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Lau lau is a quintessential Hawaiian dish with a rich history in Polynesian cuisine. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Lau lau is a traditional Hawaiian dish made of meat or fish and vegetables wrapped in taro or luau leaves and steamed.

This article will provide a comprehensive guide to lau lau, including its origins, ingredients, cooking process, varieties, where to eat it in Hawaii, and step-by-step instructions for making your own authentic lau lau at home.

We’ll also highlight some key tips for choosing quality leaves, meats, and sides to serve with this flavorful bundled delicacy.

The Origins and History of Lau Lau

Importance in Ancient Hawaiian Culture

Lau lau has been an integral part of Hawaiian cuisine and culture for centuries. According to historical accounts, early Hawaiians would wrap meat and fish in ti leaves and steam them in an underground oven called an imu.

This cooking technique infused the meat with the earthy, herbal flavors of the leaves.

Lau lau was often served at momentous gatherings and celebrations as it was considered a sacred and precious food. The tedious process of preparing the dish demonstrated the importance of the event. Only the most skilled cooks were tasked with making lau lau for such esteemed occasions.

Ancient Hawaiians believed that sharing a meal created an unbreakable bond between people. As lau lau was served at momentous community events, eating it together strengthened relationships and reinforced cultural values of generosity and connection.

Evolution Over the Centuries

While the essence of lau lau has remained unchanged over time, some aspects have evolved with the availability of new ingredients and cooking methods.

In pre-contact Hawaii, lau lau consisted of foraged greens, vegetables like sweet potato and taro, and fish or meat like wild boar. Today, local meats like chicken, beef or pork are commonly used as fillings.

Modern renditions might also incorporate non-traditional items like pineapples, mushrooms or tofu.

Instead of an underground oven, lau laus are now often steamed above ground in a covered pot. Some cooks have even experiemented with foil-wrapped lau laus baked in a conventional oven. While convenient, these methods don’t quite replicate the smoky flavors infused by an imu.

Lau lau is still considered an important part of Hawaiian cuisine today. From backyard gatherings to luau feasts at hotels, it continues to be a treasured way to mark memorable occasions with friends and family just as it was centuries ago.

Ingredients that Make Up Lau Lau

Lau Lau is a traditional Hawaiian dish made by wrapping meat and fish along with vegetables in taro or luau leaves and then steaming or baking the parcel. The combination of ingredients steamed in the leaves infuses everything with a wonderful herby flavor.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the main components that go into making this unique dish.

Taro or Luau Leaves

The key ingredient that gives Lau Lau its distinctive flavor is the leaf wrapper used to enclose all the ingredients. Typically, taro leaves or luau leaves are used. Taro is a tropical plant grown throughout Hawaii. Its large green leaves are perfect for making parcels for steaming.

The leaves impart a subtle herby taste to the Lau Lau.

Meats and Fish

Lau Lau parcels typically contain some kind of protein source at their heart. Pork, beef, chicken or fish are usually used. Pork shoulder or butterfish are common choices. The meat should be salted and seasoned before wrapping. Fish should be gutted and scaled but can be wrapped whole.

Once steamed, the meat will be fall-off-the-bone tender and succulent.

Complementary Vegetables

In addition to the protein, an assortment of vegetables are also added to round out the dish. Onions, carrot slices, and potatoes are commonly used. Other vegetables like green beans, cabbage, celery or bell peppers may also be included.

The vegetables impart extra flavors and textures to complement the tender meat. They also soak up the tasty juices inside the parcel while steaming.

To learn more, check out sites like Hawai‘i Magazine and MyRecipes which have excellent step-by-step instructions for making your own authentic Lau Lau at home.

How to Cook Lau Lau Properly

Choosing the Right Cooking Method

When it comes to cooking lau lau, the traditional Hawaiian method is to wrap the meat and vegetables in taro or ti leaves and steam them. This imparts a wonderful herbal flavor to the dish. Nowadays, many people opt to wrap the ingredients in aluminum foil for easier cleanup.

Both methods work well, so choose whichever best fits your needs.

Recommended Equipment

To cook lau lau properly, there are a few key pieces of equipment that will make the process easier:

  • A large pot with a steamer insert – You’ll need something big enough to hold all the lau lau bundles while they steam.
  • Cheesecloth – This is used to wrap up the meats and vegetables into neat little packages before wrapping them in leaves.
  • Kitchen string – To tie everything up nicely before cooking.
  • Taro or ti leaves – These are traditionally used to wrap the bundles before steaming. Aluminum foil can also be used.
  • Step-by-Step Cooking Instructions

    Follow these simple steps for perfectly cooked lau lau every time:

    1. Prep the ingredients – Get your meats, fish, and veggies ready to go. Cut into portions and season.
    2. Wrap in cheesecloth – Wrap up the seasoned ingredients tightly in small cheesecloth bundles.
    3. Wrap in leaves – Take your taro or ti leaves and fold them around each bundle individually. Tie with kitchen string.
    4. Steam the bundles – Place bundles in your steamer basket in a single layer if possible. Pour a few inches of water into the pot below. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and steam for 1-1 1/2 hours.
    5. Check for doneness – Carefully unwrap one bundle and check that meats are cooked through. If not, rewrap and steam for 15-30 minutes longer.
    6. Unwrap and serve – Carefully remove string and leaves from each lau lau bundle. Use a fork to gently pry open cheesecloth. Enjoy!

    Be sure not to overcook the lau laus or the meat can get tough. An internal temperature between 185-205°F is ideal for fork-tender pork shoulder. With the right timing, your lau laus will turn out perfect every time. This tasty dish is well worth the effort!

    Different Variations You Might Encounter

    Regional Styles

    Lau lau has many regional variations throughout the Hawaiian islands that reflect local tastes and ingredients. On Oahu, cooks often use taro leaves to wrap the bundle along with ti leaves. Maui lau laus feature more subtle flavors like butterfish or opakapaka wrapped in luau leaves.

    The Big Island’s volcanic soil lends a unique sweetness to their taro leaf wraps. Kauai likes beef, pork, and chicken contrasts wrapped in hala leaves from their distinctive hala trees.

    Neighbor island lau laus cook for hours in an imu earth oven on hot rocks layered with ti leaves. The smoky, herbal flavors permeate the parcels slowly. Oahu versions adapted to modern kitchens typically steam or bake their lau laus. They capture less smoke but still impart delicious flavors.

    Creative cooks around Hawaii experiment with diverse fillings like seafood, purple sweet potato, and even mushrooms for vegetarian versions.

    Modern Fusion Variants

    Modern restaurants have also dreamed up gourmet fusion versions of this traditional Hawaiian dish. A Roy’s Restaurant signature is their short rib lau lau with Maui onion, pumpkin purée, and fern shoots wrapped in ti leaf.

    Award-winning chef Alan Wong stuffs Chinese sausage, kimchee fried rice, and ginger into wonton wrappers for his unique take.

    The Hyatt Regency Waikiki features a contemporary Loco Lau Lau with ferm wrapped kalua pork, sweet Maui onions, and pineapple coconut rice. Tropical fine dining restaurant MW Restaurant crafts a halibut lau lau with edamame purée and braised Dungeness crab.

    Their unique combos highlight the way lau lau soaks up creative flavors. Chefs agree steamed white rice makes the perfect accompaniment to enjoy the tasty bundle bursts.

    Where to Eat the Best Lau Lau in Hawaii

    Iconic Hawaiian Restaurants for Lau Lau

    Lau lau, a tasty bundle of pork and butterfish steamed in ti leaves, is a beloved Hawaiian dish with deep cultural roots. Foodies visiting Hawaii often want to know where they can find the very best versions of this unique island meal.

    Luckily, the Aloha State offers many iconic restaurants serving mouthwatering lau lau.

    Ono Hawaiian Foods, a casual Honolulu eatery started in 1946, remains a go-to for outstanding lau lau plates lunch and dinner. Their fall-off-the-bone kalua pig and delicate butterfish are wrapped to perfection in hand-picked ti leaves.

    Locals, tourists, and celebrities flock here for a delightful taste of tradition.

    Not far away in Waikiki, the beachfront Highway Inn is another long-time favorite. Their coconut Lau Lau plate, which swaps pork for chicken, offers a tropical twist. And the accompanying sides like squid luau, lomi salmon, and poi truly round out an incredible Hawaiian plate lunch.

    On Maui’s scenic North Shore, an annual food festival called Aipono Lau Lau Fest celebrates this distinguished entrée. Local cooks from respected restaurants like Star Noodle and Mala Ocean Tavern showcase their lau lau specialties with a competitive edge.

    This lively event really highlights the artistry behind great lau lau.

    Whether visitors opt for a casual plate lunch or an upscale sit-down dinner, Hawaii’s top chefs curate lau laus that continue age-old cooking customs with care and pride. It’s no wonder why bites of this flavorful bundle often inspire smiles in paradise.

    Annual Lau Lau Festivals and Events

    In addition to iconic restaurants dishing out tasty lau laus daily, there are also special annual festivals in Hawaii celebrating this distinctive dish. The largest and most acclaimed is the Aipono Lau Lau Fest held every October in the small town of Kahakuloa on West Maui.

    Established in 1982 to honor the community’s dedicated lau lau cooks, the competitive event features teams vying to create the best tasting bundle. Over a dozen groups set up grills along windy Kahakuloa highway and stuff their family recipe fillings into hand-picked ti leaves.

    Judges carefully consider components like the pork marinade, fish preparation and steaming technique. Thousands of attendees sample the entries and watch hula dances as winners are crowned in the early evening.

    Another spirited festival called the Lau Lau Competition happens every September at the County of Kauai’s annual Taste of Hawaii. Top Kauai chefs bring their A-game to craft original lau lau creations using local ingredients.

    Previous winning plates have incorporated tropical touches like guava chicken sausage, ulu (breadfruit), and fern shoots. Along with great food, the family-friendly event also features a coconut husking contest and Hawaiian cultural demonstrations.

    For visitors who happen to be island-hopping during these festival times, attending either lively celebration allows an insider’s look at what makes Hawaiian lau lau so special. And of course, tasting the succulent ti leaf parcels these skilled local cooks produce is a one-of-a-kind treat.

    How to Make Authentic Lau Lau at Home

    Sourcing Quality Ingredients

    The key to delicious lau lau starts with finding high quality ingredients. Focus on sourcing fresh ti or taro leaves that have no blemishes or imperfections. Choose pork butt or shoulder cuts with ample fat marbling for flavor and moisture.

    When it comes to fish, a meaty white fish like mahi mahi works well. Sea salt, kosher salt, or Hawaiian alaea red clay salt also add mineral notes to balance the dish. Check farmer’s markets or Asian specialty stores for the most authentic Hawaiian ingredients.

    Leaf Prep and Parboiling

    Prep the ti leaves by removing any thick ribs or stems and tearing them into rectangular shapes large enough to wrap around the bundles. Parboil the leaves for 2-4 minutes until pliable and soft enough to fold without cracking. This helps infuse flavor and makes them less rigid to work with.

    Transfer to an ice bath to halt the cooking process and then set aside on paper towels.

    Assembly and Cooking

    In terms of order of assembly, place taro or sweet potato slices on the bottom, followed by fish, pork, butter, and finally salt. Wrap everything tightly in the prepped ti leaves, folding in the sides first and then rolling from the bottom. Secure with butcher’s twine.

    Arrange the lau lau bundles seam side down in a steamer basket or bamboo steamer lined with leaves. Steam for 6-8 hours over gently simmering water or 1-2 hours in a pressure cooker. The bundles will swell and darken as they cook, infusing the leaves with meat juices.

    Serving Suggestions

    Allow the lau lau packets to rest 5-10 minutes after steaming to let flavors redistribute. Carefully remove twine and leaves before serving. The traditional way is atop a bed of steamed white rice with macaroni salad on the side.

    Amaze taste buds by drizzling lau lau with citrusy ponzu sauce or spicy sriracha for added dimensions. Throw a luau by complementing it with other Hawaiian specialties like poke, haupia coconut pudding, and mai tais for good measure!


    As you can see, lau lau is an integral part of Hawaiian culinary tradition with a storied history. More than just food wrapped in leaves, it represents the islands’ rich cultural heritage and local flavors.

    We hope this guide gave you a thorough understanding of exactly what lau lau is, how it’s prepared, popular varieties to try, the best places to sample it, and even how to craft your own at home. So next time you’re in Hawaii, be sure to seek out this one-of-a-kind dish!

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