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Poi Dog Brings a Little Hawai’i Home One Dip at a Time

Poi Dog Philly

Kiki Aranita is the woman behind Poi Dog Philly sauces, which are rooted in Hawaiian flavors but draw from Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and Portuguese influences. Workers from these countries brought their cuisines to Hawai’i’s sugarcane and pineapple plantations, eventually melding their food cultures with the islands’ local food. “Poi Dog” is a common Hawaiian pidgin term that means “mixed breed” or “mutt” and refers to the mixed nature of Hawai’i-style food.

Aranita says that what makes Poi Dog sauces unique is that they are honest representations of her Hawai’i roots, “not versions of Hawai’i’s culture filtered through mainland eyes or tiki culture.” Her recipes have grown out of years of making Hawai’i’s local food. Aranita’s culinary influences include comfort food from Hawai’i and Hong Kong, where she also grew up. By taking what she knows from home and adding something fresh, she’s always developing new flavors. “I riff on familiar dishes with new ingredients constantly,” she said.

While Poi Dog Philly once included a casual counter-service restaurant and food truck in Philadelphia, Aranita had to pivot when the pandemic hit. Poi Dog served Hawai’i-style plate lunches, fresh ahi poke, musubi, and mochi flour desserts. In 2018, they were Time Out Philadelphia’s Best Restaurant, as well as being voted Philadelphia’s Best Fried Chicken in 2017 and Best Food Truck in 2014. When it became too difficult to thrive during the pandemic, Aranita decided to rebrand, but kept the Poi Dog name.

Poi Dog’s best-selling sauce is The Chillah Peppah Water, which Aranita said is mild but has a warm, gingery kick that enhances flavors rather than masking them. It’s a versatile sauce that’s found on every table in Hawai’i and can go on everything, including rice, meats, macaroni salad and vegetables. Even margaritas! Aranita’s version is made with seasonal Pennsylvania peppers, so batches will change depending on when they are brewed.

Poi Dog’s other sauces include Guava Katsu Sauce, a Japanese-style bbq sauce that is umami-rich yet vegan, and Maui Lavender Ponzu. After visiting the Ali’i Kula lavender farm in upcountry Maui, where nine varieties of lavender bloom year-round, Aranita became devoted to using only their deeply fragrant culinary lavender. Maui Lavender Ponzu can be used instead of soy sauce to dip fried dumplings, sushi and sashimi, or even mix with olive oil for a quick salad dressing.

Aranita currently has no intention of opening another restaurant or food truck down the road, but she has been doing a lot of pop-ups. The most rewarding part of running Poi Dog Philly for her has been reaching people who miss or love Hawai’i. “There’s a significant though disconnected diaspora from the islands,” she said. “While the restaurant and food truck acted as gathering places for people who were from or loved Hawai’i, Poi Dog sauces are a way of people bringing ‘that love into their own homes.’”


Ashley Archambault

Ashley is a writer and teacher living in Florida. When she isn't reading or writing, you can find her in the kitchen experimenting with a new recipe, on the yoga mat in downward dog, or lost out in nature with her family.



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