by Leilehua Yuen
Kau kau, pronounced "cow cow,"
means "food," or "meal" in Hawaiian pidgin. It is
also used to mean "to eat," as in "let's go kau kau"
- "let's go eat." The Kau Kau Kitchen cooking column and books
have been popular in Hawai`i since the first column appeared in the
Hawai`i Tribune Herald in 1983.
Auntie Lele preparing
to bake kalo during a class on Hawaiian food.
When I was a little girl, lu`au tables were
long picnic tables or saw horses with planks across them. They were
covered with paper and decorated with ferns, ti leaves, and fresh fruit
- pineapples and bananas - arranged all the way down the center. Every
foot or so a different color bottle of soda pop from the Hilo Soda Works
was set, tucked into the other decorations. They were arranged so that
the colors made a pretty pattern along with the other decorations.
We children would make trades along and across
tables to get our favorite pops. Mine were the creme soda and orange
pop. The adults would sing and play their ukuleles and guitars, and we
children would dance hula. Once, I remember, Miss Aloha Hawai`i was a
guest. Watching her dance was a real treat for those of us who dreamed
of someday following in her footsteps.
The star of a lu`au is the kalua pig. Although
it is now the most famous of Hawaiian foods, and the most spectacular,
the kalua pig was not an everyday menu item. Some pigs were kept in
enclosures and fattened. However, a more common practice was to toss
extra breadfruit, and other items favored by pigs, into the forest edge,
encouraging them to feed within a comfortable hunting range. Still, to
acquire a boar for a feast required hunting the wily animal through
Once found, the hunter must face the
razor-tusked beast and dispatch it with a wooden spear. With neither
pack animals nor carts the hunter must then carry his catch home.
Because the Hawaiian pua`a (pig) and other wild animals tend to be lean,
as in many subsistence cultures, fat was a delicacy to the ancient
The custom of offering the fat to a favored
guest is still practiced by some of the older kama`aina (natives). If
you are so fortunate as to be invited to a family lu`au, and an elderly
Hawaiian selects the fattiest piece of meat from the kalua and puts it
on your plate, it is an honor. Here is a simple recipe for kalua pig
that does NOT require an imu (oven dug into the earth).
Oven Kalua Pork
1 pork butt (you may substitute any meat such as: mutton,
goat, chicken, or turkey)
liquid smoke flavored seasoning
Trim the fat from the pork butt. Stab the
butt all over with a sharp knife. Pour the smoke flavoring into the palm
of your hand and rub it all over the butt, being sure to work it
thoroughly into the cuts. How much to use depends on personal taste. I
like a good smoky flavor, so I generally use at least three
tablespoonsful. Repeat the process using rock salt. Wrap the butt in
baker's parchment paper, and then aluminum foil with the fattiest side
up. The foil should form a sealed package to hold in the juices and the
steam. The plastic oven bags also work. Place in a 250 degree oven for 6
to 8 hours. The kalua is ready when the meat falls apart easily.
While it is still hot, use a pair of forks to
shred the meat into pieces about double bite size. Stir in the juices.
Kalua pig is good substituted for corned beef
in corned beef and cabbage and other recipes.