My aunt has just returned from Fiji, and she is asking me if I know where to find the root/herb "kava", which is used in Polynesia to make a ceremonial drink. I seem to recall hearing about kava in a cultural anthropology class in college way back when...
Anyways, is that the kind of thing that one could find in Los Angeles (either at a restaurant or at a store), or is it like asking where to find absinthe?
You should be able to find it in the health / tea section at Wholefoods or in some health food stores.
A couple of years ago believe or not I bought some at I think it was the Albertson's in Carson. It was a powdered form.
10305 W Washington Blvd
Fiji Indian Market
12921 Hawtorne Blvd
Hawthorn CA 0-25-
Kava is readily available at most health food stores - in capsules and teabags, and very expensive relative to what you're getting. I don't think you'd have the same effect anyway. I've never seen the actual root sold here - importation of roots, tubers, etc, in their raw intact form are a huge no-no with the Ag dept because they fear introduction of nimatodes, fungi, etc.
As Markethej mentions, you might check out those two specialty markets. I believe both markets are owned by Fijian Indians. Although the Fijian Indians don't drink alot of kava for the most part, they might carry it if there is any demand for it out here.
It's consumed by just about every tropical Pacific culture from New Guinea to Hawaii, and is also known as grog, yaqona (yan-go-nah), ava, and awa. This broadens your chances as I'd bet you could find it in the Carson area as well. It wouldn't surprise me if this was grown somewhere in Hawaii and sold in the mainland in some dried form or another.
I'm not sure how familiar your aunt is with kava but it might be worth reading up on the stuff if she only has a casual/ceremonial knowledge of it. Kava can be pretty potent stuff and may raise certain health concerns relating to the skin, liver, respiration, and blood chemistry. Aside what you might read that it is not addictive, most Fijian men cannot go without it for longer than a few days. I've even seen airport Customs officials in Nadi passing around swigs of the stuff scooped up from the Tanoa in coconut shells while they were offices directly adjacent to the counters.
I've drank kava a fair amount of times and find it gives a feeling of calm and euphoria - not drunkeness or a buzz - and usually is followed by a really good night's sleep. You would think that something that makes you feel this good would make you pay the next day but I've never had a hangover from it - only from drinking too many Fiji Bitters. You should really partake in this if you get a chance but be forwarned - the taste reminds me of what muddy dishwater would taste like...
The places I mentioned definately do carry it; I've bought it at Fiji Market They sell it already pounded (i.e., powdered). The Fiji Market on Wasgington even has a kava hut in the back where they mix up the grog at 5:00 O'clock every day. Fiji Indians drink it as much as anyone else in Fiji. My experience in Fiji is that it is the inebriant of choice. They have beer, but mostly its Kava for a party night whether they are Fijian or Indian. Chemically it's realated to Valium and yes it is possible to become chemically dependent.
My guess your exposure to the Indian population in Fiji is Hindu. Most of the Indians I associated with were Muslim - that might have something to do with our different experiences.
5 o'clock grog daily... I don't think I'd be able to drive home. Most native Fijians are relatively poor - they seem to prefer drinking the kava with rum or whiskey, but obviously spending what little money they have on booze could put a damper on whether they'll have enough money for their family's supper.
I didn't realize it was Valium tea that I was drinking all along... no wonder the bliss... Vinaka!
It is not chemically related to Valium in any way. Kavalactones (the active components) are not remotely structurally similar to benzodiazepines of any kind. Some of the effect may be similar, but there are vast differences, and while benzodiazepines can be highly addictive to some, there is absolutely no evidence suggesting that kava is.
(So proclaims the former near-daily kava imbiber of several years who ran out one day and hasn't drank it since, with not the slightest hint of withdrawal or craving.)