THE HYPE & HISTORY OF POKE BOWLS
August 23, 2016
Aside from the miles of white-sand beaches and world-renowned surf breaks, one of the biggest draws of Waikiki is the food scene–a unique and exciting mix of east meets west. Not surprisingly, many quintessential island-style dishes include fresh seafood, but perhaps one of the most beloved is the poke bowl. Today, restaurants from New York to California are serving up their own takes on this traditional Hawaiian meal, but suffice it to say the most authentic version can be found right in our backyard.
What exactly is poke? Food & Wine magazine calls poke a “raw tuna salad,” but looking past the New Yorkification of the local Hawaiian pupu, you’ll realize that it’s so much more than that. “Poke,” pronounced POH-KAY, means “to cut crosswise into pieces” in Hawaiian. It’s unclear as to where the dish originated, but in her book The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage, Rachel Laudan explains poke as a “Local creation, melding existing Hawaiian taste for raw fish with the existent Asian, particularly Japanese taste for the same, but coming up with a new synthesis.”
Traditional poke is a simple concoction of cubed raw ahi with a bit of shoyu (soy sauce), however, poke doesn’t necessarily have to be composed of raw tuna. Other varieties of poke include tako (octopus), tofu, shrimp, scallop or salmon mixed with chili paste, limu (vitamin-packed algae), crushed kukui nuts, avocado, sesame oil and green onions.
While poke is delicious by itself (and even better paired with a beer), the ever-popular poke bowl includes white rice and is often accompanied by a generous sprinkling of furikake—a Japanese seasoning that consists of dried and ground fish, sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar and salt.
Poke can be served raw, marinated or fried, and can be found everywhere from food trucks and cafes to casual and fine dining restaurants. Island-born chef Sam Choy created the “original fried poke” aka “Fried Poke Magic,” a dish made its way onto his restaurants’ menus in the late 1990’s. Roy’s Waikiki, home of famed chef Roy Yamaguchi, occasionally features ahi poke seared in a skillet with peppers and onions in a sweet oyster sauce.
So where are our recommendations for Hawaii’s best poke bowl in Waikiki? Right here at the Surfjack you’ll find Mahina & Sun’s unique version of the poke bowl (the Mahina Bowl, $16) featuring either a’u (marlin) or spicy ahi pahala (white tuna) with avocado, pickled mushroom, sesame kale, nori, inomna and crispy onions over hapa rice or organic lettuce. Goofy Cafe & Dine serves their ahi poke bowls with locally grown kale, avocado and a choice of brown or white rice ($11), and Hawaiiana Cafe & Sushi, a cute little hole-in-the-wall on Beach Walk, has a killer spicy ahi poke bowl ($11.50).
Just outside of Waikiki, in neighborhood of Kapahulu, there’s Da Hawaiian Poke Company, which offers a variety of poke bowls such as the Main Lobster Poke Bowl with wasabi foam and yuzu tobiko; Aloha Tofu Poke Bowl with avocado and daikon sprouts; or you can choose to make your own bowl ($10-$22/bowl). Another nearby hot spot is Ono Seafood, which serves eight different kinds of poke, including Miso Tako, Haw’n Style and Shoyu Ahi ($7.50-$10/bowl).