Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: `Aha`aina - Recapturing the Global Flavors of the Luau

"24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blogs" is a global blogging event, devised, collected and showcased by the amazing folks at Foodbuzz.com. This event celebrates the scope and diversity of food blogs by capturing the cultural diversity and unique local perspective of bloggers from around the world: it's real food, experienced by real people, and shared real-time.

In Hawaii, community celebration comes in the form of feasting on delicious food in the company of family and friends. Today this feast is often called a luau, but sadly, the only luau that visitors to Hawaii (even long-term visitors) are able to participate in has gone the way of many other fine traditions – turned to entertainment for tourists and comprised of a pared-down menu of accepted (and expected) dishes...and I believe, losing the very reason for its being in the process.

Green Salad with Papaya Seed Dressing (Hawaii)

The luau didn’t begin this way. It originated with King Kamehameha II, who brought peace and equality to the ancient Hawaiians in the early 1800s by finally bringing the social classes together and banishing the arcane rules that had long dictated their lives. This historic change was christened and celebrated by a great feast, called an `aha`aina. Suddenly, commoners were permitted to eat with royalty and women were allowed to eat beside men - everyone rejoicing around a single table.

Korean Pancake (Korea)

For the first time, Hawaiian delicacies such as bananas and coconuts that were previously reserved for royalty were enjoyed and shared between all and traditional Hawaiian staples such as poi (taro), crab, pig and yams, were eaten alongside exotics from the New World. Since the inception of the`aha`aina, culinary influences such as miso, rice and teriyaki from the Japanese; sweet bread, sausage and malasadas from the Portuguese; and dishes like lomi lomi salmon from the West have been incorporated into Hawaiian cuisine.

Huli-Huli Yakitori (Japan)

Modern Hawaii is a global melting pot more than ever. Across the Islands, people celebrate life and pay tribute to their heritage by bringing and sharing dishes that reflect their own cultural customs and backgrounds. In keeping with the spirit of celebration for life and fellowship that began so long ago, we wanted to revive the `aha`aina for the for the Foodbuzz “24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blogs” event. To create this `aha`aina and to promote the sharing of cultural ideals and food traditions, we brought our friends and coworkers – all home cooks - together to celebrate global diversity in true Hawaiian style…to simultaneously recreate and reinvent the `aha`aina on a tiny island off the coast of Oahu.

Tortilla Espanola de Patata (Spain)

For the event, rather than devise a specific menu, we challenged them to do one of two things:
1) Create a new version of a traditional Hawaiian dish, using ingredients that are prominent staples of their country or ethnic background; or
2) Make a traditional dish from their country or ethnic background using locally available Hawaiian ingredients.

Lau Lau with a Fijian Twist (Fiji)
The response was overwhelming – we had nearly 30 people, most of whom didn’t know each other prior to the `aha`aina. Our one requirement, beyond the creating of the dish, was that each person be willing to share a bit of themselves, their culture, and their cooking with the rest of us. The group embodied the global community that has been drawn to Hawaii because of its unique location and spirit of aloha, and included people from over 16 different nationalities - from Hawaiian to Guamanian, Japanese, Mexican, Lithuanian, and beyond.

To bring home the concept of community, not only between those of us living here in Hawaii, but across the world wide web as well, we even invited other Foodbuzz Featured Publishers in Hawaii to join us - to bring their own cultural identity and cooking prowess to the table, and to cover it on their own blog and in their own style. Only one, Deb, was able to attend and you can read her thoughts about the whole experience on her fabulous blog, Kahakai Kitchen.

Kalua Pork Cabbage Rolls "Kaldomar" (Sweden)

For the `aha`aina, cooks and non-cooks alike came out swinging – the food was a veritable feast, both for the stomach and for the eyes. Since each recipe was newly created by the person that brought it to the table, many people were hesitant when they arrived – worried that their food wouldn’t taste right, wouldn’t be right; that it might not look or taste “good enough,” but as the tables were set up and filled with beautiful food, there were satisfied faces and smiles all around. There was no “best dish” of the day – instead of competition between dishes and people, there was only sharing, tasting and discovering the tastes of everyone’s unique heritage, combined with the flavor of land we live in and love (Hawaii, of course!).

Roasted Vegetables and Pineapple Provencal (Italy)

The quality and deliciousness of the feast was clearly evident in the audible exclamations and sounds of surprise and delight that were heard across the table amid the other conversation (and in how much and how fast all of the food disappeared). Before long, as the scent of coconut, mangoes, and pork wafted out into the air, we even had "neighbors" that began to trickle in and ask if they could join the feast. The food literally brought an unexpected and unique group of people together. There were kids running around exploring the new surroundings and providing the feeling of a large family joined together, while the adults were having a different kind of new experience – on the palate and in the spirit of fellowship and new friendships forming.

Many people reflected that they reconnected to parts of their heritage through the experience of coming up with their dish – to mothers, to grandmothers, to childhood memories and family gatherings, and even through traditional recipes they had never heard of nor tried before. Some created their dish as a way to thank the land and the people there – using ingredients from Hawaii and integrating a piece of themselves and their culture with the land they now live in, and sharing it with the people there. One even swore off the luau, exclaiming they would "rather have an `aha`aina any day! Everyone agreed they would definitely come back together for another one (next year, perhaps?).

Kadon Pika (Guam)

We believe this feast represented the true meaning of the `aha`aina and the aloha spirit of the people of Hawaii, reinvigorating the tradition of fellowship and community celebration in the hearts and minds of the people who attended. But the `aha`aina needn’t be specific to Hawaii. It could be recreated anywhere - near or far, around a smoldering imu (an underground oven for cooking Kalua pig) or in your own backyard...you can recapture the global flavors, and the spirit, of the luau in your own way.

As you know, the food blog world truly represents a global community – connecting people across the world at tables and in kitchens, regardless of any borders. But food itself is the universal language of the planet: no matter who you are, where you live or how much money you have, you have to eat – it’s a requirement of human survival and part of the whole human experience. But there is a global community, and a world of creativity, existing right outside your doorstep too – in yourself, your family and your friends. Bring them together, ask them to share a bit of themselves with you, and relish in learning something new about them. I guarantee you’ll be feasting and celebrating life together around a table of amazing food...and what could be better, or more worthwhile, than that?

Dobos Torte with Lilikoi Curd (Hungary)

Stay tuned for the incredible recipes (plus more photos) from this amazing event - they'll be posted soon!

Victorian Sponge Cake with Coconut Cream and Guava Jam (England)

19 comments from you:

genkitummy said...

michelle-wow! great job organizing the event! it's nice how the sharing of food brought everyone together!

Deb in Hawaii said...

Great write up and a wonderful event that I was truly honored to take part in and will never forget--the food, the felowship and the fun! Mahalo!

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful read about Luau, and I love the display of international cuisine using Hawaiian ingredients!

Marija said...

WOW! You made a great fusion of world cuisines! Amazing!

Anonymous said...

I love the idea behind your meal. It seems that you guys had a real feast. Well done!

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, your post is even better than I expected! A massive congratulations to you!

Such a wonderful concept and described beautifully. I really wish I could have that papaya salad - looks so fresh and zippy. Delish!

Congrats again, fabulous post! x

Anonymous said...

This is incredible looking food, truly a feast. The Dobos Torte with Lilikoi Curd looks so good I've now had to go back to look at the picture twice more. I don't even know what lilikoi is but I just know that was a fabulous tasting torte.

Zoomie said...

Great idea for a party and it sounds like you had a terrific menu and a terrific time!

Michelle said...

Genki, thanks! It was really amazing the feedback that I've gotten from the people in attendance saying how much they enjoyed it and meeting everyone!

Thanks Deb, I couldn't have done all that prepping or cleaning up nor even staying sane without you!! I'm so glad you were there!!

Noobcook, thank you! And thanks for stopping by to say hello! I was really happy that we had 16 countries represented by food, but there were even more than that represented by the people there!

Marija, I have to take a bow to the people who did most of the cooking - my guests! Thank you for your comment!!

FoodJunkie, thank you! The whole idea of this type of a feast was something that really meant a lot to me and I'm glad it came together so nicely. Thanks for visiting!

Christie, Awww, shucks. You make me blush!! Thanks - I wish we could have gone to each other's feasts!!

Julie, I sent your comment to the maker of the torte because she was so worried when she got there that it didn't look very pretty - but once she had put all the garnishes on it was truly beautiful! And tasty! Lilikoi is the Hawaiian word for "passionfruit" - I'll be posting the recipes tomorrow so you can enjoy it at home!

Zoomie, we most certainly did have a terrific time! Thanks!!

maybelles mom said...

sounds wonderful and fun. good job.

Giff said...

Wow, what an incredible event. This must have been amazing to put together and see come to life like this. Ah, I miss Hawaii! Lisl and I got married off on a water's edge lawn off of Diamond Head.

Deeba PAB said...

What a grand event you hosted. I love the mingling of history, tradition & food! Beautiful post...wish I could have been there!! Congrats on being a Foodbuzz 24!

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a beautiful event. Your post and photos brought the history, smells, flavors, colors, and characters to life for us! You did a wonderful job! I'm an SO impressed.
P.S. That green salad with papaya seed dressing looks so yummy!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Michelle That is an awesome spread! I would love to have been there. Great history and a wonderful idea for an event. Can't wait to see the recipes!

Anonymous said...

Not too long ago, I saw the PBS documentary "The Last Queen" and it sparked a renewed interest in Hawaiian food and culture.

The Kalua pig cooked underground sounds truly wonderful! I'll bet the flavors really coalesce beautifully!

Anonymous said...

Wow Michelle,
Sounds like you've been busy. All of those food pics looked delicious.

Anonymous said...

This is just so lovely!

Michelle said...

Maybelle's Mom: thanks!

Giff: What a beautiful place to be married! It really was amazing to see how this whole event came together - and humbling too!

Passionate about Baking: Thanks! Wish you could have joined us too! I love the personal histories intertwined with the history of all of the food tradition too - it was incredible!

Melissa: Thanks! I put that salad together at the last minute to up our veggies for the day because there were so many meat dishes - and it surprisingly came out beautifully!

Doug: Kaula pork is amazing - while we didn't have an imu cooking (it's really expensive to buy a pig here and you need expertise to cook it like that), I hope someday to experience the real thing!

Aimee: hi! We most certainly have! We still miss supper club though! Hope you and Ed are great!

Jenny: Thanks!

Timeless Gourmet said...

What a lovely post.Very impressive - great job. Your photos are terrific, as well as the thought and care you put into this. Thank you!