Talking Story

poi_bag

I admit it. This year Christmas sneaked up on me. No decorations went up in the house until December 21st. A lone wreath my husband bought at Costco after Thanksgiving was propped on a sofa table for weeks waiting for someone to find a door hanger. The weather was the weirdest ever; in prime ski country we had no snow until early Christmas morning—a result, I am certain, of the fervent prayers of foolish people who believe in the necessity of a white Christmas.

But I digress. We’re supposed to be talking about poi here.

No snow, no decorations, no surprise that it was Dec. 23rd when my husband and I were frantically trying to get all the shopping done, shopping that I used to pat myself on the back for finishing before Thanksgiving. (My younger self was such an overachiever.) I’d invited my parents and my brother for Christmas dinner and now needed to figure out what to serve.

“Something simple,” my son requested. “Something good that can sit in an oven while we play cards.”

“You mean like a roast?”

“Yeaaahhhh.” Not too enthusiastic.

I thought some more. “How about a pork roast? I’ll make it kalua style.”

“Perfect!” He grinned.

What can I say? The kid loves Hawaiian food.

Running our last minute errands, my husband and I’d bought the roast, cabbage, and sweet rolls. Liquid smoke and alaea salt were already in the pantry. Rice, I thought, steamed yams, carrots for those who hate yams, haupia—I have two cans of coconut milk and cornstarch. What else?

Oh, no. “Uh, Kevin?”

“Yeah.”

“We need to run to a few more places. There’s just one thing I need to pick up for Christmas dinner.”

“What?”

“Poi.”

“Poi?” The car came to a screeching halt. “It’s Dec. 23rd!”

“I can’t serve a traditional Hawaiian dinner—”

“Without poi. I get it. At least we’re in Provo. You better pray somebody got a holiday care package they’re willing to share.”

Our first stop was L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. L&L Drive-Inn in Hawaii is plate lunch place the serves all the best local foods. In Provo I found it to be hit or miss—mostly miss.

I walked up to the counter, scanning the menu for poi.

“Can I help you?” asked the perky girl with long black hair pinned with a fake plumeria.

“Yeah.” I pointed to the tip cup taped to the cash register. “I’d like some poi to go, about that much.”

“Poi? You mean that kalua pork?”

I blinked. That kalua pork? “No, poi.” She looked at me blankly. “It’s mashed taro root.” Still nothing. “It’s greyish/purplish and thick like a paste.”

“Uh…” She yelled over her shoulder to the cook. ¿Tenemos poi?”

¿Que?”

“Poi. ¿Hay poi?”

You have got to be kidding me. My husband saw the look in my eye, grabbed my arm, and shook his head. He slowly backed me away from the counter.

¿Que es poi?”

Another voice from the back said, “No hay.”

“Sorry,” she called, but by that time he had me half-way out the door with a kung fu death grip on my shoulder.

For their own safety, of course.

Our next stop was a pacific rim/Asian market called Food From Many Lands. When I was in college it was the place to buy calrose rice, rice cookers, shoyu, kakimochi, and dubious Portuguese sausage. The same Chinese proprietor very kindly told me she didn’t carry poi, but the 7-11 next door was owned by a Hawaiian man who might know where I could get some.

Back in the car we jumped. Down the road was another Hawaiian food place called Sweets. When I walked in the beautiful young woman behind the counter began uncovering trays of teri chicken, beef stew, and other plate lunch staples. Hawaiian, I thought, hapa-haole and maybe some Samoan or Tahitian. “Hi,” I said, “I’m looking for poi. Do you have any?”

A panicked stare. “Um…”

Raised on the mainland. Bummers.

She disappeared in a flash.

Another beautiful Hawaiian woman came from the back, the girl’s mother perhaps, and eyed us with The Look. I knew it well. It was the look Hawaiians reserve for crazy haoles who had lived TDY at Schofield Barracks or Wheeler Army Airfield for a year and thought that made them Hawaiian. She spoke carefully and slowly. “We don’t have poi today.”

“Oh. Do you know where we could get some?”

“Try the Hawaiian 7-11.”

Hawaiian 7-11? Another round of send the haoles on a wild nene chase? Seeing the confusion on my face, she continued.

“It’s just up the block. They might have some in the freezer.”

“The Hawaiian 7-11?”

“Oh, yeah. He has all kinds of things there—poi, laulau—”

“Laulau? No way.”

She laughed. “Check it out.”

“Thanks!”

When we pulled up to the 7-11, I was disappointed. Nothing about it said Hawaii, no signs about deliciousness available inside, no throngs of Pacific islanders standing in line for last minute stocking stuffers. I walked through the entire store and saw nothing out of the ordinary—just coffee, burritos, chips, candy, gum.

Sigh.

Then my husband called from the other side of the cash register, the part of the store that looked like employee-only storage. “You gotta see this.”

And there it was. A freezer case with char siu manapua, red Redondo’s hot dogs, S&S Saimin, a pink slab of kamaboku fish cake, laulau, cubed ahi for poke, spicy and mild Portuguese sausage—and frozen 1 lb. bags of Taro Brand poi.

Score!

Next to the freezer were mostly empty shelves (it was Christmas, after all), but there were a few bags of crackseed, kakimochi, jars of guava jelly, and li hing mui powder. I grabbed lemon peel, dark arare, rock salt plum, dried cuttle fish, cream crackers, spicy sausage, and two pounds of poi. I handed my credit card to the clerk and tried not to gulp at the total.

It was Christmas after all. Well, Dec. 23rd. And everyone knows two day poi is the best!

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