Wednesday | December 07, 2016
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Let’s Talk Food: Pai‘i‘ai, freshly pounded taro

As we begin our annual Merrie Monarch festivities, it is important to remember that our Hawaiian ancestors pounded pa‘i‘ai from the taro they raised. Pa‘i‘ai lasts for months, so left in a gourd, it was the mainstay for those sailing for months in canoes. Fish caught was eaten with the pa‘i‘ai and they were able to survive the many months at sea.

I am so into pounding pa‘i‘ai with my poi pounder and mango board that I purchased from Keahi Tomas. He will be at the Merrie Monarch Invitational Hawaiian Arts Fair at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium this week and will demonstrate how to make pa‘i‘ai. Keahi will also be selling pounders and boards. Try his pa‘i‘ai and decide for yourself whether it is worth for you to have them as part of your kitchen equipment. I am so happy with my investment and pound my own pa‘i‘a, knowing that I can go to Hilo Farmers Market and get Lehua taro.

Keahi taught me so much, from the amount of time it takes to steam the taro, (never boil in water), to the types of taro I should look for. Since there are over 300 varieties of taro grown in Hawaii, Keahi told me to look for Lehua, which is the beautiful purple color and high in starch content. Colors range from yellow to white to purple.

I usually steam my taro for at least 2 hours since my son Dean is so sensitive to uncooked taro. Some varieties require steaming for 3 hours. After steaming, the skin comes off easily. The wooden board is called papa kuiai and the stone pestle is call pohaku kuiai. It takes me about 15-20 minutes to pound my taro to make wonderful pa‘i‘ai, which has the texture like mochi, very glutinous.

Crushing the starch molecules starts a fermentation process, which is great for the health because of the production of bacteria lactobascillus. The beneficial bacterium, which is also found in our intestinal tract, helps with the growth of good bacteria and has been shown to help fight cancer.

We grew up knowing poi, but the difference is that pa‘i‘ai is undiluted poi. It is the water that sours poi quickly. I was never keen about poi but love pa‘i‘ai!

Taro is the central figure of two gods, Papahanaumoku, Earth Mother and Wakea, Sky Father. They fell in love and had a child, Hoohokukalani, who was born stillborn. They buried their child on the eastern side of the house and from this grave grew the first taro plant, which was named Haloanakalaukapalili. Their second child became the first kanaka, and named him Haloa.

Mana Ai is a small business in Kaneohe, producing pa‘i‘ai and shipping it out in vacuum-sealed packages. They have provided some recipes on their website using pa‘i‘ai such as meatloaf, kulolo and pizza.

Pa‘i‘ai Meatloaf

Serves 4-6

1 pound pa‘i‘ai

2 pounds ground beef

3 eggs

1 tablespoon salt (Hawaiian preferred)

1 teaspoon ground pepper

4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

4 cups of your favorite vegetables, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Add all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and knead thoroughly. Place the mixture into a baking pan and place the baking pan into the oven for 35-45 minutes or until crispy brown. Serve hot over a bed of fresh greens.

Pa‘i‘ai Kulolo

Serves 4-6

4 cups grated pa‘i‘ai

1 cup coconut milk (not juice)

1/2 cup raw sugar

Heat a medium-sized sauté pan to medium-high. Once hot, reduce the coconut milk and sugar in the pan, stirring constantly to avoid burning the coconut milk. If brown foam deigns to develop on top the mixture, reduce the heat and continue to stir. Add the grated pa’i’ai and mix everything together until its creamy. Serve hot or room temperature, but never cold.

The Real

Hawaiian Pizza (Pineapple


Serves 4-6

1 pound pa‘i‘ai

Unbleached flour

Meat of your choice (kalua pig if you like)

Pizza sauce

Sliced tomatoes

Sliced onions

Sliced olives

Cheese of your preference

Additional topping to your liking

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Add flour to pa‘i‘ai and knead until the pa‘i‘ai transform into dough. You’ll notice that while kneading the pa‘i‘ai, it’ll become less glutinous and easier to work with. Be sure to always keep your finger and work surface floured to prevent sticking.

Once the pa‘i‘ai has transformed into dough, lightly flour your work surface and roll the dough out to fit within your baking pan, keeping the thickness between approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inches. Pop your dough into the oven for 10 minutes to crisp. Remove from the oven. Spread your sauce over dough. Add the meat, onions, tomatoes, olives, and cheese. Place in oven for 20 to 25 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the underside of the dough in no longer sticky. Serve hot.

Foodie Bites

The HCC Bamboo Hale will be serving the foods of Japan starting today till Thursday. Call 934-2591 for reservations.

The Rotary Club of South Hilo’s 10th annual Hilo Huli is in 11 days. Hope you purchased your tickets. Tickets are available at Most Irresistible Shop, Uncle Billy’s Hotel, or at

The Big Island Chocolate Festival is May 1-3 at the Fairmont Orchid. On May 1 at 9 a.m., there will be a cacao farm and soap tour. On May 2, the culinary student competition will take place, then at 2:30, a presentation by Ed Seguine of Seguine Cacao &Chocolate Advisors, and at 3:30p.m., “Mr. Chocolate” Jacques Torres will talk story about chocolate. On May 3, there will be a full day of speakers, ending with a festival gala at the Fairmont’s Grand Ballroom. Tickets are $75 presale and $100 at the door. For more information, check out

Please feel free to email me at if you have a question. Bon appetit until next week.


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