North Shore, Hawaii
66-197D Kamehameha Hwy
Haleiwa, HI 96712
(808) 744-3754

The History of Kalua Pig November 15, 2019

North Shore, Waialua
The History of Kalua Pig, Waialua, Hawaii

If you’re lucky enough to attend a luau, you can’t miss the famous kalua pig, the centerpiece of a Hawaiian feast. It has long been a part of Hawaiian food tradition, and when you understand its history, you’ll see why it’s a firm favorite today.

What Is Kalua Pig?

Kalua pig is smoked, shredded pork, often served with cabbage. Kalua means “to cook underground.” The traditional method involves digging a giant dirt pit called an “imu” and cooking the pig in it with koa wood, lava rocks, and banana leaves. A modern variation is to rub the pork with sea salt, wrap it in ti leaves, and slow cook it in a standard oven.

How Did Kalua Pork Become One of Hawaii’s Traditional Dishes? 

Hawaiian FoodHistorically, kalua pig was only eaten by chiefs and kings, never by commoners or women, and was a dish served at regal feasts. In the nineteenth century, King Kamehameha II changed this tradition by creating what is known today as the luau, inviting everybody to try the kalua pig. The tasty dish became synonymous with the event, and to this day, no luau worth its salt would consider not serving kalua pig to its guests.

Why Is Kalua Pork Such a Popular Hawaiian Food?

While it’s a lot harder to get kalua pork cooked in an imu nowadays, nearly every Hawaiian restaurant carries a variation of the recipe. Its characteristic flavor comes from a combination of smoky wood and ti leaves. This distinctive taste makes it such a hit with locals and tourists alike.


The good old days are still going strong at the Kawailoa Tavern in Haleiwa, HI, where friends and family get together over delicious Hawaiian food and make the most of happy hour. When the sun goes down, the tunes come up with live music and karaoke flowing into the evening. All are welcome here—even dogs, in their own off-leash play area. Check out their website to see their menu of Hawaiian food. If you want a tasty dinner from the comfort of your own home, call for takeout at (808) 744-3754.