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Taro (Colocasia esculenta). Author David Monniaux. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike
Taro (Colocasia esculenta). Author David Monniaux

Hawaiian Cuisine: Hawaiian food and Hawaiian dishes

A taste of Hawaiiana. Methods of cooking in Ancient Hawaii.

The most popular method of cooking in Old Hawaii was in an imu, an underground oven. To construct an imu, a shallow pit was dug in the ground where a fire was built.

Large stones which were heated to a very high temperature, were used to line the bottom of the imu. Wet leaves or grasses were spread over the hot stones to prevent scorching. Food was wrapped in ti leaves and covered with ginger or banana leaves, then placed inside the imu, which was covered with mats and earth.

A bamboo tube was inserted so that water could be poured in to create steam. The combination of roasting and steaming in the imu was referred to as kalua. Cuplike packets of such things as fish, taro tops, and fresh vegetables wrapped in ti leaves and cooked in the imu were called laulau pi’ao.

Sweet potato. Author National Cancer Institute. No Copyright

Sweet potato. Author National Cancer Institute

Another popular method of Island cooking was broiling on a bed of coals. Bananas and breadfruit were broiled in their skins, while other foods were wrapped in ti leaves. The Hawaiians had no fireproof utensils, so to boil, they dropped heated rocks into wooden bowls of water. Salt was harvested from the ocean. Shallow pans lined with clay were placed along the shore near the high tide mark where coarse salt crystal were trapped.

A popular Hawaiian relish dish was prepared by roasting kukui nuts and grinding the kernels in a stone mortar. A small amount of salt was added to the ground nuts. A pinch of this relish was used with other foods. Another favorite was a variety of seaweed called limukohu, which was pounded and eaten in small pinches as a relish.

The early Hawaiians drank water o coconut milk, which was very important for ocean voyages. A less common beverage was the root of the ‘awa plant, which was partially dried, chewed, and spit into a bowl. Water was added and after straining, the slightly narcotic mixture was imbibed.

On long voyages and during times of famine, preserved fish or taro, which had been sliced, dried, and perhaps pounded into a form dough-like mass called pa’i ‘ai, was an important staple.

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