Oh boy! Poi!

September 8, 2015

In a Maui grocery store,

We were lunching at the world’s best restaurant on Maui the other day, Mama’s Fish House in Paia. M pointed to a few small bowls of what looked like light chocolate pudding.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Poi,” I told him. “It’s a Hawaiian staple.”
I’d ordered some so he could try it, even knowing that to our haole palates it tastes like glue.

He dipped a small spoon in.
“Library paste,” he pronounced.

Best I can remember, I first ran across poi referenced in James Michener’s epic, Hawaii. The book was published in 1959 and I probably read it only a few years later, since my reading interests exceeded my age by a long shot. I remember that Hawaiians in the book ate in with their fingers.

So what is it? It’s made from the underground plant stem of the taro root, baked or steamed until it’s, well, viscous is a good word for the consistency.  As it turns out, Hawaiians refer to poi as one finger, two finger or three finger, depending on how many fingers you have to use to scoop it up.  At Mama’s, it was served with small spoons.  “Our poi is different,” the waiter told us.  I’m not exactly sure what that means. Exactly.

It’s supposed to be fresh and sweet when first made. I don’t know about that. It can also be left to ferment. I don’t know about that, either. I just know it’s not my thing. Or my husband’s.  But it IS gluten-free, if that matters to you.  Another reason for me to NOT be gluten-free.

The taro plant is said to be the original ancestor of the Hawaiian people, so it was highly revered. People believed that the spirit of Hāloa, the legendary ancestor of the Hawaiian people, was present when a bowl of poi was served at the family dinner table. Any conflict among family members was required to stop, immediately.

Sounds like we could use a little poi in our political system–or our entire world and especially in my family of origin. Even though it tastes like glue.  Hey, maybe it can glue some mouths closed.  Just a suggestion.

Have you tasted poi? What did you think? Do we have any sacred foods in our own culture?


24 comments on “Oh boy! Poi!
  1. adela says:

    When I saw the title of this post, I just had to pop over and read it. Yes, I tasted poi. Once was enough. On a flavor scale, poi has an intensity of 1, with Brussel sprouts at a 15. Too little and too much for my pallet.

  2. Haralee says:

    I have tasted Poi and did not care for it either. I think it is an acquired taste that I never acquired.

  3. Laura Kennedy says:

    Do we have any sacred foods??? Silly question. CHOCOLATE.

  4. Lana says:

    It’s definitely an acquired taste that I’ve never acquired! I try it every time I’m in Hawaii, thinking maybe I’m missing something. Nope. We did trick both of our boys into trying it, telling them it was Hawaiian pudding. I agree with Laura – chocolate is a sacred food!

  5. Mary says:

    Your post has brought back so many memories for me. Many moons ago, I was a Hawaiian dancer. The Fire dancers (men) inducted the new dancers (women) with a nice big bowl of Poi. I remember how they would use their first finger and middle finger to eat it. Needless to say…I’m not a fan!

  6. Yuck. I tasted it once in Hawaii and elementary school paste is a good description.

  7. I have not tasted Poi, and you haven’t said anything to make me put it on my list of things to do!

  8. penpen says:

    have no plans to get to Hawaii [very far for us East Coasters] but should I ever get there, I have been poi-warned.

  9. Ruth Curran says:

    Many of my food preferences revolve around texture and, nope, poi did not get passed my two big criteria: can’t squish between your teeth when I bite down or stick to any surface in my mouth. I did not even get to taste because bite #1 both squished and stuck…. I know, I know!

  10. Hmmm never tasted or heard of it but I’m dying to try!! I love learning (and eating) new, cultural foods I am not used to!

  11. Ines Roe says:

    Poi? I have heard of it but I have never had it. I am not a particularly adventurous eater so even if it was in front of me I probably would pass. I am a steak and potatoes girl – but chocolate is my “sacred food.”

    I like the idea of the glue. There are many metaphors that can be thought of with it and the function it would have on human communication around the dinner table!

  12. I’ve heard of poi but had no idea what it was. Now I’m thinking ignorance is bliss.

  13. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    All I know about poi is that is is a great crossword puzzle word! Thanks for the explanation — I had no idea what it was.

  14. Carolann says:

    Never tasted poi – don’t think I’d like it based on your description. I would give it a shot for sure. I’d love to travel to Hawaii someday to test that theory.

  15. Diane says:

    Have you got a semi-truck load to spare? (She says as Canada enters it’s 39th day of a 70 day election campaign…)

  16. I see the ‘poi’nt now about poi but still don’t like it! Except the glue part…..I think that could help a lot of sticky situations.

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