Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Oh Poi, Oh Poi!

What a wonderful time we had. With this being my first trip to Hawaii, the commercials and postcards had me prepped and primed for lush overgrowth and giant pineapples dangling from the trees. I thought my time would be spent dodging coconuts as they careened to the ground and possibly taming the wild fauna. I envisioned miniature parasols dancing in my juice drinks and white sand beaches massaging my feet as I strolled along.
Well, Kona is a bit different than expected.
They have pineapples (I don't think I saw the trees). They have coconuts (but for liability reasons, they pick the coconuts before they can conk you on the head). They even have wild fauna (wild turkey and goat hanging out on a golf course are certainly worth a viewing). But as for the lush overgrowth and paradise much associated with Hawaii, there is quite a modest air about Kona. Acts of God can take credit for that.
So much of the 'Big Island' is covered with layers of lava flow. Lava is to Kona what asphalt is to any metropolis: Everywhere. It creates a striking contrast between the beautiful vegetation that is so common and the solidified molten rock that surrounds it. Truly fascinating.
Oh, and by the way - parasols don't actually dance. And as for the white sandy beaches? Rumor has it that 70% of white sand is actually fish poop. Eww. I think I'll pass on that one.

With all of that being said, we decided to take part in one of the more traditional Hawaiian activities, the luau. During this Polynesian celebration, they served us the standard luau cuisine. This consisted of a variety of dishes such as imu smoked pork, lomi salmon, tropical fruits, and poi.
The latter of this list, poi (or pounded taro root), is one of the more reluctant staples of Hawaiian cuisine. So that is where we will begin.
In some of the literature about poi, it glorifies the food as a sacred dish that invokes the gods. It claimed the Hawaiians truly enjoyed their poi and ate it using only their fingers as 'scooping' devices. Using two fingers was considered the best poi consistency, and therefore the best tasting.
But in speaking with, or witnessing, the soured facial expressions of some of the locals, it was all too clear that this was not a regional favorite by any means.
Hence my earlier phrase 'reluctant staple of Hawaiian cuisine'. For all I know, it could be the 'disdained staple of Hawaiian cuisine', but I figured I'd give it the benefit of the doubt.

Tastes almost as bad as it looks.

Generally, the taro root is soaked in a double boiler until tender enough to pound. Water is slowly incorporated until just the proper consistency is achieved. The Hawaiians will sometimes allow the poi to sit in a cold and dry place to ferment, thus calling it sour poi.

Taro Root
Taro Root

Poi doesn't necessarily have an aweful taste to it, it's just very bland and most likely an acquired texture. There are, however, a variety of other culinary uses for this root that veer right up my ally.

Taro Chip TaroPuff

Oh yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Chips and doughnuts, baby!

Monkey Notes: Don't let the poi discourage future Hawaiian eats. Their cuisine is absolutely filled to the brim with yumminess of every sort. Have faith. There's more to come....


At 5:27 PM, Blogger Fran said...

Just saw people eating poi on TV the other day & they were saying the same as you. but what a wonderful experience. Can't wait to see your trip related posts!

At 8:28 PM, Blogger MonkeyBites said...

So true, so true. Thanks for the comment!

At 1:14 AM, Anonymous mochihead said...

Glad you enjoyed the Big Island! Although, poi is a great food - especially if it's fresh prepared for you.

Oh, and pineapples don't grow on trees, which may be why you haven't seen any. :) They're low lying plants!

At 8:20 AM, Blogger MonkeyBites said...

Hey, Thanks for the info, mochihead!
I took a look at the link, and it's so true. NO pineapple trees.
And maybe one of these days I'll have the pleasure of trying freshly prepared poi......
Thanks again :)

At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Mom said...

This poi looks like our yuca. I wonder how different it really is. From your description it may be very similar root, if not the same.


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