Got paiai? Hand-pounded paiai now legal

Photo by Monte Costa

Daniel Anthony pounding poi. Photo originally from the Haleiwa Farmers' Market Taro Celebration article.

Daniel Anthony and I have had a rocky relationship. Two years ago (wow, has it really been that long?), in a previous writing gig, I published a photo of him pounding and selling paiai, the thick, mochi-like precursor to poi, at a farmers’ market. The Department of Health saw it and outlawed his hand-pounded paiai. The big no-no’s: the open-air preparation, the porous stone and wood used to pound the taro. “You’re the one who got me in trouble,” he would say, every time we crossed paths after that. Then I wrote about his paiai plight; Amy Brinker, a law student, read it and as a result, took it upon herself to legalize paiai during the most recent legislative session. So here we are, two years later, and I’m finally legally buying hand-pounded paiai from Anthony for a Thanksgiving side (to go with my MAO Farms imu turkey). I can even buy it from Whole Foods now.

It doesn’t come cheap—it’s $15 a pound—but Anthony says if you can’t pay the price, pound it yourself. Having almost destroyed my wedding ring the last time I pounded, I’d say it’s cheaper for me to buy it.

Anthony’s amazed that this new legal business of his is producing a livable income (though he misses the illicitness a bit, like a teenager with nothing to rebel against), and he’s hoping to inspire others—particularly young people—to follow his path. His goals: to preserve tradition and to educate people on these traditions. Right now he’s working with Kamehameha School students to teach them to pound and maybe even to sell paiai as a more relevant fundraiser than, say, mass-market candies and chocolates.

His other current crusade is to get more farmers to grow taro. From where he stands, there isn’t enough supply for the demand, and without Hawaii-grown taro, how will he sell Hawaiian paiai?

Mana Ai paiai available by calling 542-1326 or emailing Thursday deliveries to Whole Foods Kahala.