If you haven't yet heard of poké (pronounced POH-kay), that's bound to change soon.
A wave of restaurants serving this Hawaiian raw-food specialty have crashed into the New York City — and national — dining scene, bringing the next phenomenon in fast-casual food.
Poké is a mix of raw cubes of seafood (usually ahi tuna or salmon) in a soy sauce-based marinade. It's often garnished with seaweed, cucumber, avocado, or tobiko, and served over rice or greens. Ubiquitous in Hawaii — you can pick it up at grocery stores or even gas stations — poké is a deconstructed, flavorful version of sushi. It's also generally healthy and endlessly customizable.
It also doesn't hurt that, as Bloomberg has pointed out, it's much more economical to open a poké spot compared to a traditional restaurant, which requires industrial-strength cooking equipment and a venting system.
You’ve probably seen poke bowls on social media, overheard the buzz, or seen them on menus IRL. (Psst … it’s pronounced “POH-keh.”) You may even live in a city where poke shops are popping up faster than build-your-own burrito bars ever did.
So what is this food trend, anyway — and what’s the appeal?
Poke means “to slice or cut” in Hawaiian and refers to chunks of raw, marinated fish — usually tuna — which is then tossed over rice and topped with vegetables and umami-packed sauces.
“It’s the next generation of sushi,” says chef Dakota Weiss of Sweetfin Poké in L.A. “But easier to eat.”
The customizable dish is ubiquitous in Hawaii. “It’s everywhere, from gas stations to roadside stands,” says Weiss. “You pick out the kind of poke you want and get it to go in a Styrofoam container.”
And now that poke has found its way to the mainland, people can’t seem to get enough. Here’s what’s in a classic tuna bowl, according to Weiss.
Rice: Most bowls start with a base layer of jasmine rice. Sweetfin uses bamboo rice, which has a green tint. “The warm rice is a nice juxtaposition against the super cold tuna,” says Weiss. Some chains also offer low-carb options like zucchini noodles and kelp salad. The option to be as healthy as you want is part of the appeal, she says.
Fish: Sushi-grade fish is the star ingredient, most commonly raw yellowfin (ahi) tuna. But you can choose between several fish, including salmon and snapper. If raw fish isn’t your thing, look for options like tofu or cooked crab.
Seasonings: The cubes of fish are mixed with scallions, sesame seeds and flakes of pink sea salt to enhance the flavor.
Dressing: Salty sauces often made with soy sauce, shoyu, ponzu or even spicy black-bean paste highlight the fatty fish. Weiss says her classic shoyu sauce is made of soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, mirin and a little fresh lemon juice.
Vegetables: Toppings like avocado, shaved onion, seaweed and crispy garlic add flavor and crunch. At Sweetfin, 90 percent of bowls have avocado, which adds a “nice creaminess, a sweetness,” says Weiss. And crispy onion is king. “People go bonkers for our crispy onion to the point where if we run out, they will wait until we make more before ordering.”
Hot sauce: The Japanese red chili mixture togarashi adds heat; wasabi is also a popular option.
So what are you waiting for? Give the trend a try — chopsticks optional.