Kauai

This was the second time we have gone to the islands, and after hopping around a bit to Oahu we settled in for three weeks in Kauai. We came on this relatively short trip because it was actually cheaper to fly here from Japan than directly back to the US! Either way after a long trip in Japan, and a few spots of chilly weather we welcomed the bright sunny change of scenery. As usual when we got here my first question was: "What food can I learn about?" I started with all of the top poke places, although I had already ventured into this dish years ago when we lived on Maui for five months. I was after something new, something big, something ancient. And then it hit me, I needed to find someone cooking a whole pig, and learn the legendary LauLau. I roamed around the different coasts of the island, trying to find some connection to locals who may be engaging in this festivity. There were lots of LauLau stands and restaurants, but these were mostly very touristy and the cooking was not done on site. Then one day, in the town of Hanalei, I smelled something cooking on the side of the road. It was a little restaurant offering traditional LauLau, and was touristic, however part of the show was seeing the pig come out of the ground whole, and carving it up. I was not interested in eating at the restaurant, but went straight for the pit master. After awkwardly standing around a group of tough looking Hawaiians who were getting drunk on beer and pork, with a dumb grin on my face, I mustered up the courage to approach the head honcho. "So uh you cook the pig here?" Was my dumb opening line or something like that. To my surprise I was greeted by a wide smile. From then on, a friendship was formed. I told him that I was a chef researching food, and he told me about his family. His name was Kaiana, and he was as close to what I imagined an ancient Hawaiian warrior to look like. Enormously strong, with thick calfs and forearms, a mountain of a man. Surprisingly, also a complete teddy bear. For the next week or so I would see him every day, and several mornings meet him at 4 AM to begin the pig roasting process. It consisted of filling a hole in the ground with logs, letting them burn down, covering the embers with volcanic rocks, and finally putting a whole pig on top in a metal rack with chopped banana leaf husk, Ti leaves, water soaked burlap to cover, and tightly packed dirt over it all. By the time we were done you could not see even the smallest whips of smoke coming out of the mound, it was sealed. Ten hours or so later, we would crack it open, revealing a crispy, mouth watering, falling apart pig. I would then help him pull it and serve it to the tourists. We would then laugh at them behind their backs whilst drinking beer and saving all the crispy fatty bits to ourselves. Did I mention he had a family? Half of which were adorable young kids of various ages starting at 2 to about 18, and then the other half were a motley crew of drunk uncles, each more hilarious then the next. This by far was the highlight of my trip, although there was much swimming, acai bowls, coconuts and the rest. I miss him greatly and cannot wait to return.