To Poi or Not to Poi?

A scoop of poi which resembles the consistency of pudding.

You undoubtedly will have the opportunity to try poi during your Hawaii vacation. It’s served at all the luau, often appears as a breakfast staple (like home fries or toast), and is available at all the restaurants that offer Hawaiian fare.

True locals consider poi as their “staff of life” the equivalent of bread in the Western diet. It’s often the first prepared food given to infants, regardless of the family’s ethnicity, and those infants grow up without ever losing their taste for the tangy, slightly sour concoction. It becomes an indispensable accompaniment to the lau lau which is steaming meat and fish served wrapped in ti leaves. This is one of the main dishes of the luau, and a lot of us eat it for breakfast in place of cereal, or use it as a dip for appetizers.

Most visitors leave it on their plates without even trying it. It is, after all, a light brown, viscous mass that looks something like wallpaper paste. First timers at least imagine it tastes like wallpaper paste, too, although the mild flavor has its own pleasant character.

Actually, the freshly made poi served at most commercial luaus is too bland for us locals. We prefer the heavier flavor of the pulverized root after it has been allowed to ferment for three or four days, then water is added to produce the right consistency.

The thickness of the mixture is a matter of inpidual taste. That viscosity determines whether it’s one-, two- or three-finger poi. No, we don’t use forks or spoons, even though you probably will at your luau.

Taro root, the solid ingredient of poi, is a good source of calories, calcium and iron, and it provides fiber. Poi’s greatest value as baby food is its hypoallergenic quality. It seems to cause no allergies at all.

Give it a chance while you’re here. We won’t be insulted if you leave most of it behind.

6 COMMENTS

  1. One has to taste a real well made poi to appreciate it because some of those being sold at the store are too sour, and like what you said, some being made in restaurants are too bland.

    Old Lahaina Luau has a demo on how to make poi and their poi is good. A freshly made poi is always most often good.

    I agree with your post – guests should give poi a chance :)

  2. My wife & I spent a week there in 1969 while I was on R&R from Vietnam. We returned recently to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary and loved Hawaii as much as we did the first time. The people are the most gracious, warmest people we’ve ever met. I tried the poi but am not a fan. We are both fans of the beauty of the land and the people and hope to be able to return. Thanks to everyone who made our stay in paradise so memorable.

  3. @A Maui Blog – I agree!  While I've only tried poi at luaus, I do remember liking Old Lahaina's the best!  The closest I get over here is Taro frozen yogurt – which is good too, but poi on pork at a luau…MUCH better!!! :)

  4. What a lot of people don't know is there are hundreds of different varieties of taro (the stuff made into poi). That being said 2 important questions to ask about poi is: 1. where did it come from and 2. is it fresh or day old. Different taro from different areas have different taste. Now the older the poi the more sour it becomes. Personally I have been spoiled on Waipio Valley fresh poi made right then and there. On the other hand my teacher likes it where there is like a crust of mold on top, that she mixes into the poi (yeah let's see Andrew Zimmerman try that).

  5. I actually thought poi tasted like bland applesauce the first time I tried it, and remembered that the next time I had it. I used that description to tell other people what it tasted like, though they didn’t bother to try it. I had it again and it was just like I remembered. Though, I would like to try it again, or maybe I am just craving returning to the island!

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