While the Hawaiian Renaissance, started in the 1970s, has made remarkable strides in the revival of language, dance and cultural practices, we’ve been eating the same thin, machine-made plastic-bagged poi. Until now. Kalo crusader Daniel Anthony is taking Hawaiian food back to pre-contact purity with Mana ‘Ai, the world’s only producer of hand-pounded pa‘i ‘ai (pounded taro not yet watered down to poi) and poi.
“I’ve done research, and by 1950 all poi was machine made,” says Anthony, who has been a taro advocate for six years, and created Mana ‘Ai in September 2009. So if you were born after that, most likely you’ve never had steamed, freshly pounded taro. One bite of the slightly sweet starch that has the texture of stiff mashed potatoes and you’re hooked. Anthony buys different taro varieties—such as lehua, piko kea and kai uliuli—from farmers throughout the islands and pounds it on a papa ku‘i ‘ai (wood poi-pounding board) with a pōhaku ku’i poi (stone poi pounder) at a facility in Kane‘ohe. In the past year he’s pounded 15,000 pounds of pa‘i ‘ai, and become reed-thin in the process.
A nutritious food (B6, manganese, potassium), taro is also hypoallergenic and easily digestible—which is why Mana ‘Ai customers include cancer patients as far away as San Francisco and Seattle. You’ll also find the company’s pa‘i ‘ai on the menus of Town and Downtown restaurants. In addition, Mana ‘Ai has a strong community education component, doing demonstrations at schools, craft fairs, Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce events, and farmers markets. In January, the company launched a Thursday night “community ku‘i” where people can buy cooked kalo then clean and pound it themselves at Mana ‘Ai, while engaging with other poi fans. Want to have fresh poi delivery? Mana ‘Ai offers a “poiscription.” http://www.manaai.com.
Photo by Alan Konishi.
This is the uncut version of a story that appeared in Modern Luxury Hawaii.