The Art of Poi Pounding

Native Hawaiians keep the traditional poi recipe alive

By Cara Fasone

Although many islanders love poi, most of us are used to having it come already prepared in a plastic bag. Puka Asing, a native Hawaiian from the first Hawaiian Homestead on Papakolea is hoping to keep his family tradition of poi pounding alive.

Poi, is taro (kalo in Hawaiian) steamed in the imu (underground) and  pounded with water until it reaches a pasty consistency. It is a luau favorite you eat with your fingers and the perfect side dish to any main course.

Although it may be an acquired taste, I’ve always loved poi. I like it haole-style with milk and sugar, Japanese-style with shoyu, and of course Hawaiian-style with lau lau and lomi salmon. I’ve eaten poi all my life, but never learned how it was made. 

Poi in Ancient Hawaii

Puka Asing says the ancient Hawaiians would cook the taro wrapped in banana and ti leaves, underground with kiawe smoking wood, which added layers of flavor to the kalo. The paiai, taro straight out of the imu and ready to pound, was then cleaned with opihi (limpet) shells. They then would use poi pounders made of stone or lava to mash the paiai with water on a wooden board.

Puka Asing describes how poi is made
Video by Helen Chang

Keeping the Tradition Alive

Today most people buy their poi at the local supermarket or steam their taro on the stove and use mechanical grinders, but Asing hopes to keep the native Hawaiian poi recipe alive.

 “We still keep our traditions alive. What we’re doing is bringing back that style of authentic cooking in the imu, we owe it to our people before it becomes lost.”

Asing and his family continue to make poi the authentic Hawaiian way, in the imu and pounded with stone. He hopes to keep the culture alive by passing it down to the next generation.

How do you eat your poi?

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