by Gida Snyder, head of the SFOC chapter at Kapiolani Community College
hand-pounded taro or pa`i`ai, (essentially poi before water is added to thin it out.)
Daniel Anthony, Mana `Ai’s founder, believes the nourishment of pa`i`ai is two-fold; the nutritional health benefit of eating pa`i`ai and the empowerment fostered by keeping a community in touch with the ancient food-making traditions of ku`i kalo (pounding taro.) Recently the Slow Food on Campus chapter at Kapiolani Community College had the hands on opportunity to experience the process of making pa`i`ai.
Under Daniel’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable direction, we learned that each step in the taro pounding process is of equal importance. Even before cooking the taro we were shown how to properly pick the leaves from the ti plant, prepare our equipment and stay as clean as possible to avoid transferring bacteria to the pa`i`ai. We then helped cook the taro by steaming it in a pressure cooker lined with ti and banana leaves. We learned the techniques for cleaning the taro, preparing it to be pounded using mortars made of lava rock on smooth carved koa wood boards.
As day became evening, the community center began to fill up with local families there to make their own pa`i`ai and poi for the week. The atmosphere was warm and lively with kids running around while the adults talked story and pounded. Our group shared the pounding of 15lbs of taro, learning quickly that it is NOT as easy as it appears. It takes a strong arm, a steady rhythm and an understanding of the soon sticky mass of pounded taro to make it a uniform and smooth texture. The experience left many of us with a desire to learn more about the many uses of pa`i`ai and to become more proficient at pounding it. We were invited back to the weekly gathering and will be attending a ku`i kalo as a chapter again soon.