Ahi – A Hawaiian Legacy

December 4, 2012 3 Comments »

ahi tuna
Beautiful, ruby red, tender, ahi tuna from Hawaii

In the channels that separate Maui from Lana’i is where you can find them – aku – otherwise known as bonito, a variety of Hawaiian tuna. Is it a coincidence that aku is also close in sound to the word ahi? We use the word ahi when we talk about tuna – but did you know that the origin of the word is actually Hawaiian?

Ahi is caught near Lanai in a fishing channel where the waters swirl and the fish congregate. Fishermen go out daily to snag the best quality tuna which then gets promptly shipped off to Japan for auctioning at Tsukiji Market.  However, the ahi who don’t make the long trip to Asia go to the O’ahu fish market to be sold to a middleman who will then sell to the chefs of Lana’i and surrounding islands.

Fresh, ruby red ahi is a beautiful site costing a pretty penny all over the world. But when you can get it really fresh – from the water you can see from the beach you are sunbathing on – then it’s even better. While visiting Lana’i I made sure that I got my share of this Hawaiian delicacy – if it were left to me, I think I could eat ahi for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and I practically did.  My favorite way to eat ahi is raw – and in Hawaii, there are three main ways to eat raw ahi – Poke, Sushi, and Sashimi.

Things to do on Lanai – not your typical Hawaiian island


My Hawaiian ahi journey started with Poke (pronounced Po-kay), which means cut-up fish. As you would guess, poke is just that – cut-up ahi chunks smothered in sauces ranging from simple to complex. Years ago Poke was created out of simple necessity. With no refrigeration the fresh fish on the island had to be preserved somehow so it was cut up and then preserved in sea salt. Hawaiians would add ginger, Maui onions, sesame oil, green onion, seaweed, and soy sauce in whatever clever combinations they wanted and then serve it up as a dish. I tend to refer to Poke as deconstructed sushi. The spicy tuna poke reminds me of a spicy tuna roll, it’s just not as pretty to look at. I watched Ciso from Ohana Poke Market prepare poke and serve with his family. Their secret poke recipes were clearly in demand – as evidenced by the long line of locals winding out of his shop salivating for the day’s specials.

making poke
A soy sauce mixture is poured over ahi and onions


I consider sushi the more sophisticated sibling of Poke. Poke is sort of a hot mess, and Sushi is the supermodel. Its colorful rolls filled with fresh avocado and veggies all wrapped up tight in miso showcase the ahi perfectly. Chef Warren of Lana’i City Grille kindly provided a demonstration of just how easy and quick it is to make a beautiful ahi sushi roll.

I think I will simply stick to eating it rather than making it!


The highest-grade center cut of ahi is made into sashimi. Chef Kevin from the Four Seasons Resorts on Lana’i said that he occasionally gets a call from Herbert or Daniel, local fishermen from Lana’i who fish the channel as they are coming in for the day to let him know what they caught. Chef Kevin can purchase directly from Herbert or Daniel and the handful of other licensed fishermen on Lana’i – providing guests with a real ‘ocean to table’ experience. The day I visited Chef Kevin he was getting ready for the opening of the Kailani Lounge – a sunset lounge with a seafood focus. I watched as he prepared a Tuna Sashimi Flatbread made from whole wheat tortilla and thinly sliced high-grade ahi dressed with tomatoes and jalapenos. A refreshing raw ahi snack served up with a mojito on the veranda of the Four Seasons – now that is perfection.

Chef Kevin makes sashimi flat bread
Chef Kevin makes sashimi flat bread
Opening day of Kailani Lounge
The opening of Kailani Lounge features ahi.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy ahi?

Visit Lana'i

Disclosure: I was a guest of Visit Lana’i as a part of their New Media Artist in Residence Program.   All views expressed here are my own honest opinions and do not reflect the views of Visit Lana’i.

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