A couple of months ago we ran a story about how, to those of us who live in Hawaii, poi is a staple food. We like it just fine. We serve it at home and it appears on most local menus. We urged you to try it when you’re here on vacation, even if it looks and sounds unappetizing to you.
Back in the day, there were unwritten but firmly followed rules concerning the shared poi bowl. Most of them have been left behind, although a couple are worth considering if you should be invited to a local resident’s home and served poi.
Poi was eaten by the fingers for the simple reason that there weren’t any spoons then. It was appropriate to use one or two fingers; never three. The fingers were not to be separated, and not to be drawn through the poi toward oneself. Rather, the fingers were rotated through the poi two or three times, then what clung to the fingers was carefully lifted to the mouth. When two or more people shared a bowl, each had to wait for the last to finish before starting.
Those involved were not allowed to discuss business – or, for that matter, any topic that was not cheerful. It not only was okay to smack one’s lips, it was expected as a courtesy.
When everyone had finished eating and poi was left in the bowl, the last one to have eaten was to run his fingers around the inside of the bowl and deposit what he picked up back into the mass. Poi smudges on the sides of the bowls were never wiped clean.
The rules that generally are observed today are the ones about using three fingers and scooping the poi toward you.
But don’t worry. If you want to use your plastic fork or spoon at your luau, no one will pay any attention. In fact, if you seem to like the stuff, local onlookers are likely to be pleased.