Lau lau is a Hawaiian dish made of pork and butterfish wrapped in lu’au leaves and ti leaves. Lau lau is steamed and eaten with rice and poi. It’s a real treat!
Lau Lau at Helena’s Hawaiian Food (Oahu)
It doesn’t look like much, but lau lau is one of my favorite Hawaiian dishes.
Lau Lau at Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu)
What Is Lau Lau?
Lau Lau is a Hawaiian dish made out of fatty pork and salted butterfish wrapped in lu’au leaves and ti leaves. The wrapped lau lau “package” is steamed and served alongside rice and other Hawaiian dishes like poi, lomi lomi salmon, kalua pig, haupia, and lots more! It’s an essential part of any Hawaiian meal.
A platter of mini lau lau bundles for a group (ti leaf already removed) and kalua pig!
A good lau lau is meaty, savory, and sooo juicy! Many people say lau lau is their favorite Hawaiian dish and it’s easy to see why ^_^
Luau Leaf and Ti Leaf
There are two types of leaves involved with lau lau:
Lu’au leaves (from the taro plant) at Haraguchi Farm (Kauai)
- Lu’au Leaf – this is the inside leaf of the lau lau. Luau leaf comes from the taro (kalo) plant. This leaf is delicious! You should eat as much of it as possible. My mom always jokes that I only eat lau lau for the leaves. And it’s totally true, the leaves soak in all the fat and flavor from the pork and fish and it’s pretty incredible.
Ti leaves (after it’s been steamed and unwrapped from the lau lau) at Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu)
- Ti Leaf – this is the outside leaf of the lau lau. Ti leaf comes from the ti plants. You cannot eat this leaf! It functions as a wrapper to hold and steam the lau lau.
Lau Lau at Farm to Fork Manoa (Oahu)
LauLau or Lau Lau?
No one seems to know for sure!
Some places spell it lau lau (two words): Yama’s Fish Market, Highway Inn, Keoki’s, and Alicia’s Market, etc.
No one would say you’re wrong for spelling it one way or the other. Just eat and enjoy ^_^
Lau Lau at Poi by the Pound (Maui)
How To Eat Lau Lau
So easy. Untie the string, open up the ti leaf (don’t eat the ti leaf) and discard the ti leaf and string. Everything else you can eat! Dive in and get some of the steamed luau leaves (my favorite part!), fatty pork, and salted butterfish in one bite.
Many places serve lau lau with the ti leaf and string already removed, but I love the visual appeal of lau lau when it still has the ti leaf wrapper.
Lau Lau at Helena’s Hawaiian Food (Oahu)
Lau Lau Pork and Chicken
The meat in lau lau traditionally calls for pork and a nice hunk of pork fat. But because people are more health conscious these days, many places also make lau lau with chicken instead of pork. Or they just use less fatty cuts of pork.
That nugget of pork fat is essential though, lau lau just doesn’t taste the same without it.
Inside the lau lau at Helena’s Hawaiian Food (Oahu)
Lau Lau Fish
The fish in lau lau is salted butterfish. Butterfish is the local term for black cod. Not just any black cod, but black cod prepared in a specific way which is miso-marinated.
To make things more confusing, in the case of lau lau, what you want is a piece of black cod that’s salted. We still call that butterfish (even though it’s not miso-marinated).
So! When you hear butterfish in the context of lau lau, think salted butterfish. If you hear butterfish in any other context, think miso-marinated butterfish.
I’m not sure why we call it butterfish in Hawaii, but that’s just the way it is. You want to use butterfish/black cod for lau lau because it has a high fat content. Fat is flavor.
Vegan lau lau at ‘Ai Love Nalo (Oahu)
Vegan Lau Lau
For vegan lau lau, check out ‘Ai Love Nalo (Oahu). Instead of pork and fish, they use three local, Hawaiian vegetables:
- kalo (taro)
- ‘ulu (breadfruit)
- ‘uala (sweet potato)
The vegetables are wrapped with lu’au leaves and ti leaves, then steamed. They pour on warm housemade coco sauce right before bringing it to the table. Real good!
Ti leaves on the outer layer and lu’au leaves on the inside. Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu)
Lau Lau Recipe
Ok, say you want to make lau lau! How do you go about it?
First thing to know is: most people don’t make lau lau at home. They either buy it from a restaurant/Hawaiian food spot or attend a luau/party where people make lau lau in groups (aka large batches of lau lau!) Like making poi, it’s not a one person at home type of activity. Part of the fun in making lau lau is the community/people element.
To make lau lau, you need four key ingredients:
- Lu’au leaves – You can find lu’au leaves at the supermarket in Hawaii, but it’s hard to find on the mainland. One time a friend tried to make lau lau in NYC. She substituted spinach leaves for half the batch and collard greens for the other half. It tasted ok, but I don’t recommend it. Got to have the real thing. Make sure you wash the leaves good and cut off the stems.
- Ti leaves – This is for wrapping the lau lau. You cannot eat ti leaves.
- Pork butt and/or pork belly – Cut it into small chunks. Can do a 50/50 mix of both or all of one. Put in a nice nugget of pork fat if you’re using only pork butt.
- Salted butterfish – Aka salted black cod. Cut it into small chunks. Ideal to salt the fish ahead of time, but if you forgot, no big deal.
Lau Lau (they tie it so nice!) at Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu)
You can substitute pork and fish with different ingredients (or even do an all vegetable, no meat version), but the classic lau lau has pork and fish. Sometimes it’s also nice to add chunks of sweet potato in the mix.
Opened lau lau at at Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu)
Don’t forget! All lau lau requires a bit of fat and salt. It’s not lau lau without both.
Lu’au leaves from the taro fields at Haraguchi Farm (Kauai)
This is how you assemble the lau lau:
- Lu’au leaves are big and flat. Take 3-4 leaves and put them on a table.
- In the center of the leaf, put in a few chunks of the pork belly/butt and butterfish.
- Sprinkle a little Hawaiian sea salt on top.
- Then use the lu’au leaves to wrap it up into a bundle.
- Next, wrap the ti leaves around the lu’au leaf bundle. If you’re a pro, you can use the ti leaf ends to tie a topknot. Otherwise use a string to tie/secure the bundle.
- Put the lau lau in a steamer and steam for four hours till nice and tender.
Lau Lau at Highway Inn (Oahu)
Where To Get Lau Lau
You can get lau lau all over Hawaii! These are my go-to spots. Each place make their own lau lau in house and they are all very different. It’s fun to try lau lau at several places to compare and find your favorite:
- Helena’s Hawaiian Food (Oahu) – they serve it with the ti leaf removed so you can just eat the whole thing.
- Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu) – bonus points for prettiest lau lau, whoever wraps the lau lau here does an amazing job.
- Fort Ruger Market (Oahu)
- Farm to Fork Manoa (Oahu)
- ‘Ai Love Nalo (Oahu) – for vegan lau lau
- Costco (Oahu, Maui, Big Island) – for Keoki brand lau lau
- Poi by the Pound (Maui) – don’t forget to get the taro sundae (with haupia ice cream, chunks of taro, and poi) for dessert!