The Life of The Land
Written By
Pedro Conol
April 25, 2024

The Life of The Land

Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Āina I ka Pono” – The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.

This important phrase in Hawaiian culture is more than just the official state motto. It speaks to the Hawaiian understanding of how longevity, as a people, is directly connected to the health of the land (and nature) that provides sustenance. Therefore, “Mālama ka Āina” (to take care of/protect the land) is essential to survival as a people and culture.

Although far from home, our family still practices “Mālama ka Āina” by caring for our land and cultivating one of the most important staples in our culture, Kalo (Taro). Not to be confused with Elephant Ear plants, this plant is highly toxic if consumed raw. Almost all parts of the Taro plant are used in various dishes in traditional Hawaiian cuisine.  

One of our favorite Kalo dishes is Lau Lau; Kalo leaves wrapped around various fillings and steamed until tender. Common fillings often used are chicken, pork and fish, with pork and fish being my personal favorite. In modern cooking, materials and methods are often substituted, such as using foil to wrap the Lau Lau instead of Ti leaves or cooking in a steamer instead of an Imu (Hawaiian underground oven.) This recipe is a lot of work but worth every bite!


Pork & Butterfish Lau Lau

Serving Size: 1 Lau Lau  

Makes 4 servings.

*Important note: Raw Kalo can cause skin irritation and is toxic if ingested. It is recommended that food service gloves are used during preparation and food is cooked thoroughly.


8 - 16 Mature fresh Kalo leaves. Feel free to use more if desired!

1 - 2 lbs. Pork butt, divided into 4 equal portions.

2 Tbsps. Liquid smoke (optional)

3 Tbsps. Hawaiian salt

4 pcs. Butterfish (miso-marinated black cod) approx. 3-4 inches each.

Medium/Large steamer or similar cookware.  


1. Prepare filling(s): Cut pork into 1–2-inch chunks. Fatty pieces are ok, as the fat will render and add to the flavor! In a bowl, add salt and liquid smoke. Mix until evenly coated and set aside.

2. Prepare Kalo leaves: If still attached, remove stems from the leaves. Stems may be chopped into small pieces to be salted and added to filling if desired.  

3. Assemble ingredients: Kalo leaves may tear easily when handling. Blanching for 3-10 seconds will make them more pliable, but is optional. Place a minimum of 1 Kalo leaf on a flat surface, with the point of the “heart” toward you. In the center, place 1 portion pork and 1 piece butterfish. Fold over the top “ears” of leaf(s) over the filling, followed by the sides. Wrap the point end over the filling and flip over the entire assembly so that the edges now rest under the Lau Lau. This step may be repeated to layer more kalo if desired.


4.Cook: Wrap each Lau Lau individually in foil. Place in your steamer for 2-4 hours until “Pau” (finished). Lau Lau should resemble cooked greens and meat should be fork tender.

5. KauKau (Eat!): Serve over hot white rice and enjoy!  

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