Feeding Poi to the Koi
by Anne E. Johnson
Rob wasn’t sure about that snack. Everything around him seemed strange. He’d just arrived in Hawaii for a two-week visit. Aunt Brenda had moved to Hawaii from Rob’s hometown in New Hampshire.
“What is that?” Rob tried to sound polite.
“It’s called poi. I’m not sure what it’s made of, but everyone here eats it.” Aunt Brenda handed Rob the bowl and a spoon. “Why don’t you enjoy this on the patio? Hawaiians love eating outside.”
Rob went into the back yard, afraid to look in the bowl. Finally, he peeked.
Shiny, slimy purple goop. This was a snack? He licked the tiniest bit of poi off the spoon. As he’d expected, it tasted like glue. Rob longed to be home in New Hampshire eating microwaved pizza rolls.
Aunt Brenda was being very kind to him. She’d even paid for his plane ticket. Rob knew he shouldn’t complain about the weird food. On the other hand, there was no way he could choke down this bowl of purple goop.
Behind his aunt’s property was a pond filled with water lilies and giant goldfish. That seemed like a good place to dump the poi. As Rob dribbled a spoonful into the clear water, somebody spoke.
“You shouldn’t feed them that.”
Rob turned around, startled. “Feed who?”
A boy about his age, but larger, with black hair and cinnamon skin was standing behind him. “The koi,” he said.
“It’s poi, not koi.”
The kid laughed. “No, the fish! Those orange fish are called koi. They cost a lot of money, so be careful what you feed them.”
Rob held out his bowl. “I was feeding them poi.”
The kid screwed up his nose. “I’ve been eating poi my whole life. That’s not poi.”
“Definitely not.” He grinned. “I’m Siaki. We live next door. Are you visiting that nice northern lady?”
“Yeah. That’s my Aunt Brenda. I’m Rob.”
“Well, my parents are making poi tonight.” He sniffed at the bowl again. “Real poi. You can come over about five o’clock if you want to help.”
Siaki ran back to the neighboring house. Rob heaped his fake poi under a bush to save both the koi fish and his aunt’s feelings.
At five o’clock Rob walked across to Siaki’s yard.
“Come on in,” said his new friend. “We’re just starting.”
In the kitchen, Siaki’s mom and dad were peeling something.
“What are those?” asked Rob. “Purple potatoes?”
“That’s taro,” said Siaki. “It’s a root, like a potato. That’s what poi is made from.”
“I thought it was made from a powder,” said Rob. Siaki and his parents laughed.
They peeled the taro, and Siaki’s mom put it in a huge pot of water. “It has to boil for a while. Why don’t you kids go out back?”
Rob and Siaki shot hoops and drank iced guava juice. The sun was setting when the grownups came outside with two big bowls of steaming taro.
“Rob and I can pound it,” Siaki said as his dad emptied the bowls onto a board on a picnic table.
Siaki went to the side of the house and grabbed something made of nubby gray stone. It was wider at the bottom than the top. Rob thought it looked like a giant version of a chess piece, the one his grandpa called a rook.
“This is a poi pounder,” said Siaki. “It’s made of rock from a volcano, so it’s super heavy.”
The boys took turns smashing the taro with the heavy stone. By his last turn, Rob could hardly move his arms. But he sure was having fun.
Finally Siaki’s dad said, “Okay boys, that’s enough. It’s poi now.”
Siaki’s mom brought out plates and some warm shredded pork. On each plate she put a mound of poi topped with pork.
“This is great,” said Rob. “It tastes like sweet, soft mashed potatoes.”
“I told you that instant stuff wasn’t really poi.”
Rob laughed. “I bet even the koi would like this poi!”
1. What did the poi that Aunt Brenda had made for Rob look like?
2. What did Rob do with the poi from Aunt Brenda?
3. What is ‘taro’?
4. What did the two boys use to smash the taro?