For decades homemade "Polynesian" food meant ghastly suburban gastronomy: Charred meat in sticky, salty marinades, soggy coconut battered, deep fried shrimp, and neon-colored fruity rum drinks — perfectly, nay desperately, suited for washing down broiled rumaki–bastardized versions of the recipes created by master mixologists like Joe Scialom and Don Beach. But by the mid-1980s, underground culture hunters had discovered and fallen in love with tiki via the music of Martin Denny and vintage clothing, a fantasy detour on the path carved by punk. These adventurers set to work revitalizing the style.
Thus Trader Vic’s vision was revived and bamboo backyard bars became cool again as whole segments of Gens X, Y and Z surfed multicultural waves, embracing and mutating pre -and post- World War Two exotica into total sensory celebrations with their own tribal drumbeats. Thankfully that included upgrading Americanized island fare from flaming fried pu pu platters and cloying cocktails to a current palate with authentic flare, carrying the tiki torch with a humorous flame and maintaining the aura of gustatory adventure and frolicsome innocence that characterized the mid-century lure of the South Seas.
Thursday August 19 through Sunday August 22 in San Diego at the sold-out Tiki Oasis gathering, post-modern potlatchers celebrate all things tiki in floral prints and authentic bark cloth garb, decorating themselves with shell necklaces and wallet chains, their tattooed skin glistening beneath SPF 50+ as the oldest Aloha-spirit event celebrates its ten year anniversary with a vast array of exotic events, many of which are designed for the whole family. Explains Tiki Oasis co-organizer Baby Doe von Stroheim:
There is something for everyone at Tiki Oasis and this is explicit in the daytime activities. We have a Tiki Tots craft room where kids can partake in fun tasks like making tikis out of toilet paper roll, a Pin-Up class where woman can learn the art of retro style make-up and hair tips, a Car Show with pimped-out tiki mobiles and a class where you get to meet a real live mermaid! Not to mention our rum and foodie classes to get you inspired to keep the Aloha going all year round.
Every year Tiki Oasis sells out, and this year is no exception. But some events are free and open to the public, like the Friday night mixer at Bali Hai, Saturday’s car show and book signing with Derek Yaniger, and Sunday’s tiki marketplace and ukulele fest. And then there’s the Tiki Art show benefiting Keep A Breast Foundation which is open to all the entire weekend [more extensively covered here], with an artists reception on Saturday afternoon. These free public events are held at the Crowne Plaza.
If you want to try your hand at throwing your own tiki event, mixologist Martin Cate, who’s doing a Tiki Oasis symposium on pairing rum and chocolate and another on the history and art of punch, offers this recipe:
Having designed and operated two successful tiki bars in the last four years, I know first hand how much people love these drinks. For my third cocktail seminar at Tiki Oasis, I’ll be focusing not just on the mixology, but also on the communal aspects of punch & how a shared drinking experience creates a convivial and bonding atmosphere between good friends.
The Top Notch Volcano by Martin Cate
Adapted from a recipe at Smuggler’s Cove San Francisco
(serves one, but can be multiplied into a punch as desired)
1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
1 oz pineapple juice
1 oz Trader Tiki Passion Fruit Syrup
.5 oz maraschino liqueur
1 oz silver rum
1 oz aged demerara rum
Combine all ingredients into an ice filled cocktail shaker and shake and strain into a goblet filled with fresh ice. Top with fresh grated cinnamon shaken over an open flame to toast the spices as they land on the surface of the drink.
Should you wish to go beyond rum punch, Tiki GoGo’s Kelley Hawks –whose seminar at Tiki Oasis is sold out– has a fresh take on tiki cuisine, catering for parties and events in the San Francisco and Bay Area using healthy often locally sourced ingredients. On the flip side, Americana archivist Charles Phoenix who’s giving a delightful slide shows at Tiki Oasis, shares his kitschy, creative Thanksgiving experience, replete with a tiki turkey loaf and mashed potato volcano that moves beyond any home-ec class Gidget ever took.
Martin Cate concludes:
Tiki is spreading like wildfire across the globe. People are falling in love all over again with the charm, mystique and escapism offered by tiki for the same reasons it took off originally over 70 years ago: It’s a break from the ordinary, a vacation in a glass at the bar on the corner.