Sunday Dinner Week #22 Lau Lau
Lau lau, the Hawaiian version of bento is a complete meal wrapped in taro leaves (lau), and steamed in an imu (underground oven) or on the stove. Our family makes lau lau mass production style, usually in the garage or in the living room with long tables set up and everyone having a specific job.
The youngest kids are in charge of cleaning the heart shaped taro leaves in the sink, then sorting them by size. The older kids are in charge of cutting the ti leaves, deboning them and washing them. The dads are in charge of the equipment (setting up the imu, or the large steamers, hooking up the propane, setting up stations). My husband is specifically in charge of cutting the string to wrap the lau lau. If it's too short or too long, it slows down the production line, so he had to go to graduate school to figure out the right length. The moms are in charge of choosing the ingredients in the lau, cutting up the meats and veggies, and salting everything.
Lau lau from the store usually consists of beef, chicken, salted butterfish or pork. My grandmother made enormous lau lau with a large piece of fat that melted in my mouth and flavored the rest of the lau. Almost anything can be put in the lau lau as long as there's some kind of fat. My brother had a vegetarian girlfriend, so he made vegetarian laulau with carrots and potatoes and daikon (not a good idea). Our specialty lau lau is fresh corned beef chunks with yams or purple sweet potatoes and pork belly.
The lau lau takes about 8 hours to steam, so we work in the morning, make enough for each family as well as enough to give away, then steam everything and eat the first batch for dinner. As the kids get older, it's getting harder to get the family together, but I hope the boys will carry it on with their own families someday. I hope that they will carry us in their own kitchens long after we're gone.