Polynesia is a very general term for thousands of islands in the South Pacific far from any mainland countries. It generally includes Tahiti, Fiji, Hawaii, Cook and Easter Islands and many others, even New Zealand.
The word “poly” itself refers to many or several, and “nesia” means islands. So Polynesia is not a specific place, although it can be a triangle of 70 million square miles comprised of thousands of islands in the South Pacific. The great thing about this concept is a very unique, mysterious, sensual, and relaxing culture somewhere far away where most of the world’s problems do not exist.
Of course, we have the Hollywood interpretation of this like Blue Lagoon which was filmed in Fiji, and we have plenty of Elvis movies of Hawaii, Luas and native polynesian dancers doing the traditional Hula dance which tells a story.
But Tiki refers to a type of art of stone and or wooden carvings. Who can forget the enormous stone carved heads which still cannot be explained to this day from Easter Island? Where did they find the stones? How did the carve them? How did they transport them? Its nearly as massive and impossible of a job as was the Pyramids of Egypt.
So, sometime in the 1950s and 1960s Polynesian art and Tiki Culture came into American Pop Culture. GIs from WWII in the South Pacific had experienced food quite different but quite good. There was of course the American base in Hawaii that was attacked and many were deployed from there to other parts of the South Pacific. There they found a food that was not necessarily Chinese, or Japanese, but of course “polynesian”, a mix of various different cultures who had an influence on the cuisine.
The French definitely had an influence in Tahiti, as did Vietnam. And perhaps it was for this reason that in the mid 1970s Tiki and Polynesians in the USA started to decline. Maybe it was because the trend had passed, or maybe it was because many people who had fought in Vietnam, Cambodia and Southeast Asia no longer wanted the memory of palm trees, chopsticks and food that reminded them of something which became a source of traumatic stress and/or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. What remained in the end however, was Chinese food. Everyone loves Chinese food and often Chinese food is infused and influences many other cultures and its cuisine.
For me, I remember the Pu Pu Platter. A round tray of many delights with a fire in the middle to heat them up with a wooden skewer while watching beautiful woman dance the hula in costume on stage in Wildwood, New Jersey. I know some of these places still exist, but for the most part, its a retro thing and hard to find.
So what I want to do here, is identify authentic Polynesian restaurants, original or new who grasp the philosophy of this culture, and even present some ideas for those who wish to preserve it at home with recipes for entertaining or just for private enjoyment.
- Cocktails – Let’s start with the sailors that were in WWII and found some pretty potent drinks that became favorites.
- Cuisine – The most common but also most authentic types of cuisine.
- Themes – Having a party? Here is some music you can play to set the mood.
- Travel – Where can you truly go to actually live the polynesian lifestyle for real?
- Places – Where has Polynesian culture spread to in the world today?