A visit to Hawaii is a chance to experience authentic Polynesian dishes. Few are more quintessential than poi, a staple food typically made from taro. You will definitely want to find and enjoy this distinctive meal during your visit to the islands, and this article is your ultimate guide to doing so. However, you may first and foremost have some unanswered questions. What exactly is poi? What is the taro it is usually made from?
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Taro is a root vegetable best performing in tropical environments, believed by historians to be one of the earliest cultivated crops dating back as far as 10,000 years. It both looks and tastes a fair amount like sweet potato or yam, but according to popular consensus it tends to have more “vanilla, earthiness, and nuttiness.” It is also much higher in fiber.
Poi is made simply by mashing this starchy substance and adding water. This creates thick, syrupy poi; or soup-like poi. The range in viscosity is wide and, as New York Times reporter Robert Trumbull once observed, is measured by the number of fingers required to scoop it out of the bowl - the more needed, the thinner the poi.
Poi is considered by some to be an “acquired taste,” but in truth it is as pure and accessible a dish as you’re ever going to find. It is also quite healthy and considered a superfood. It is high in nutrients such as fiber, vitamin B, and calcium, low in sodium, and completely free of gluten or fat. In short: you ought to try it. Here’s where you can do so in Hawaii.
In short: you ought to try it. Here’s where you can do so in Hawaii.
The most visited island in the archipelago is home to the Waiahole Poi Factory. This is in fact a family-owned restaurant, despite its industrial name. Located in Kaneohe at 48-140 Kamehameha Hwy, it is open 7 days a week from 10 am until 6 pm. Their poi is hand-pounded, and they also serve a number of other local dishes that are very worthwhile.
On the northern tip of the Garden Island, in the small town of Hanalei, you will find the legendary Hanalei Poi Company. Located at 5-5269 on the fabled (and newly reopened) Kuhio Highway, some claim the poi you can buy here, both to eat on the spot or take home to store in your fridge, is the very best there is.
Hanalei Poi Company is open 8 am to 4pm on weekdays.
Poi by the Pound was our recommendation, but they have closed. We'll update with a new Maui suggestion shortly.
The Big Island
Interestingly enough, the Island of Hawaii is one of the trickier places to find poi. Perhaps it’s a peculiar anomaly, given its surplus landmass; or perhaps it’s seeming protection is a testament to the local poi’s next-level quality.
Interpret it how you wish, but don’t worry: you can absolutely get poi on the Big Island. All insider info and local rumor seem to point largely in the direction of the Waipio Valley. Near here, legend tells of a tiny town called Honokaa, where seekers can uncover Waipio Valley Taro Products.
The poi on offer at this small store is generally sworn by. The taro that is used is also grown on what has to be the most fall-to-your-knees Edenic valley imaginable. Just peruse the photos on their Facebook page (linked above) to see proof of this.
You’d be forgiven if, upon gazing into a cauldron of gelatinous purple liquid after hunting it down on a remote island, you felt apprehensive. You wouldn’t be the first. Prior to mainstream publicity like that previously mentioned, poi wasn’t really even known to non-locals, and it’s still something many if not most travelers spend their entire visit wholly unaware of.
It’s possible the easiest thing to do would be to order pizza and fries to your hotel room instead; but would that be the best thing to do? As relaxing as Hawaii is, it’s also a hub for experience. The Polynesian people have sustained themselves for thousands of years with this remarkable substance. Taste it.