This article was originally published in Taste of Home Magazine.
What Is Poi, and How Do I Make This Hawaiian Dish?, May 09, 2022
In my late teens, I lived in Honolulu and dated a Hawaiian local whose grandmother was an incredible cook—but also incredibly strict. Girls weren’t allowed inside the house, so Stratten and I would often hang out in his driveway, devouring whatever she cooked that day, while mosquitoes devoured my calves. One night, he snuck me a heaping Styrofoam plate of smoky, melt-in-your-mouth kalua pork, potato salad with chunks of Spam, and a pale purple paste that he called “poi.”
“What is poi?” I asked, assuming it would be some kind of sweet pudding.
Half-amused, he urged me to try it, and I remember my initial thought was that the texture reminded me of the Korean rice porridge I’d grown up eating. And while there was a subtle sweetness, it was the tartness that made my tongue dance, and the nutty aftertaste that had me scooping up a second bite. The complex flavors of the poi made it the perfect companion to the salty, savory meat, and suddenly, Stratten’s grandmother stole my heart all over again.
More than a decade later and an ocean away, it hasn’t been easy to find those exact flavors again. After all, there aren’t many truly authentic Hawaiian restaurants outside of the Aloha State, let alone one that serves poi. But with the rising popularity of poké and Spam musubi on the mainland, it’s clear the rest of the world is eager to learn about the rich variety of Hawaiian food. Read on to learn more about what poi is, why it’s a superfood and how to make it at home.
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Image Credit: Sarah Jinee Park for Taste of Home