When Jennifer Trainer Thompson learned she would be hosting a group of museum curators at an outdoor party, she found herself leafing through old books for inspiration.
She stopped on a photo of a tiki party hosted by Don the Beachcomber, the legendary proprietor of Polynesian-themed restaurants.
The backyard luau was set around a long row of beach blankets laid out like a long table on the grass. The ‘‘island’’ was outlined by torches. The food was served from large platters and bowls set on big banana leaves. The guests sat on the perimeter of the island.
‘‘It just looked like people were having so much fun,’’ she says.
The timeless beauty of a tiki-themed party means that you don’t need to stick to plastic leis, puupuu platters and sickly sweet, cloying drinks served in tiki mugs and garnished with Day-Glo plastic monkeys. Surf, jungle or safari motifs are fair game.
‘‘I think tiki continues to reinvent itself,’’ says Trainer Thompson, author of ‘‘The Great Tiki Drink Book’’ (Ten-Speed Press), which was published in 2002. ‘‘I think it’s enduring because of the names, color and fun of it. You don’t have to do kitsch. It can be really cool and sleek.’’
Pork, pineapple and shrimp are common ingredients in tiki food, but adding ginger, curry or coconut is an easy way to add a new taste twist.
Trainer Thompson’s recipe for Guava-Glazed Cocktail Ribs uses two very au courant flavors — guava and pomegranate — to create a new sweet and sour combo.
Grilled kebabs are always a popular appetizer for summer, but a recipe we found for Garlic-and-Pepper Grilled Shrimp With Kumquats is an extreme food experience that gives new meaning to hot and sour.
Ginger-Salmon Ceviche With Wonton Crackers is a sophisticated way to give a traditional Latin-inspired seafood dish a Polynesian twist. The lime juice ‘‘cooks’’ the fish, a tip any ‘‘Survivor’’ cast member could appreciate when stranded on a desert island. And it doesn’t hurt that salmon feels modern, thanks to all the healthy omega-3s scientists have found in it.
The zesty yet refreshing flavors of tropical superfruits such as guava, passionfruit and pomegranate help tone down the sweetness of tropical drinks.
Many packaged premixed drink concoctions from Chi Chi’s, Boone’s Farm and Trader Vic’s are available at local beverage centers and grocery storres.
Be forewarned that many of the traditional cocktails, including ready-to-drink mai tais, hurricanes and zombies, contain widely varying amounts of alcohol.
Although pre-blended cocktails are convenient, Steve McLeroy, Gomer’s in Kansas, says part of the fun of these cocktails is making and tasting as you go. ‘‘People are interacting and finding a flavor they like.’’
That happened to us when we tasted the Blue Hawaiian and declared it our new signature cocktail.
Kumquats sound like something the contestants would eat on ‘‘Survivor.’’ The tiny citrus fruit is fun to say and exotic to boot. Pair the bitter, acidic flavor with spicy shrimp for an extreme-food appetizer.