Canoe Building


Canoe Life

Polynesian Migrations

Traditional Foods and Their Preparation

Chad Baybayan

The land and sea provided the Hawaiian with everything he needed to sustain himself. His diet helped him maintain a healthy, disease-free body. Today, it is our modern diet that produces many of the problems that ails Hawaiians. A dietary reform back to a traditional diet is the cure to some of the Native Hawaiian's health problems.

Preserving food was essential to providing nourishment during a voyage. Drying and fermenting were the two techniques used in food preservation. Fresh foods were eaten at the start of the trip. Fishing along the way also supplemented food the voyagers brought with them. The Polynesians had to be excellent horticulturist also if they expected to survive once they got to land. Plants were transported as slips, cuttings, tubers and seedlings.

The traditional diet is everything the doctor ordered for a long trip--compact, light, and nutritious. Here is what they brought:

Plant Food--'ulu (breadfruit); niu (coconut, meat and drink); uhi (yam); 'uala (sweet potato); mai'a (banana); kalo (taro); kukui (candlenut); ko (sugar cane); hala (pandanus flour, paste)

Animal Food--i'a (fish, dried and fresh); pua'a (pig); moa (chicken); 'ilio (dog)

Preparing Foods for Voyaging by Paige Kawelo Barber, Moku Froiseth, and June Gutmanis

Pepeie'e 'Ulu (Breadfruit and Coconut Cream)--Use the commercial variety of coconut cream or make your own by grating ripe coconut meat. Cover with warm water, let set, then squeeze through fine sieve. Liquid is coconut cream. Thoroughly mash very ripe 'ulu, mix in a great deal of coconut cream, wrap in ti leaves and cook thoroughly. Set oven at 350 degrees, bake until firm. Cool, slice and dry in sun so that a hard oily film forms on the surface.

Kukui (Candlenut)--Remove outer husk and roast in barbecue pit over medium coals or in oven at 350 degrees for about one hour. Crack shell, remove nut, mash, add rock salt. Use as a flavoring in raw fish dishes. Oil of the nut serves as light fuel and body oil to prevent sunburn.

Ki or Ti--Cut stalk two to four feet long. About the time the stalk starts to sprout new leaf buds, which will take about three months, cut the top of the stalk off. Wrap in green ti leaves and cook. Use the lowest temperature setting on your oven. Cook 24 hours. Dry.

Limu (Seaweed)--Clean and wash well, set out to dry. Takes one to two days for drying. Reconstitute with water when ready to eat. Sea water is acceptable.

Mai'a (Banana)--Select firm-ripe mai'a with slight green tinge remaining on skin. Peel and slice lengthwise into three or four strips. Arrange on drying rack; turn once a day. Dries between four and fourteen days depending on area; faster drying occurs in Makaha and slower drying in Manoa. Do not be concerned with the change of color of the mai'a during the process of drying. Mai'a is ready when consistency resembles dried apples.

Ko (Sugar Cane)--Select mature cane which has not begun to 'sprout;' cut at base and bottom of leafy top. Wrap exposed ends to prevent cane from drying out. Store in cool, dry place. Cut off bark and cut again in stick-like pieces for eating.

Niu (Coconut)--Life expectancy of fresh niu is quite good; the entire nut is useful as food, drink, and fuel. The a a niu (coconut cloth) is not used to wrap things. It substitutes for toilet paper; is not as rough when wet.

'Ulu (Breadfruit)--Select 'ulu which has reached the o o (mature) stage of ripeness, picking those still on the tree. 'ulu has reached the o'o stage when white sap appears on skin of fruit, and 'browning' of the skin can be seen. Bake for one-and-a-half hours, or steam for one hour. Let cool. Remove skin and seeds; mash into pulp. Spread on sheet of wax paper; place similar length of wax paper over 'ulu pulp. Using rolling pin or bottle, spread 'ulu out as you would when preparing dough for pie. Remove top wax paper. Place 'ulu on lower wax paper on drying rack; save the other piece of wax paper for later. When surface of 'ulu dries, turn entire sheet of 'ulu onto the first wax paper. Repeat until drying process is complete, turning once a day. 'Ulu assumes a deep reddish brown color when dried; takes four days in hot area to dry completely. Tuck in one end of dried 'ulu, and roll as you would a jelly roll. Wrap in plastic wrap.

Hapu'u or ama'uma'u (Ferns)--Cook the butt ends of the fern stalk. Store when cool. The Hawaiians considered ki and hapu'u to be famine foods. When food was scarce, due to drought, these plants were eaten.

I'a (Fish)--Immediately after catching, keep the fish cool and under cover. As soon as possible after catching, cut and salt fish for drying. Cut fish on one side of dorsal line through the head, leaving the belly line intact. If fish are large, cut through bones parallel to spinal column, and cut flesh to allow salt to penetrate. Spread open the cut fish, remove gills, viscera, and the coagulated blood along the spinal column and wash the cavity clean. Hawaiians in the past rubbed the exposed flesh on both cut sections with the blood. Slap the cut portion onto the salt which should be evenly distributed over the exposed flesh. The skin section need not be treated in this manner, as it will receive an adequate amount of salt when the fish is stacked in the container. Place the fish in a wide container with the salted portion down and stack in layers as evenly as possible. The fish in each layer should be laid vertically to those on the bottom layer. After all the fish have been salted, place container under cover and allow to stand overnight. The next morning wash salted fish thoroughly and soak in water for one or two hours. During this period the water should be changed two or three times. When salt can barely be tasted, fish is ready for drying.

'Uala (Sweet Potato) and Uhi (Yam)--Rinse and cook, preferably by steaming. Test for readiness by piercing with fork; do not overcook. Let stand to cool, then slice into l / 2 inch pieces; arrange on drying rack, turning once a day. Dries within three to four days.

He'e (Octopus)--Keep freshly caught he'e cool and damp. Before drying, remove the ala ala (ink bags) and salt them for drying (usually to be used for other purposes although it is used as a flavoring ingredient when prepared for raw consumption). Pound the he'e thoroughly with approximately two handfuls of salt. Add more salt as it dissolves. Pound in an up-and-down motion, grasping the central or head portion and pounding it on the rest of the body and tentacles. After as much as seven hundred strokes and intermittent washing, the whole he'e becomes tender enough so that the flesh tears easily with a minimum of effort. The process of pounding in salt serves two purposes: (1) removing mucus and (2) tenderizing. After pounding and rinsing off the extraneous matter, hang up the he'e to dry for three or more days.

Kalo (Taro)--Wash and cook thoroughly, preferably by boiling. Best to leave skin on while cooking, removing skin as soon as kalo is cooked and cool enough to handle. When dried after pounding, kalo is similar to hard-tack, especially if rolled out into thin layers or sliced. To prepare pa'i'ai, follow the above cooking instructions, wet board and pounder lightly with water. With even strokes, begin mashing kalo while still warm from cooking, producing a doughy mass. Lightly wet board and pounder to prevent sticking. Be careful not to use too much water; the less water the better. Be sure to mash thoroughly so you have a smooth, heavy poi. Fermentation of pa'i'ai acts as a preservative, as it does in regular poi. The process of fermentation is much slower in pa'i'ai.