NBC: The Surfer’s Sashimi- How Hawaiian Poke Conquered the Mainland

NBC (by Sarah Bennett):

The lunchtime line at Pokéworks in Midtown Manhattan has been constant since it opened three months ago. Every weekday, New Yorkers wearing puffy coats and woolen hats spill out of the tiny storefront, waiting for the chance to order a customized bowl of chopped raw fish atop a mound of sticky rice.

Poke, the Hawaiian invention ubiquitous on the islands, where it serves as the unofficial state snack, might seem like an odd meal to pair with a frigid East Coast winter. But over the last few years, the traditional dish — which tops fresh, lightly marinated seafood with condiments like limu and roasted kukui nuts — has transformed from pre-batched versions available by the pound at Hawaii’s beach-side liquor and grocery stores into the United States’ next build-your-own, meal-in-a-bowl movement.

Enjoying something Hawaiian in New York helps transport the mind a bit, to a place more beachfront,” Pokéworks partner Kevin Hsu told NBC News. “The moment you sit in your office and you’re digging through a poke bowl, you feel like you’re on vacation.

Nostalgia for Hawaiian vacations may be one reason why the hunger for poke has grown so great in such a short amount of time, but poke has been quietly mounting a mainstream takeover ever since its invention.

To ancient Hawaiians, cutting up the catch of the day and tossing it with salt and seaweed harvested from the ocean was an exercise in sustenance. Subsequent waves of contact and immigration — from Captain Cook to the sugar plantation era — influenced poke by infusing it with sauces, toppings, and flavors of Europe, Japan, and other Asian countries.

The dish was first introduced to many Americans via fine-dining chefs, who — following the Hawaiian-food-obsessed lead of Hawaii native son Sam Choy in the ’90s — found poke an approachable Asian-fusion appetizer, an alternative to crudo and ceviche. Sushi had already been introduced to American palates by then and many diners felt comfortable (and classy) eating Asian-style raw fish. Poke was a logical next step.

But it wasn’t until a few years ago that fast-casual spots dedicated to serving authentic Hawaiian-style poke first opened on the mainland. In Southern California, where many of these early businesses opened, bringing flavors from the Pacific to the masses was less about launching a trend and more of a natural outgrowth of the region’s historic population of Hawaiians and native Islanders.

Aside from a few dissenters, Hawaiians seem excited that the “surfer’s sashimi” is spreading to new audiences across the country, even if it’s at the hands of a non-traditional delivery method. As a cuisine that has itself evolved over centuries of shifting cultural influence, Hawaiian food seems ever-ripe for re-interpretations, which is good because the poke revolution shows no signs of slowing down.

23-year-old chef Julian Fukue hits it big with “PokiNometry”, his create-your-own-poke bowl restaurant

 

JulianFukue

Food Beast (by Peter Pham):

Julian Fukue introduced the concept of poke to a completely new audience this past year. The 23-year-old chef hails from Orange County, CA, where his famous PokiNometry restaurant is based from. Fukue brought the Hawaiian dish of ahi tuna into the mainstream with his innovative Poke Bowls. The tuna and rice bowls are what made Fukue arguably one of the youngest entrepernuers in the OC poke industry.

When the humble poke-themed restaurant opened, Fukue set a goal for himself of 100 bowls sold each day.  In the weeks to come, however, the bowls began selling like mad. Thanks to word-of-mouth, PokiNometry became instantaneously famous and began selling around 800-1,000 bowls a day.

PokiNometry-Menu

Fukue came from a restaurant background. When he was a kid, his mother purchased Tustin-based Tommy’s Sushi. There, Fukue learned the ins and outs of the restaurant game starting from the bottom as a dishwasher and working his way up to sushi chef. One dish, in particular, stood out for him: the Poke Bowls.

The concept of the PokiNometry is similar to Chipotle, where customers would line up and assemble their bowls in a customizable fashion. The quick-service restaurant eventually became so busy that Fukue had to close the restaurant down in order to restock and train more employees. He reopened weeks later.

Fukue is set to open a second location of PokiNometry in Hollywood.

 

What is Hawaiian Poke and why does everyone love it? 

Poke1

 Audrey Magazine:

Do you cringe at the thought of eating raw fish or skip out on sashimi at a sushi restaurant? Well, you may soon be warming up to the idea because Hawaiian poke is becoming increasingly popular in Southern California. Perhaps locals are taking more Hawaiian vacations and the demand to bring those island flavors home are high. Or maybe more of our island neighbors are moving to the mainland. Whatever the reason is, Hawaiian poke is welcome to make its tasty mark.

In Hawaiian, “poke” means “to slice or cut.” Traditionally, the dish consisted simply of fresh cut fish with sea salt, candlenut, seaweed and limu (algae). It wasn’t until the 19th century that other vegetables, such as the Maui onion, were incorporated. According to food historian Rachel Laudan, the poke we are familiar with today did not become popular until the 1970s. Although it is only recently that food fanatics are feasting on this tasty yet healthy dish, poke is not new to the food industry. It has been quietly waiting in various American restaurants, served only as an appetizer and waiting to be discovered as a main dish.

Northshore Poke Company's tuna mixed with their Waimea sauce, which is similar to spicy mayo.

Modern poke is a salad typically made with cubed raw fish (usually tuna), sea salt, seaweed, tomatoes, onions and soy sauce. However, with its growing popularity and poke restaurants slowly popping up, there are now several variations of this dish. At some restaurants, such as Northshore Poke Company, patrons may customize their food by selecting their type of fish, flavor, spice level and whether they would like their fish served as a salad or in a rice bowl. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, there are also poke nachos and poke tacos.

Raw fish isn’t always the most appetizing term, but Hawaiian poke is packed with so much flavor, it certainly won’t leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.