In St. Louis it has been frigidly cold for this native Southerner. When it gets cold I think about warm places. And the last warm place I visited, besides our year long stint in San Diego, was Hawaii. Dining out in the islands can be a budget busting disaster or a cheap eats chow down. I’ve already written about Low’s in Hilo on the Big Island. A good way to describe this restaurant is frugal fusion food since it brings traditions from all over the South Pacific and puts it in one run down lunch counter style restaurant. However, some people want more “traditional” Hawaiian food and they head to a luau. That is until they see the price. These overglorified pig-pickn’s can run you upwards of $75 to over $100 a person for an outside buffet and dinner show, the antithesis of a Dave’s Cheap Eats. But with a little work you can get the luau experience without the price tag.
A luau is just the Hawaiian name for a celebratory picnic. If you’re from the South, it’s a pig pickin’, and yes, they do have pig (Kalua pig). For tourists it’s a commercialized experience with two parts: “traditional” Hawaiian food and a Hawaiian music and dance review. Yes, folks, it’s a Branson show held outside. However, you don’t need to break the bank for the same experience.
First, the show part. Many beachfront hotels in Waikiki have traditional Hawaiian shows. We stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian
Village (don’t worry, we stay cheap, too: 5 nights oceanfront in the Rainbow Tower for $100) and caught a fabulous free show showing the various traditions of Hawaiian dance from early hulas on up to western influences.
The food was a little harder. Most people come to Waikiki for the beaches, not the traditional Hawaiian food. However, near the Honolulu Zoo is Ono Hawaiian Foods. They have been serving up traditional Hawaiian fair at cheap prices to locals, tourists and celebrities for over 38 years. For $9.50 you can get one of their traditional plates, big enough to feed two adults, filled with food you won’t find off the islands. As an added bonus, each comes with Poi! Ok, I didn’t really need an exclamation point for that. Poi is what most luaus give you the option of not having. It is a traditional dish made from taro that has been pressure cooked and mashed to the consistency of mush. This may not sound appealing-in fact I didn’t like it that much-but it I saw many locals happily stuffing their faces with poi. Besides the poi, everything else was delightfully different and surprisingly scrumptious. The Kalua pig was as good as the barbeque in Wilson, North Carolina. The Lomi Salmon was more of a cold rice salad than the hot fish I was expecting, but this is Hawaii and it gets pretty hot so you don’t need it to be hot. The Pipikaula was just as good. And the Haupia, a type of pudding, was a great way to finish the meal off.
There you have it, with the help of Ono Hawaiian Foods you can have a Dave’s Cheap Eats Hawaiian Luau, all for about $5 a person!