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Kermet Apio's Laugh Corner

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March 2007


Oh Poi!



No matter where I am I often find myself after shows hearing people’s stories about Hawai`i. People tell me about their vacation there, or how they have a cousin who lives there, or my favorite: how they bought bad pot from a guy on the Hana Highway. In one recent conversation, a man told me about his vacation and mentioned he tried poi. Then he said the following sentence: “That stuff is crap.”

Not “It wasn’t to my liking” or “I found that the taste and texture didn’t agree with my sensibilities” or “To each his own and unto thine bestow his whims, but I shall humbly retreat anon.” To him, “That stuff is crap.” And he said it with the same anger as the people who buy bad pot on Maui.

For those of you who don’t know what poi is, how did you get a hold of this paper? Poi is made from the root of the taro plant (or ‘Kalo’, as Hawaiians call it). The root is pounded while being mixed with water (or ‘watah’) until it forms a bland paste. Raw taro root is poisonous because of something called “calcium oxalate crystals.” So how does a poisonous root become the staple food of an island nation? Patience.

“Hey Steve, try this root. Steve? Steve? Okay let’s add some water. Hey, Jim, try this root with water. Jim? Jim? Okay let’s mash it up and add more water. Hey Phil…” And so on and so on. By the way, the ancient Hawaiian male names have been changed to prevent this column from continuing on pages 8, 10, and 13.

I’ve heard many negative opinions about poi. Some people say it feels and tastes like Elmer’s Glue. Big difference. When I was in school there were kids who ate poi and kids who ate glue and trust me, the getting beat up to beating up ratio was on opposite sides of the spectrum. Some people add sugar or milk to their poi. At that point you might as well eat Fruit Loops. Poi wasn’t meant to be sweet. That’s why Hawai`i has mangoes and sugar cane.

I think what got me about the “crap” comment was the fact that poi is bland. It may not be good to some, but it’s not horrible. Every culture has some kind of food that makes poi seem like pie. Some examples:

LUTEFISK - In Nordic countries (and Ballard, a Scandinavian neighborhood in Seattle ), whitefish is soaked in water and lye for weeks in order make this alternative to eating fresh fish. I know what you’re saying, “Isn’t ‘lye’ poison? Absolutely. I think it went like this; “Sven, try this fish soaked in lye. Sven? Sven? We should add water. Bjorn…” Well, you get the joke. Ever summer the Saturday of the Ballard Seafood Fest features a lutefisk eating contest. So every summer I avoid the fest on Saturday.

BAGOONG - Am I pronouncing that right? This Filipino dish involves fermenting prawns till they have rendered down to a paste. This means that someone looked at a prawn and thought it would be better fermented and mashed. It is eaten as a side dish, often with really green mango. Remember that commercial?

"You dropped your sour green mango in my fermented prawns!"

"You got your fermented prawns on my sour green mango!"

Then they both take a bite, cringe, then smile at the tv.

OKRA – This vegetable is very popular in the south, but so is NASCAR. Okra’s three main traits: slimy, stinky, and bitter make it the perfect storm of bad eats. Okra is so bad broccoli and peas won’t hang out with it. In broccoli’s own words “That guy makes us look bad. Plus he stinks.”

NATTO – The Japanese eat this fermented soybean that smells kind of like a skunk got scared, farted, and died all at the same time. When natto goes past the expiration date, it actually begins to smell better. Once on Iron Chef they revealed the secret ingredient to be natto and the challenger chef surrendered and walked over to Rachel Ray’s studio to make cobbler.

GREEN TEA ICE CREAM – My problem here is not as much with the taste but with the title. When I was a kid my family went to a Japanese restaurant and the server asked my sister and me if we wanted ice cream. We were so excited. After trying a spoonful I gulped down a pitcher of water. If you’re going to call it ice cream you better have sugar and fruity flavor. It shouldn’t be called “ice cream.” It should called “Frozen Avon.” It tasted like facial scrub.

These are just the tip of the yucky iceberg. Poi isn’t for everyone, but many of us eat it all the time and love it. If it’s not for you I understand. But if you respect the foods of my culture then I will respect the foods of your culture as well. Except for pickled herring, that stuff is crap.

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