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.