Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hawaii's Poi

Lou and I just moved into a new place with a bigger kitchen! We had been eating meals out while our lives were packed up in boxes, but now I'm back to cooking. We also just returned from a short trip to Hawaii last Wednesday. Hawaii has become somewhat of a tourist trap for the American mainland, but if you seek it out, you can still find some authentic Hawaiian culture in local food establishments and in the return of the authentic hula.
The place for real native Hawaiian food, (not the fancy pan-pacific fusion) is "Ono Hawaiian Foods". Located in Waikiki, it was a short cab ride from our beachfront hotel. I was delighted to see the place only sat about a dozen diners at a time and the brown-paneled walls likely hadn't been changed since the mid 1970s. (I subscribe to the school of thought that "dives" tend to have the best food when it comes to ethnic cuisine.) After staring at a menu on which we recognized few dishes, the owner's son told us they were out of the Laulau. Apparently, that is their specialty. We knew we wanted to try the Kalua pig, which is barbecued pork. The traditional way of cooking the Kalua pork involves wrapping the meat in ti leaves and burying it in the ground amongst hot stones. Our other choice was the Chicken Long Rice, which turned out to be a chicken soup with silver noodles, made from rice, hence they called them "long rice". It wasn't exactly what I had expected, but it was tasty and satisfying none-the-less. Of course, our priority was in trying the Poi. It is not easily found as it is known to be of an "acquired taste". Mostly only eaten by the locals. In fact the owner's son recommended we order rice with our meals and that he would give us a taste of the poi. We were not persuaded. Instead we ordered one poi and one rice. Poi is to Hawaiians what rice is to Chinese. Made from mashed up taro root, it was a daily staple for Hawaiians for centuries, and so they had much time to acquire a taste for it. To my taste buds, it seemed a bit bland-I wanted to add salt, but we learned that the correct way to eat poi was to eat small amounts of it following a bite of the Kalua pork or other flavorful food. That made it doable, but I don't think I'll find myself craving it as many of the native Hawaiians do. The poi was also quite pasty and runnier than I had expected. Traditionally, poi was eaten with the fingers and its thickness was described by the number of fingers one would use to eat it...2-finger poi being thicker than 3-finger poi. Another tradition for this native food is to leave it sit out for a few days. We had one-day old poi, but the older generation tends to like it aged for up to a couple of weeks, with mold stirred becomes sour and more flavorful.

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