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Laulau—Hawai‘i’s Soul Food

September 30, 2016, 9:15 AM HST
* Updated November 15, 3:07 PM
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Considered to be the soul food of Hawai‘i, laulau is a mouthwatering dish consisting of a protein—usually pork—wrapped in the lūʻau leaf (leaf of the taro plant) and a piece of salted butterfish.

Traditionally prepared, the laulau was simply a piece of pork or fish wrapped in luau leaf then wrapped in ti leaf (which is not supposed to be eaten) and placed in the imu (underground oven) for several hours.

Today, the laulau has evolved to commonly include a protein—usually pork, beef or chicken—and sometimes a combination of those.

Then, a piece of salted butterfish (black cod) is placed in the wrap to add an additional layer of flavor.

Once wrapped, it is usually steamed for several hours on the stove.

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Laulau variations today can include sweet potato, taro, ulu (breadfruit) and kombocha pumpkin, Portuguese or Chinese sausage, turkey tails or even more exotic proteins like goat, lamb or deer.

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It is worth noting that the key to an “ono” (delicious) laulau is having some form of fat in the wrap, otherwise, you may end up with a “dry” laulau, which by local standards is not a good laulau!

Similar Polynesian dishes include Samoan palusami and fai‘ai, which contain fish, eel or other seafood alone or in combinations and Tongan lupulu, which contains corned beef.

A favorite item in many Aloha Friday plate lunches, the laulau is usually the center of the Hawaiian plate lunch, served sometimes with kalua pig, poi and lomi salmon, but most commonly served with two scoops of rice and a side of mac salad.

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It is not uncommon to hear of a family preparing 500 or more laulau for celebrations ranging from a baby’s first birthday lūʻau to weddings and funerals.

Laulau can be frozen and keep in the freezer for up to one year. Thus, prepping large batches all at once is not uncommon for local families as well.

However, they are available for purchase in most grocery stores throughout the state in case you just don’t want to hassle with making your own.

Taro leaves. Darde Gamayo photo.

Taro leaves. Darde Gamayo photo.

Laulau ready to be cooked. Darde Gamayo photo.

Laulau ready to be cooked. Darde Gamayo photo.

Laulau ingredients. Darde Gamayo photo.

Laulau ingredients. Darde Gamayo photo.

Lūʻau leaves. Darde Gamayo photo.

Lūʻau leaves. Darde Gamayo photo.

Mass production completed—400 laulau wrapped and ready. Darde Gamayo photo.

Mass production completed—400 laulau wrapped and ready. Darde Gamayo photo.

So the next time you are looking for some Hawaiian soul food comforting… the laulau could easily satisfy that craving.

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