Visitors to the islands of Hawaii usually quickly realize that one dish is considered more popular and representative of Hawaiian cuisine than others. That dish is Lau Lau.
If you’ve never heard of or tried Lau Lau, it’s basically a combination of butterfish and pork wrapped in Luau leaves. Luau leaves are actually leaves that come from the taro plant.
They are steamed to create moisture after being wrapped around the meat and fish ingredients in the dish.
Lau Lau is not only a traditional Hawaiian dish, but it’s considered a kind of comfort food in Hawaii.
The best part is, there are many ways to make delicious Lau Lau regardless of your dietary requirements and flavor preferences.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Lau Lau and find some incredible recipes for this traditional dish, read on! We have all the information you need to understand and make the perfect Lau Lau!
An Introduction To Hawaiian Lau Lau
We gave a brief summary of Lau Lau in the introduction to this article, but to recap and elaborate:
Lau Lau is a traditional Hawaiian dish that can be eaten as a main course or even served as a side. It’s made of pork and butterfish (although many types of fish may also be used as long as they are thick, boneless and soft).
The cuts of pork chosen are usually fatty to add more texture and flavor. The meat and fish is then wrapped in lu’au, which is a leaf from the tarot plant, and all the ingredients are steamed for a soft and moist meal.
An outer leaf is wrapped around the package to act as a kind of cover for steaming, and this is usually a ti leaf. The outer leaf isn’t edible, but the lu’au leaf and the rest of the dish is, of course, safe and delicious to eat.
Traditionally, Lau Lau is served alongside dishes such as lomi lomi salmon, sweet potato, or kalua pork.
What You Need To Know About Lu’au And Ti Leaves
Both lu’au and ti leaves are used to make Lau Lau, and both are integral parts of the dish, although only one of these leaves is actually edible.
The inner leaf wrapping for Lau Lau is made of a taro leaf, and you can eat this since it’s both nutritious and delicious. They’re packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and essential minerals to help boost your immunity and general health.
However, the outer wrapping, which is made of ti leaf, should be thrown away after steaming since it’s not edible and its only purpose is to provide a cover during the steaming process.
The History And Tradition Of Lau Lau
Lau Lau has a deep and important history which is part of the reason why it’s such a traditional dish in Hawaii.
First of all, the taro leaf used to make the inner wrapping of the dish is integral to Hawaiian culture. Taro leaves come from the Kalo plant, and this plant features in Hawaiian creation stories.
Both the leaves and the root of the plant are key components of the traditional Hawaiian diet, so it’s hardly surprising that the leaves also feature in one of Hawaii’s most traditional dishes.
Although you can’t eat the outer leaf wrapped around the Lu’au, it has symbolic meaning. The ti leaf has been used medicinally for thousands of years in Hawaiian culture, and it also has ceremonial value.
So, not only does it help to protect the meat, fish, and taro leaves during steaming, but it also carries important symbolism.
We’ve been referring to Lau Lau as a dish throughout this article, and that is indeed what this specific recipe is called.
However, the words ‘Lau Lau’ actually refer to the cooking process of steaming pork and fish together along with sweet potato inside a leaf wrapping.
Usually, this consists of the taro leaf and a ti leaf wrapped around to secure everything in place before steaming in something called an imu pit.
Traditionally, the Lau Lau dish is steamed on top of banana leaves, with a second layer of banana leaves over the top, and the steaming process takes hours.
In the modern day, the imu pit is rarely used. Instead, an instant pot, pressure cooker, or rice cooker is more commonly used.
The Best Way To Eat Lau Lau
If you’ve never eaten Lau Lau before, you may wonder how best to eat this dish when presented with a package of meat and fish inside a leaf wrapping. However, it’s actually not complicated at all.
Lau Lau is meant to be served hot, so you’ll need to be careful for this part, but the first strap is to untie the string used to secure the leaves and discard the string along with the outer leaf (the ti leaf).
Then, all you need to do is cut into the parcel so that you get a piece of the lu’au leaf along with the meat and fish in the same mouthful. Trust us when we say this dish is much better when you can taste all the components at once.
Where To Find Authentic Hawaiian Lau Lau
We’re going to be sharing our favorite Hawaiian Lau Lau recipes in just a moment, but you may be wondering how to find authentic, ready-made Lau Lau outside of your own kitchen.
Luckily, if you find yourself in Hawaii, you should never find it difficult to get Lau Lau from a restaurant, cafe, or even a farmer’s market.
There are actually roadside stands dotted around the islands that sell freshly made Lau Lau, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sample this dish.
If you just want to order Lau Lau separately, you can definitely do so, but you might want to go to a ‘mom and pop’ style take-out restaurant for this order.
That’s because most cafes and restaurants tend to sell Lau Lau as part of a larger, mixed-plate dish along with rice, sweet potato, and other sides.
Our Favorite Lau Lau Recipes
Instant-Pot Lau Lau
Using an instant pot is probably the most common and effective way to make Lau Lau these days. This is because plenty of people now have an instant pot in their kitchen.
If that’s true for you, you can follow this simple instant-pot Lau Lau recipe to enjoy this traditional Hawaiian dish in the comfort of your home.
This recipe shows you how to prepare the classic combination of taro and ti leaves, a fatty cut of pork meat.
The video tutorial covers all the steps you need to prepare this dish from start to finish, including how to trim and prepare the stems of the leaves and how to wrap the pork so that it steams properly and stays securely wrapped in the leaves.
Instead of putting the boneless fish (in this case, salmon) inside the leaves, this recipe recommends serving it on the side along with poi, ahi poke, and rice.
Plant-Based Lau Lau
Did you know you can also enjoy Lau Lau if you’re vegan? This plant-based Lau Lau recipe is one of our favorites, not just because it tastes great but because it proves how versatile and accommodating of dietary needs Hawaiian cuisine can be!
For this plant-based Lau Lau, you’ll be using chard for the wrapping and filling the leaves with a combination of eggplant and miso tofu.
For the best results, you should roast the eggplant before wrapping it in the steamed chard leaves. You can simply roast it on a grill directly over the stove, so there are no complicated cooking methods involved here.
Even if you’re not vegan, we recommend trying this recipe because it’s so tasty and healthy!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does Lau Lau Mean In Hawaii?
We’ve talked a lot about the history behind Lau Lau in today’s article, but in case you’re wondering what the words ‘Lau Lau’ actually mean, it’s simple: in the Hawaiian language, ‘lau’ means ‘leaves’.
Hence, ‘Lau Lau’ is named for the combination of two leaves used to wrap the meat and fish.
Is Taro Toxic If Not Cooked?
While taro leaves and roots are important to Hawaiian cuisine and culture, it’s important to note that all parts of this plant including the leaves can cause a reaction if not cooked before eating.
Raw taro leaves can potentially result in swollen lips and tongue as well as a painful burning sensation. In severe cases, this can make it difficult to breathe, speak, or even swallow.
Additionally, if you eat taro leaves without steaming them first, you might experience some bad digestive issues including stomach pain, bloating, and symptoms like nausea and diarrhea.
Therefore, it is very important to make sure that taro leaves are steamed properly before serving.
What Goes Well With Lau Lau?
As we mentioned earlier, Lau Lau is traditionally served with side dishes such as sweet potato, rice, or seafood.
However, Lau Lau is so delicious and versatile that you can actually serve it with a variety of different side dishes, including some from all round the world.
Regular potatoes can work as well as sweet potatoes, and many people like to enjoy Lau Lau with a side of salad. That might be classic garden salad, or it could even be macaroni salad or egg salad.
Is Lau Lau Healthy?
Despite being made with especially fatty pork meat, Lau Lau is actually very healthy. The taro leaves are full of important vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants while the fish in the recipe is typically high in healthy fats and amino acids.
The pork provides plenty of protein. Plus, if you serve Lau Lau with a side of sweet potatoes or other vegetables, you’ll get even more micronutrients.
Lau Lau is one of the most delicious and nutritious traditional Hawaiian dishes. Whether you regularly eat meat and fish or avoid animal products altogether, you can enjoy a version of this Hawaiian dish by following one of the recipes shared above.
Remember to steam your taro leaves thoroughly if you use them and be sure to experiment with different sides to add something extra to this amazing dish!
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