Lifestyle, Updates — August 23, 2011 at 4:22 pm

The Legend of Tiki Puka Puka

The Legendary Tiki Puka Puka

 

Tiki Puka Puka Drink
Trader Vic’s Restaurant
Aaron Noah

Don’t let the cute gardenia flower floating on top fool you.  This may look like another fussy tropical concoction for the ladies, but the Tiki Puka Puka, with a hearty mix of three types of rum (including Demerara 151 proof), packs enough punch for any urban warrior.  One too many of these and you may find yourself bowing down and having a “Puka Puka” prayer to the Tiki toilet gods.

There are seven places in the region that mix up the vicious red drink, all belonging to the Polynesian-themed restaurant chain, Trader Vic’s.  There are two in Muscat (one under the name Señor Pico), three in Dubai (one location as the Mai Tai Lounge), and one each in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi.  There are actually more Trader Vic’s in the Middle East than in any other region, including North America, where the restaurant was first established 75 years ago.

Trader Vic’s is world famous for its historic collection of rum cocktails, originally crafted by the restaurant’s founder, Victor Jules Bergeron.  In childhood Victor had lost a leg to tuberculosis, but this did little to slow down his entrepreneurial resolve later on in life.  From a loan of just $500 in 1932, he founded a little saloon called Hinky Dinks in Oakland, California, which quickly became successful.

In 1934 Bergeron made a trip to the South Pacific and was wholly inspired by the cultures he encountered.  He returned home determined to introduce some of this island spirit to America.  By 1936 his rustic saloon was transformed into a tropical haven and renamed as Trader Vic’s.  He outfitted the eatery with various island artifacts from his travels, which is still the decorative theme used in the restaurants today.  He then introdruced an Asian fusion style of cuisine and a wide selection of rum concoctions.

In 1944 Victor Bergeron was responsible for creating one of the most popular mixed drinks in the world: the Mai Tai (although one of his rivals, Don the Beachcomber, has disputed this claim).  This has since become the signature drink of the Trader Vic’s, including several restaurants specifically tagged “Mai Tai Lounge” within the chain.

While the Mai Tai is still the Big Kahuna on the drink menu, the Tiki Puka Puka quietly awaits in ambush for the unsuspecting tourist.  “Tiki” refers to humanoid wood and stone carvings created by various Polynesian cultures in the Pacific.  Often these statues are used to mark the boundaries of sacred or important sites.  “Puka Puka” may refer to either a coral atoll in French Polynesia or another coral atoll in theCook Islands.  The latter was also referred to as “Danger Island” by Commodore John Byron in 1765, which seems a fitting inspiration for the drink.

Revered. Perilous.  In Dubai, the Tiki Puka Puka has gained notoriety on both fronts, eclipsing the mighty Mai Tai as a local legend.  The drink is fruity, has hints of spice, and goes down with great ease, but just as Tiki statues stand as warning guards on the islands, the “Tiki” in Tiki Puka Puka warns that each glass is the equivalent of four shots of 80 proof spirits.

“Abandon all hope ye who enter here”
–Dante, Divina Commedia