Wednesday, February 6, 2013

FoodTrek: Mahalo Plenty and Putting the "Wow" in Luau

I'm so not a luau person. I can count on one hand how many times I've been to a luau and I can now commit two digits to this achievement. I saw that episode of No Reservations where Tony Bourdain reluctantly attended a luau, and I felt his pain (at least until the tiki drinks kicked in, then it was all good times). That being said, it's sure saying something when I can say I came, I saw, I luau-ed and had a really fun night on our last evening in Maui, with the Runic Games crowd at the Old Lahaina Luau.

Rock-a-Hula, baby - swaying in the tropical breeze in Lahaina - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Total Party Pooper Confession: I had considered skipping the luau -- we missed our chance to try Star Noodle in Lahaina, along with many other restaurants that were on my Maui wish list. Committing a night of just eating at as many places as we could manage was awfully tempting. And the rush hour traffic, complete with a road-blocking accident made for a pretty wicked commute from Makena to Lahaina. Translated to full-on Pidgin with a touch of Maui dialect: Eh, dis one plenty kine pilau pauhana traffic! Dis some junk, eh?!  But this was the final night in Maui, we had so much fun on this huge group vacation with all of the Mister's workmates at Runic, and this felt like a proper way to end our very magical trip on a festive,  happy, gang's-all-here note.

1-2-3 - CAMERA TIME! Festive night and a special little guest-star - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Luckily, we were in the land of Island Time, so despite the traffic snarl, we didn't miss a thing upon our arrival to the Old Lahaina Luau. It's set up like dinner and a concert -- you have a little cocktail hour time, getting settled, enjoying the fresh flower lei they greet you with, and you continue to enjoy cocktail hour time until the buffet is opened. Then it's almost like going to a big banquet wedding -- each table gets up to go through the buffet line and it's done in a nice, orderly fashion so the line for dinner doesn't look like all hell's broken loose. Our group probably took up five or six tables, which were all within the same general area, so it was nice to have everyone sitting so close. We even got a special guest visitor -- a little gecko which scared the holy hell out of one of our friends. I'm pretty sure the gecko was just hoping for a sip of Mai Tai. The photo above is just a reenactment of what happened, as that picture was taken in Kona a couple of years ago, but believe me -- those geckos are lushes, every last one of them!

Eating the islands, one bite at a time - Photo by Wasabi Prime
It was hard to take a good photo of the buffet area while trying to balance my plate, but believe me, it was a very good luau meal. They of course had the requisite whole-roasted pig, fresh from the underground oven -- the imu -- with fall-off-the-bone smoky Magical Animal, but they also had mini pork laulau (pork wrapped in taro leaf, with a little piece of fish for extra flavor, wrapped in a ti leaf before being slowly cooked), two different kinds of poke (Hawaiian-style ceviche) -- one with octopus and the other with tuna, roasted alii potatoes (also known as purple Okinawan potatoes), fresh locally-grown salad greens, a tasty warabi and tomato salad (warabi is like a tropical fiddlehead fern), and more familiar items like teriyaki chicken, beef and roasted fish. There was poi, that old luau favorite of mashed taro root made into a thick, sticky pudding -- which I skipped -- not my thing, but very traditional and worth trying if you've never had it. I feasted on the island beasts from land to sea, and enjoyed every bite. Say what you will about buffets or even luaus -- this was really delicious and the food was fresh and genuine, not trying to adhere to some silly image of what Hawaiian food should be. The endless cocktails were nice as well, an option well-chosen for our party-hearty group.

The story of the Hawaiian islands, as told through music and dance - Photos by Wasabi Prime
We were happily settled in Food Coma Land when the sun settled into the sea and the performances began. The Old Lahaina Luau does a beautiful job, presenting as much of the mythical story of the Hawaiian islands as they do the history of hula itself within the islands. Several of the hula kahiko -- traditional or ancient style of hula -- are from the surrounding Polynesian islands, the original Hawaiian settlers who brought the cultures of the Marquesas and Tahiti, including their method of historical preservation by way of movement and song. The performances are introduced with explanations in English, as well as Native Hawaiian by a kumu, an elder and teacher.

The early settlers of Hawaii and the legends of gods who created the islands - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I loved seeing the performance of the story of Pele, Goddess of Fire, who lives in the Kilauea crater on the Big Island of Hawaii, and her tempestuous relationship with her older sister, Namakaokahai, goddess of water, ocean and rain. It's always the ladies with the complex personal dynamics and DRAMA, no? There's different variations on the story, that Pele put the moves on her sister's husband, or that like many siblings, they just couldn't get along, and so they fought -- fire and water, in a constant battle. But ohana -- family -- wins out in the end, they strike a balance, just like the way the ocean's waves crash against the cliffs of Kilauea, yet the volcano remains active and very much alive; neither force fully overtakes the other and so the islands continue to grow. All this through a beautiful song and dance? Well, just believe me, it's there.

From past to present, a history of hula - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Despite how cool it would have looked in a photo, there were no spinning batons of fire going on. That's a little more Vegas-y and less traditional, because really, how safe is that, spinning stuff on fire?? The later performances show the hula's history, definitely a sign of the European influence, with full muumuu style dresses befitting the modest British settlers that nearly made Hawaii their own (at least before America got their protectorate clutches into it -- but oy, what a bigger, more complicated story that one is). The popularized modern hula -- hula auana -- reminded me of the annual Merrie Monarch hula festival that happens every year in Hilo on the Big Island. Literally the Superbowl of Hula, with halaus traveling from as far as Japan to participate, all the islands literally drop everything to watch it and enjoy the cultural celebration. Hula auana style is more athletic and quick, with synchronized strong movements, especially the all-male performers, proving that men can make hula impressive and powerful. As an art form, hula continues to regain its cultural significance in people's minds -- it lost a lot of ground from too many years of trivialized fake grass skirts, bad tattoos and silly (but wonderful) Elvis movies. Well-done performances like the ones at Old Lahaina Luau are helping to set the image right. 

Cheers to you, Maui - and no, that wasn't my lei on the mermaid - Photos by Wasabi Prime
So yes, despite my not being a luau person, I genuinely enjoyed myself on our Aloha oi, Farewell to Maui night, rockin' the hula. It was a beautiful evening, and everyone looked so happy, relaxed and fully vacation-ized at the luau -- even the Mister and me! We all made our way back to the hotel for a final cocktail hour in their lounge, plus post-func room POG-tinis because we all bought waaaaaaaay too much alcohol (damn you, Costco!) and were desperate to finish as much of it up before we headed back to the Mainland the next day.

Mahalo Plenty to Runic Games for their generosity and heartfelt Aloha to not only the employees but their families, the trip organizers and team-wranglers, the gorgeous island of Maui and all the locals we met, the very patient and good-natured bartenders and staff at Makena Resort who served our every tipsy whim, the awesome Runic Gang for being such FUN travel companions, and even Mother Nature and the Hawaiian gods themselves, for blessing us with an incredible week-long experience. Aloha nui loa -- looking forward to returning again soon!

1 comment:

  1. This is a great holiday for all you.the photos looking fantastic, I'm sure you have a lot of fun. Good thing you have in your camera and almost all the things you want to capture the experience.Maui luau


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