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The Plight of the Polynesian Poultry

Plight of the Polynesian poultry.

The Hawaiian chicken and plight of the Polynesian poultry.

Reasons for the Plight of the Polynesian Poultry

What comes to your mind when you think of Hawaiian food? Today, most visitors and Hawaii residents alike may think of a scrumptious menu like this. First you must have poi as your starch. Then your protein dishes are kalua pig, laulau, lomi salmon, poke and pipikaula. But the chicken is somehow lost among Hawaiian foods. Why? Here is the story of the plight of the Polynesian poultry.

In the minds of most people, the star of a typical Hawaiian luau is the kalua pig. Traditionally, one roasts kalua pig all day in an imu or an underground oven. After fully cooking it, the pork is tender and moist. You can easily remove all of the meat by hand into shredded bite-sized pieces. At that point, this mouth-watering dish is ready to be served to eagerly waiting diners.

Chickens Play Second Fiddle to Pigs in Hawaii

Pigs came to Hawaii in canoes along with the first Polynesian settlers from the South Pacific. But the ancient Polynesians also had with them dogs as well as chickens or moa in Hawaiian. The ancient Hawaiians used chickens as well as dogs as sources of food.

Of course, hardly anyone eats dogs in Hawaii. And no one today considers it as a type of traditional Hawaiian food. But that’s another story for another time.

Getting back to chickens, so what happened to them as a traditional Hawaiian food dish? The ancient Polynesian and Hawaiian all raised and ate chickens as an integral part of their diet. In fact, some scientists have even hypothesized that the ancient Polynesians might have brought the chicken to the American continents. And this was supposedly done well before the arrival of the first Europeans. So chickens had once played a significant role in Hawaiian culture and history. But  for whatever unknown reasons, hardly anyone thinks of chickens today as a main ingredient in traditional Hawaiian meals.

Ways to Eat Chicken in Hawaii

A typical way of preparing chicken in old Hawaii was to stuff its cavity with hot rocks. Or the ancient Hawaiians would just put it directly over a fire. Some might say that this could have been the forerunner to the popular huli huli chicken style of outdoor grilling. One would suppose this would be similar to those sold at local fundraisers or carnivals today. But that’s not the case. A local poultry businessman, Ernest Morgado, invented the huli huli chicken style of cooking in 1955.

Another way the ancient Hawaiians prepared chicken was to wrap it in taro leaves in the same way one traditionally makes laulau with pork. But for the most part, it’s not often you see fresh laulau made with chicken. And if you do, it’s positioned, not on its own culinary merits, but only as a healthier, low-fat alternative of making laulau. Then again, who eats Hawaiian food when you’re on a diet?

Chickens Get No Respect in Hawaii

But wait. Some may say chicken is well represented at Hawaiian luaus today in the form of chicken long rice. People served it in a small bowl of slippery translucent noodles in chicken broth. But let’s be honest here, in this instance, the chicken is really playing second fiddle to the noodles in this dish. Plus, you’d be lucky if you can get some small bits of chicken meat in the broth. And for the most part, many consider chicken long rice in Hawaiian luaus just as a side dish.

So as you can clearly see, the chicken is not getting the respect it truly deserves as a traditional Hawaiian food. This is especially when considering it was only one of three animals brought over on canoes to Hawaii by the ancient Polynesians. On the other hand, the pig, in the form of kalua pig, became the star of Hawaiian luaus. While the dog, for the most part, ceased to be a source of food in Hawaii. And it became elevated in stature to become man’s best friend. But the chicken has been merely relegated to being a healthier, low-fat alternative to using pork in laulau or, at best, a bit player in a noodle side dish. This sums up the plight of the Polynesian poultry. Life just hasn’t been fair to the chicken in Hawaiian food fare.

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