Next Wednesday, the Lucky Rice Asian food festival will be hosting a Sunset Luau at the Gaansevort Meatpacking Hotel. Some of Hawaiia's biggest chefs—Alan Wong, Roy Yamaguchi, Chai Chaowasaree, and Vikram Garg—will make their spins on traditional luau food with drinks from Lani Kai's Julie Reiner.
Hearing about the event made us ask—and we expect we're not the only ones—what is traditional Hawaiian cuisine? And what's Haiwaiian food like today? I talked to some of the participating chefs to get their thoughts.
Roy Yamaguchi, Roy's
"If you take a look at Hawaii, it's made of different ethnicities: Filipino, Chinese, native Hawaiian, Japanese, and more," says Roy. All these ethnic influences have fed into the local cuisine, making it, in some ways, just as multicultural and multifaceted as New York's. Roy's dish combines local Hawaiian ingredients with techniques from Asia and beyond. His local Hawaiian beef will be served banh mi-style, but with a chewy, curry-laced coconut patty standing in for the baguette (it comes dressed in traditional taro leaf sauce and less traditional foie gras). Roy sees no problems mixing and matching these influences: "Hawaiian food boils down to Hawaiian ingredients and the cultures behind them."
Chai Chaowasaree, Hawaiian Airlines
Chai agrees with Roy about Hawaiian cuisine: the beautiful thing is that there's no contradiction between eating locally and internationally. "We have a climate that can grow everything, even chocolate." It's easy to grow influential foreign ingredients on Hawaiian soil. Chai claims he cooks "Hawaiian regional cuisine," not traditional Hawaiian food—a trend that started about 30 years ago as broader palates and greater desire for fresh, organic produce took hold of the region's culinary consciousness. Instead of the traditional luau pig, Chai will be serving several dishes, including an oxtail soup with Thai lemongrass, lime leaves, and vegetables that show off the range of Hawaii's homegrown agriculture.
Alan Wong, Alan Wong's
As another proponent of Hawaiian regional cuisine, Alan Wong has made the history of Hawaiian food his study. Like New York today, many of the people in Hawaii started somewhere else, and they each brought something with them to the islands. The early Polynesians brought over pigs, root vegetables, and fruits in canoes, and quickly incorporated the local fish into their diets. It was common for early Polynesian food to be served simply raw: "One of the most commonly known raw preparations is called Poke, which literally means 'cube' or 'cut.' The fish was cubed or cut into bite size pieces and seasoned with sea salt, fresh seaweed, and roasted kukui nuts." In homage to the raw fish traditions of Hawaii, Alan is serving two raw fish dishes: a traditional poke and a more multicultural ahi sashimi.
The Full Menu
Alan Wong (Alan Wong's)
- Chopped Ahi Sashimi and Avocado Salsa Stack
- Hawaiian Crown Sweet Gold Pineapple "Shave Ice"
- Hawaii Rancher's Ribeye, Luau leaf, Curried Ban Mi
- Spicy Lemongrass Oxtail Soup Shooter with Ho Farm Cherry Tomato,Hawaiian Chili Water and Kaffir Lime
- Crab Cake with Roasted Garlic Aioli, Pickled Big Island Rainbow Vegetables
- Sticky Rice Fried Rice with Shiitake Mushroom, Lob Chong and Island Chicken Wrapped with Ti Leaves
- Lemongrass and Coconut Milk Poached Kona Lobster with Aloun Farms Sweet Corn and Lobster Reduction
- Lomi Lomi Salmon and Big Island abalone with Poi
- Singapore Sling
- Mai Tai