In most cuisines, authenticity is a watchword. Are the traditions of the cuisine being observed? However, in “tiki” cuisine, popular in the United States from the 1940s until the 1970s, the authentic was dispensed with in favor of the exotic.
“My experience—it was generally about the drinks,” says applehome. The food—pupu platters over Sterno flames, cream-heavy oyster soup, and finger foods like coconut shrimp—was merely an accompaniment to the colorful, fruity cocktails. (See CHOW’s recipes for tiki cocktails.) “In tiki restaurants, dinner itself played second fiddle to the drinks and pupu platter,” says JK Grence the Cosmic Jester. “In general, food in tiki restaurants was a cross between Cantonese and American dishes. The dishes would be given a different name to make them sound more exotic.”
“Bali Hai in San Diego has its Chicken of the Gods, Trader Vic’s has Prawns San Francisco, Indonesian Rack of Lamb (which was enjoyed by Queen Elizabeth II at her first American restaurant luncheon in the mid-1980s), and Calcutta Curry … but really, Vic’s is known for mai tais, Don the Beachcomber for zombies, the Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale for the Mystery Drink,” says JK Grence the Cosmic Jester.
Discuss: In Search of Tiki Dishes