3 Culinary Curiosities of Hawaii

The Hawaiian Islands are a part of the greater “Pacific Rim” grouping of Polynesian cultures. Much of the cuisine of Hawaii is a mixture of foods that includes Japanese, Filipino, Indonesian and even some from New Zealand. Over the centuries this mixture has created what we now call Polynesian food, and Hawaii is the prime place to experience Polynesian food at its finest.

The Hawaiian Islands also have their own unique foods that add interest to many of their native dishes.  Below are three of the most unusual.

SEE ALSO: The Amazing Tastes and Flavours of Japan

1. Poi.
Poi is a pasty derivative of the taro plant tubor. The tubors, or roots, are baked or steamed, and then mashed as you would a potato, into a viscous consistency.  It has a slightly purple color and a pasty texture, both of which can be off-putting to a newcomer.

The consistency at serving ranges from thick dough-like paste to soupy liquid, and is created by how much water is added while it’s being mashed, and then just before serving. The consistency is highly personal, and is known as one-finger, two-finger or three-finger, each style dependent on how many fingers would be needed to eat the poi if it was dipped out of the bowl by hand.
Image Credit: Silver Bromide

The flavor of poi is delicate and begins as slightly sweet. However, as each day passes poi becomes sourer.  Sour tasting poi has its place as an ingredient when making breads and rolls, and some do enjoy it as a condiment to salted salmon (known as lomi lomi salmon) and other salted fish dishes.
The fresh, sweeter poi is excellent when eaten with teriyaki-flavored meats and fowl, and especially with kalua pig.

Much more than a centuries-old staple of the Hawaiian diet, poi has spiritual significance to the indigenous Hawaiian people as well.  The root of the taro plant, from which poi is made, is described in indigenous myth as being the original ancestor of the peoples of Hawaii.

Ha-loa, the original ancestor, was believed to be released into the midst of the family whenever a bowl of poi was uncovered at the dinner table.

2. Hawaiian Purple Sweet Potatoes.
Although not indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands, purple sweet potatoes, known as ‘uala in the Hawaiian language, have been another staple of Hawaiian Polynesian food for many centuries.
Brought to the Hawaiian Islands by South American traders, purple sweet potatoes were being extensively cultivated on the islands by the 15th century, and made up a main portion of the Hawaiian diet.
Hawaiian Purple Sweet Potatoes
Image Credit: birzer

The Hawaiian Purple Sweet Potato (see photo) has an amazing color of a lovely shade of lavender, that, although a little strange looking when you first see it, makes these sweet potatoes quite entrancing to kids, and visually tempting when attractively plated.

Naturally sweet with a delightful nutty under tone, these purple sweet potatoes are delicious when served with savory dishes. Their sweetness, as well as their creamy texture, also makes them a perfect ingredient to many desserts, including ice cream.

Amazingly, Hawaiian Purple Sweet Potatoes preserve their lovely but unusual lavender color even during cooking

3. Po’ke
Many people know about Japanese sushi but often get the word mixed up with sashimi.  Sushi is rice wrapped in seaweed, with vegetables, meats or fish wrapped in the center. Sashimi is raw fish, usually served in thin, delicate slices. Hawaiian Po’ke is similar to sashimi – it is a salad made of raw fish.  The base usually includes tomatoes, sweet Maui onions, and often ogo, a type of seaweed, and limu, a type of algae. The centerpiece is always some kind of raw fish.

The fish used in po’ke is very specific, and can include raw crab, ahi (raw yellowfin tuna, or raw salmon. Particular favorites are tobiko, the roe of flying fish, and tako, or octopus. Traditional po’ke goes back centuries as a staple of the diet of Polynesians around the Pacific Rim. The fish was de-scaled and gutted, and then added to the salad. People would take a bite of the raw fish, suck the fish from the bones and spit out the bones and skin.
Po’ke sushi
Image Credit: lauriel

It was during the 19th century that vegetables such as tomatoes and onions were brought to the Islands by European missionaries. The modern version of po’ke, according to food historians, started around 1970.  The raw fish is now cleaned, skinned, de-boned and filleted.

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If you are feeling particularly brave, try po’ke. You will find that some raw fish can be juicy and sweet, and even flying fish roe, while it can sound a bit off-putting, is nothing more than a South Pacific caviar.
Alice Perkins
About the Author:

Alice Perkins is a travel blogger for RedWeek.com, the largest online market place for timeshare rentals, where vacationers can find luxury accommodations for less than the cost of a typical hotel room.

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