hawaiian, we great friends of the Korean bride and her family. Apparently lots of $$ in the group because besides being great food the entertainment was top notch. No family members shaking Wal-Mart hula skirts. When we got home I told the wife we should have bought a way more expensive wedding gift!

If the American West settlers had had poi they would have used it as sealant between the logs.

Anonymous said...

How silly. Naturally, the overhead won't be an issue!
Getting it through customs, though,
might take some doing.

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