Acai bowls? Coconut water? Kale? Quinoa? You’re living in the past. It’s all about poké (pronounced poh- kay), a Japanese-inspired Hawaiian raw fish dish that has health nuts (and everyone else) talking.
Poké essentially means to slice or cut crosswise and refers to dicedpieces of raw sh. The sh – traditionally ahi (yellow sh) tuna – needs to be extremely fresh, and paired with the right dressing in this delicate equation.
This classic pupu (snack) has been eaten in Hawaii for centuries. It started o as a simple meal composed ofreef sh scraps, buthas developed into a snack Hawaiians enjoy anywhere and anytime.
Although traditionally Hawaiian, Japanese influence played a key role in poké’s evolution. When the Japanese immigrated to Hawaii they added shoyu soy sauce, other marinades and sauces were introduced and people began experimenting with different sh, octopus, crab, squid, abalone and even tofu.
“Originally, pokéwas limited to just the few ingredients readily available in Hawaii, but it has continued to evolve based on increased access to more ingredients,”says Matthew Gray, head honcho at Hawaii Food Tours. “Nowadays, you’ll see ingredients like wasabi-dusted sesame seeds, mayo, hot sauce, watermelon chunks and many other additions that have helped bring poké into the 21st century.”
'Poké bowls' are a relatively new concept. “We were the first to launch the concept in 2008,” explains co- founder of Pā ́ina Café, Blaine Kimura. “We noted how quickly the build- your-own burrito concept grew, so gured that people might like to build their own poké bowl. The bowls are built around the base of rice, choice of poké, sauce and optional toppings.”
With one week in Hawaii I try as manypoké varieties as I can. Supermarket chain Foodland stocks a whole counter of assortments, so I pop in every day to try concoctions such as king crab or spicy ahi poké; food trucks are all the rage in Honolulu and I make a point of sampling poké whenever I see a vendor sellingthe snack; I enjoy chef Masaharu Morimoto’s inventive take at fancy-pants restaurant Morimoto Waikiki in The Modern Honolulu – Japanese bigeye tuna, marinated in soy sauce and bonito chili flakes, with bocconcini and avocado wasabi sorbet.
Back in Sydney I start noticing poké on menus. Kobe Jones has been serving poké-style dishes since 2003, and recently other eateries – including Henrys in Cronulla and Manly's Showbox Coffee Brewers – have added the tantalising dish to menus.
Simon Blacher, director at Melbourne’s Tokyo Tina, decided to start serving poké bowls in November last year after he noticed the dish had an almost cult-like following in Los Angeles and New York City. “We were looking for a dish that wasn’t necessarily sushi, but that was based on seafood and rice,” he explains. “Aussies jump around new and healthy ideas, the climate and marketis perfect, and it’s a great go-to lunchtime meal.”
Candice Wu and Sam Constantinou (the couple married in Hawaii,which is where they first discovered poké) opened Australia’s first poké- dedicated restaurant, simply called Poke, in beachside Sydney suburb Coogee last April. “We fell in love with poké in Hawaii and were surprised at how di cult it was to find here, so we started serving poké to friends, then selling poké at farmers’ markets, and finally we opened our own store,” Candice says. Poké bowls are packed with choices of lean protein, healthy fats, vegetables and healthy carbs (Candice and Sam replaced white rice with organic black rice). The concept was a hit, with health-conscious foodies lining up from the word go.
Melbourne wasn’t far behind, with university students Thomas Hu, Justin Huang and Sam Kothari opening Pokéd on Little Lonsdale in July. “Poké is on trend,” Justin says. “It’s healthy and tasty... it’s what Australians want.”