Kona Village Adds Authentic Ahaaina

Traditional food, music and dance grab spotlight

By: Dawna L. Robertson

When it comes to bountiful feasts with unique names, no destination tops Hawaii. Visitors of the Kona Village Resort can now celebrate the oldest continuously running ahaaina (feast) on Hawaii’s Big Island twice a week.

Over the years, large gatherings with food and music became more commonly referred to as luau. In its effort to be true to its historic location in the ancient Hawaiian fishing village of Kaupulehu, Kona Village more correctly refers to its celebration as an ahaaina.

Each Wednesday evening, the ahaaina pays homage to the resort’s Hawaiian home with traditional foods, music and dance for which Hawaii is well known. On Friday evenings, the food and entertainment shifts to encompass much of Polynesia as well so that the richness of other South Pacific cultures can also be shared with visitors.

Considered by many to be the most authentic luau on the island, Kona Village’s ahaaina features traditional foods prepared the old Hawaiian way. The main course of every feast is kalua (smoked) pig. Early in the day, a large pig is filled with fire-hot stones, meticulously wrapped with ti and banana leaves, then placed in an underground Hawaiian oven called an imu.

More hot stones and banana leaves are added, and then covered with sand. Slow roasting over the next several hours results in juicy meat with a rich smoky flavor and hint of salt.

Part of the fun of a Kona Village ahaaina is the unveiling of the imu. While guests gather to hear hostess Lani Opunui thoughtfully explain each step, traditionally garbed staff uncover the oven and use their bare hands to toss smoking lava rocks and plant material aside until the now fully roasted pig is revealed.

Other buffet selections include laulau (pork, butterfish and taro leaves steamed in ti leaf bundles), lomi salmon (salted salmon, tomatoes and onion mixed together) and poi (mashed taro root). An array of more familiar foods to complement traditional selections includes fresh greens and island fruits, chicken, fresh island fish and steamed vegetables.

An added feature at Kona Village is the umu, a shallow underground oven from the Tongan and Samoan cultures that also utilizes hot stones and plant material. Its similarities to the Hawaiian imu are its ability to create steam and heat to “pressure cook” foods perfectly.

In the umu, executive chef Mark Tsuchiyama might prepare freshly caught fish that is delicately seasoned, wrapped in ti leaf and banana leaves, and then layered with hot rocks and sand. He may add whole turkey, sweet potato or breadfruit so guests with dietary restrictions will still have opportunity to sample the flavorful results of this ingenious Polynesian cooking method.

Luau-goers are also treated to a show that is both fun and educational. Many of the performers are “day time” employees of Kona Village. Staff participation in the ahaaina is a long-standing tradition at Kona Village since the luau itself first began nearly 40 years ago as a casual Friday afterwork gathering of staff to enjoy music and camaraderie.

Opening in 1965, the 82-acre Kona Village Resort is home to 125 thatched-roof cottages called hale (pronounced ha-lay) nestled around lush lagoons and pristine white and black sand beaches. Rates include oceanfront dining with island-inspired meals along with numerous activities and water sports.