The Way of Poke

 
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POKE! POKE! POKE! POKE!

It’s safe to say that we’re in the midst of a global poke craze these days. From NYC to Berlin, Buenos Aires to Sydney, you can find poke bowls, poke burritos, poke with kale, poké spelled wrong, and poke pizza. Ok, I made that last one up, although, that might actually exist by now (let us know if it does!). And while we are all for pushing the creative boundaries, we wanted to lay down a little foundation to what poke traditionally consists of. It may feel like a new phenomenon but this dish has been a prominent part of Hawaii's food culture for many generations.

Being from Hawai'i, I've had a lot of friends and colleagues ask me how the mainland version of poke differs from Hawai'i, so I wanted to share some of the unique ways I find poke is prepared, served, and enjoyed on the islands.

 
 Shoyu Sweet Onion Ahi Poke from Alicia’s Market in Honolulu.

Shoyu Sweet Onion Ahi Poke from Alicia’s Market in Honolulu.

 
 

the foundation of poke

 
 Freshly caught ahi at the Honolulu Fish Auction.

Freshly caught ahi at the Honolulu Fish Auction.

 Sliced tail to see the quality and fat content of the meat.

Sliced tail to see the quality and fat content of the meat.

 

While you can find tako (octopus), crab, clam, and even pipikaula (dried beef) poke, the most common, and most versatile in its preparation, is ahi (yellowfin tuna) poke. And for the freshest ahi, the Honolulu Fish Auction is the place to be early in the morning. I highly recommend taking a tour by the way.

Aside from the fresh raw fish, there's usually only a handful of ingredients that make-up the most popular poke recipes. What started simply as cut fish mixed with seaweed, sea salt, and crushed kukui nuts, has evolved over time with most notably Japanese ingredients including shoyu (soy sauce), sesame oil, sweet Maui onion, and sesame seeds. That’s it. Simple and delicious. Prepared this way, the few choice ingredients really allow for the natural flavors of the fish to come through.

That being said, you can find everything from spicy mayo to oyster sauce to kimchi used to dress up poke. While it’s fun to try all the variations, we keep coming back to the Shoyu Sweet Onion Ahi Poke from Alicia’s (above photo).

 

HOW TO BUY

 
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Poke is usually served as a takeout item and sold by weight, often in increments of 1/4 pound, 1/2 pound, a pound or two! The majority of poke in Hawai’i is prepared in advance and you buy it as is. There are no options to add on edamame, avocado or pineapple. If you’re not sure about the ingredients, or which one to buy, don’t hesitate to ask to sample the goods.

When you do order, don't forget to read the signs. Local people are pretty relaxed but there's always a system when it comes to ordering food. Pay attention to the signs and don't forget to smile when they shaka!

 
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WHERE TO BUY

 
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Poke can be found across the Hawaiian Islands from celebrated restaurants to mom & pop convenience stores to liquor stores. And when that craving hits, you won't have to look far to experience poke in Hawai'i. Here's some of my go-to spots whenever I visit O'ahu.

Grocery Store: Foodland, Times Supermarket, Costco

Liquor Store: Tamura's Fine Wine and Liquors

Fish Market: Tamashiro Market, Youngs Fishmarket, Yama's Fishmarket

General Store: Alicia's Market, Fort Ruger Market, Kahuku Superette

Poke Spot: Ono Seafood, Ahi Assasins, Maguro Bros

 

HOW TO EAT

 
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Ever present in the daily life of locals, kitchen tables, parties, and BBQs feel incomplete without poke. When locals eat poke, they think of it as a pupu (appetizer) and not an entree. Poke bowls were never really a thing growing up in Hawai'i, it was just a small side-dish or snack before dinner that accompanied your cold beer. If you get invited to a local party or BBQ and are not sure what to bring, BRING POKE. It’s an instant winner as there can never be enough.

 
 
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Perhaps it’s the mix of the tropical landscape and fresh ocean air that make poke such a quintessential Hawaiian dish. And while there’s no wrong way to eat poke, for us, there’s nothing better than grabbing a musubi and 1/2lb of ahi poke before heading to the beach.