Another box checked off the “try this and find out what it’s all about” list.
Hey, they aren’t all bad. I find I love kimchee. It does have a smell like something gone off, but it has nothing of that not-food taste I find in most vegetables, and especially none of the revolting cloy characteristic of cole slaw. I last had a school lunch in second grade, and I can still remember the nauseating taste of cafeteria cole slaw nearly half a century later. Menudo, on the other hand, not so good; it was like a rich taco-flavored soup with a strong acid refluxiness on the finish. I never need to eat the latexy cow stomach chunks again. In fact, I need never to eat them again. Same for muktuk, which I admit I am still mystified some cultures see as food. Black pudding? Good stuff. Ouzo? Tastes exactly like Nyquil to me, or liquid black licorice, than which same I think I’d rather eat cole slaw. With that abomination among condiments, Miracle Whip, so as to get two barfs out of the way. Vegemite, Marmite? Always have one of the two around.
So yeah, I try things. I’d long wondered how to find poi, which is taro paste, until Brain Trust here (living in Portland, a city with a substantial and diverse Asian population) finally hit upon the notion of an Asian grocery store. “Sure,” said the customer service counter person, “it’s over in produce. Tends to vanish fast, though.”
Well, we do have plenty of Pacific Islanders.
Turned out it hadn’t vanished. They sell it frozen in twist-tied bags. Package includes instructions for thawing and serving it. I took a close look; in frozen state, a sort of mauve block roughly the size of a package of frozen peas (but hopefully less repellent). I grabbed one, went off to get a jar of kimchee as well, and checked out.
First lesson: the twist tie was more of a suggestion. It slipped off sometime during the ride in my truck, causing leakage in the plastic grocery bag. Joy. Package fully secured, I went about the rest of a frustrating afternoon: medical appointment with practice that hires dumb admin staff. Stuck in traffic due to eternaconstruction that has been going on for nearly two years with no discernible progress. Used shocking language several times to describe fellow motorists, shaking my head in sad disdain and hoping they lip-read the filth flowing freely from my voice box. Waited in line at post office only to find out that insured mail had evidently been tampered with en route. Said screw it, no haircut; I want to go home now and have a cigar and let this afternoon be over.
After a moderately relaxing cigar, during which I found out that my day’s dinner workup was dashed and I’d have to come up with something else, I decided to try the poi. I also opened the kimchee, on the logic that if the poi was too awful a single bite of kimchee ought to clear away the taste. If not, I could have poi for dinner with a side of kimchee. Couldn’t lose. I extracted a mostly-thawed corner of the mauve block and popped it into my mouth.
I’d like to report that it was delicious, or gross, or weird-tasting, or even ralphtacular. Those would betray your trust. Reality was far blander; one might even call it the ultimate in bland. Compared to this stuff, Wonder Bread is a flavor burst. So is plain pasta. I’m serious. So far as I could tell, poi has no taste at all. It’s completely neutral. It had the consistency of fine hummus, but less flavor than plain steamed rice or even plain tofu. It didn’t smell bad; it didn’t taste bad. It didn’t smell like or taste like anything. It has about the flavor of distilled water.
I am still trying to determine how someone sat down one day and said, “Hey, maybe if we pound this root up into purple paste, it’ll be edible.” Maybe you have to grow up with it. It does, however, explain why Hawai’ians have so embraced Spam: if this was the alternative, any would treat Spam like a boon from on high.
Anyway, I tried it so you don’t have to unless you feel driven. It won’t hurt you, but it probably will not leave you wanting another dose.