A luau in Alaska? Why not? With winter a distant memory, July is the month we immerse ourselves in the endless summer days that bless us here in southern Alaska. Outdoors has never felt so good and when it comes time to entertain, that’s the place to do it ― right in your own backyard. What better way to celebrate summer than by treating family and friends to a taste of the tropics?
Parties have been a part of Hawaiian life since Polynesians settled the islands. Ancient Hawaiians called the basic celebratory feast the ‘aha ‘aina. Today, one word is used for gatherings: luau. So, let’s get you outfitted for what is sure to be the best summer party in Anchorage, Eagle River, Palmer, Wasilla or wherever you call home in Southcentral.
First, you’ll need to set the mood and most of the items you’ll need can be found at party stores (Party Craft in Anchorage has an amazing selection), hardware stores and even thrift shops. You might also find what you need online at Amazon.com, CoolGlow.com or PartyCity.com
Use torches placed around the party site or strings of shell- or fish-shaped outdoor lights hung in the trees. Cover the buffet table with woven beach mats, fish netting or a few yards of Hawaiian print fabric.
In the center of the table, pile up some fruit, such as papayas, mangos, pineapples, coconuts and bananas to act as a centerpiece. The fruit doesn’t have to be real ― believe it or not, WalMart (Anchorage and Wasilla) has some amazingly realistic faux fruit in their dried flower department. Place bud vases on each dining table, pop an orchid into each one and surround the vase with small shells. Tack aloha shirts from the thrift store to the back fence for a whimsical effect.
The star of the traditional Hawaiian luau is a dish called kalua pig. Preparation of the pig begins in the early morning hours on the day of the party and includes seasoning the pig, wrapping it in ti or banana leaves and then placing it in a pit, or emu as it’s known in the islands. The wrapped pig is then covered with red-hot lava rocks and left to cook slowly for the rest of the day.
It’s a long, smoky process but it results in tender, juicy meat. Alaskans can get almost the same effect by slow cooking a pork butt, either in the oven or in a crockpot. Stick the roast all over with a fork, rub it with sea salt and then add a couple dashes of liquid smoke to give it that imu-roasted flavor.
Seafood, such as grilled mahi mahi, swordfish, ahi, and shrimp are reminiscent of an island soiree as well. These aren’t exactly the easiest to find, so feel free to use local favorites in place of Hawaiian fish. Consider a teriyaki dish too, either chicken or beef. Side dishes may include macaroni salad, white rice, pickled cucumbers and a green salad.
Luau deserts are typically simple and include haupia, a hard pudding made from coconut milk. You can find instant haupia (just add water and refrigerate) online at Amazon.com. Or, if you prefer, serve coconut cake, macadamia nut ice cream and Kona coffee for a simple but elegant ending to your Hawaiian feast.
Cocktails should include the mai tai (rum and pineapple juice or pineapple and orange juice), and the chi-chi, which is a pina colada with vodka instead of rum. Non-alcoholic drinks to offer include a tropical fruit punch or guava and pineapple juice.
Music creates the mood, so stock up on either or both classic and contemporary Hawaiian music. Artists such as Gabby or Cyril Pahinui, Keola Beamer, Leland "Atta" Isaacs, Sr., Israel Kamakawiwo'ole or other slack-key guitar and ukulele performers will add authentic Hawaiian ambiance. The iTunes website has an amazing assortment of island music for downloading.
Don’t forget to specify on the invitation that folks should wear their best aloha attire. Place a bowl of flowers and some hairpins at the front door for the women to adorn their hair (the flower goes over the right ear if she’s single) and a lei for each guest. If you have keikis (children), make them the official greeters, handing a flower to each wahine (woman) and a lei and big “e komo mai!” (welcome) to all.