That is a welcome expression Hawaiians like to use. Even there, as in our culture, food has a social value, but the meal has a different look. The difference lies in "geometry". In Italy we eat all sitting around the table together (it is even considered rude to start eating when anybody is not yet ready). In Hawaii (and, I believe, generally in the States), the buffet style is more common. Everyone serve him/herself filling up his dish. It is not uncommon that not to have a table at all. Everybody eats the way he wants: standing, sitting on chairs or armchairs, allowing the events to make big or small groups for conversation.
Luau is a word in the native Hawaiian language which means more or less "party". The spirit is to meet somewhere to share the pleasure of being together. Traditionally, the guests bring the food which is then shared among each other.
The luau I attended during my Hawaiian holidays was organized in the Community Center, to celebrate of my wife R's family reunion.
All the close relatives of the families originated from the defunct R's grandmother were invited. We were about two hundred: a success, given that most of those relatives are distributed pretty much all over the world.
The most typical character of the party was Patty Boy, a cousin of uncertain age with long bushy white hair collected in a ponytail. Deep and loud voice. When we arrived, together
Patty Boy, as a gesture of welcome, put on my neck a ti leaves lei, and responding to my "i am honored" he didn't loose the opportunity to point out (perhaps with excessive pathos) how lucky we were to live this occasion to strengthen our family unity.
I think Patty Boy embodies at all, almost as a caricature, the totally sincere welcoming spirit of Hawai'i.
The dinner was arranged on a long table with large trays, pans and serving dishes. Our contribution couldn't be anything but some typical Italian food: we filled a considerable number of cannoli shells with sweet fresh ricotta and candied fruit. The result was not bad at all, in fact they disappeared in few minutes.
This is the native Hawaiian way to cook the pig: once wrapped an entire pig in banana leaves they bury it in a hole in the ground in which some hot stones were put. The pig is then covered with hot stones and sand. After a considerable amount of time they take put the sand and stones and unwrap the pork form the banana leaves, ready-cooked.
We were fortunate to be able to assist in the preparation of kalua pig with methods a little more "evolved". The pork was wrapped in banana leaves and aluminum foil and placed in a metal cage. The cage was sittinh on hot stones in the hole, and everything was covered with wet rags and a special plastic sheet. We have come to the place of preparation during the afternoon, when the kalua pig was being "unburied", and we had the opportunity to taste it still hot.
Another typical way of eating in Hawaii is the poke. It is a snack, rather than lunch or dinner. The poke is sold in the deli of small supermarkets, supplied directly from local fishermen, as it happens in Hishihara market.
Chicken in a Barrel
An enjoyable experience is to have lunch at little banquets on the roadside by the sea. Chicken in a Barrel is one of them.
Hawai'i islands are a repository of traditions brought there by immigrants from different places at different stages of history. Great is the Japanese community, so, popular is the cooking from Japan. One of my favorite places is Kintaro japanese restaurant, where I tasted the best sushi of my (limited) experience. But anytime i go to Kaua'i i never miss to go atleast once to Hamura Saimin. The saimin, the restaurants and the operators are very similar to those described in the movie The Ramen Girl. "Saimin", in fact, is the Hawaiian name of the ramen. The menu is rather limited, but no matter. The only order that makes sense over there is, in fact, the saimin.
All the photos of this post are from R's blog: http://rubbahslippahsinitaly.blogspot.com/