The popular Taro Brand Poi seems to be getting thinner and thinner right off the shelf these days. Yet it still requires the addition of water to bring it to serving consistency. Or at least to a consistency that will stretch it farther than the current $14 per 3-1/2 pound bag price paid for it.
When it’s time to do that, how do you mix poi? With your hands? A spoon? A whisk? Electric Cake Mixer?! Blender?! Food Processor?! Ahh!
Ask the kupuna (grandparents), and most (if not all) will insist you mix poi by hand.
Personally I prefer using a large, sturdy plastic or metal spoon, as I think it’s more sanitary than using bare hands that are submerged in it. Of course, if you wash your hands thoroughly, including cleaning under the fingernails, I don’t have a problem with the bare hands method.
If using a spoon, I apply a sort of folding and whisking technique that eventually fully incorporates the water. Of course a spoon would be very difficult to use if the poi were any thicker than the current shelf product is.
In this demonstration we’ll go with the hand mixing method.
Let’s start with the bowl: Because I usually buy the 3.5 lb. “membership club size” bag, I use a medium to large size bowl, either metal or plastic, that has a tight-sealing cover for it. I don’t have a “dedicated” poi bowl like some may have, such as those that have them passed down from their kupuna. I use whatever is available at the moment as described above.
Then we have the place to mix it: In the (very clean) kitchen sink, under a light stream of cold tap water. I suppose if you were REALLY concerned about sanitation, you could use bottled water instead. I’m quite confident in the potability of our tap water though.
First of all, we must get all that precious and expensive poi out of the bag. Something impossible if you were to attempt to just squeeze it out. The best way to get every single ounce out is by turning the bag inside out…
When doing this (and handling poi in general), I always work with very wet hands to prevent the poi from sticking. So above, the poi is for the most part, all in the bowl. Yet there are still some left on the bag, that’s now inside out. So I squeeze on the bag tightly, wrapping my fingers around it to get every last drop…
As you can see, there’s still poi stuck to the bag, so I keep running my hands tightly down the bag with wet hands to get all of it, and I mean ALL of it!
You might be concerned about my hairy arms, but don’t worry, not one strand fell off into the bowl. lol
After it’s all in there, time to get down to mixing with them hands. I place the bowl near the stream of running cold tap water and slowly incorporate it into the poi, using a kneading motion…
You can see how the water is still separated from the still-thick poi. Keep working it in..
Slowly, I’m still working it, adding more water, which you can see dripping from above into the bowl. Usually I’ll add about 1/8th of a cup at a time – sometimes less than that.
I must admit, doing this by hand is actually quite therapeutic, almost sensual, but most of all very relaxing.
Finally when it’s all smooth, the water is completely incorporated and it’s to the consistency of just sticking to your hand or a spoon with a little “drip” to it, all pau mix.
Sorry I couldn’t show every stage, as I was holding my camera in one hand while trying to get these shots, eventually needing both hands to do the job of mixing.
One thing we always do after mixing AND serving is to “Kahi” the bowl, which has already been done to the bowl above. This is the practice of scraping the excess poi off the inside rim of the bowl to clean it up. Usually with wet hands, but also with the spoon. Using the term “Kahi”, I take this would loosely mean to “bring together as one”. Please correct me on that in comment if otherwise.
Well, it’s time to kaukau!
Big Island Smoked Meat
To store the mixed poi, we float a thin layer of fresh cold water over the top, which keeps it from crusting. We then keep the covered, sealed bowl in the refrigerator until next use (usually the next day), then pour off most of the water, incorporating some of it back into the poi to keep it thinned properly, since it naturally thickens as it sits over time.
I like both fresh and one, two, or even five day old poi, which is still at its best flavor and texture, albeit a bit more sour. I’ll still eat it up to almost 2 weeks old if kept refrigerated, depending how well it was kept and maintained. There are methods for freezing poi, but fortunately I’ve never had to deal with that living here in the islands where it’s (just about) always been available.
While there are many here who know how and have their own way of doing it, there’s also many readers who may have never bought and mixed poi, let alone tasted it, so surely there must be some interest out there in the subject.
Now if we can only work on the supply of taro to meet the high demand of Poi, which is still struggling to keep up.