Polynesia is home to a dynamic island culture. Perhaps best known for a culture incorporating tiki gods, Polynesia is also known for great food! If you're thinking of hosting a luau or a tropical party, one of the most important steps of your party planning process is to seek out Polynesian recipes. While many of these mirror similar dishes found in Hawaiian cuisine, others are unique to the native Polynesians, or blend a wide array of culinary traditions, including those found in Hawaii, Asia, and even the mainland U.S.
When most people think of Polynesian food, they think of dishes featuring chicken, poi, and/or pineapple. These are certainly a few staple ingredients found at most Polynesian meals. Traditionally the Polynesian diet also features taro root and sweet potatoes, as well as rice and beans. Hawaiian baked beans, one staple dish, often comprise a large part of both Hawaiian and Polynesian fare.
For sweet recipes, the Polynesian diet often incorporates banana and coconut, like many other tropical islands. Both of these crops are traditionally grown on the Polynesian islands, and using them as ingredients for your luau menu will certainly provide an added flavor of authenticity.
Of all of these traditional Polynesian ingredients, taro root and poi are the two that are typically unfamiliar to American audiences. Taro root is the root of a tuber plant, related to yams and potatoes. Considered a staple in many cultures of Africa, Oceania, and Asia, it has a texture similar to that of a sweet potato, with a flavor like that of a potato. In the U.S., it can be found at most supermarkets carrying a large selection of Asian foods. Poi is made from the taro plant, which is cooked and then mashed into a pudding-like consistency.
Although these two ingredients are not typically found in dishes created in the mainland U.S., most of the other ingredients needed for Polynesian recipes can easily be found in any grocery store. Who says that you must be in Hawaii to experience a luau, or Polynesia to experience a delicious Polynesian feast? You can cook easy Polynesian-inspired dishes in your own home, using ingredients you're already familiar with.
For the most part, Polynesian food is traditionally cooked in an earthen oven. For your own Polynesian party, this means plenty of baked dishes, though of course you can use your regular oven as an alternative to the traditional earthen oven.
Often, the key to creating the perfect menu for a luau or tiki-themed party lies in authentic Polynesian fare that's familiar enough to please mainland palates. This was certainly true in the tiki lounges that sprang up in the 1930s, tiki bars during the tiki craze of the 50's and 60's, and in today's restaurants around the world that feature Polynesian-inspired menus.
For the main course, look towards sweet and sour sauce for something that's a bit familiar to most mainland taste buds, yet also quite exotic and tropical. Most people are familiar with this sauce from Chinese restaurants. Recipes for Polynesian sweet and sour sauce typically require sugar and white vinegar, and are used to coat pork, chicken, or shrimp. As an alternative to sweet and sour, use soy sauce to coat the meat. Fried rice is another great dish that is certainly Polynesian, yet also familiar to those on the mainland.