You will not find Many Restaurants, cafe’s or food establishments in Hawaii that do not list at least one Poke Item. But new visitors to the Islands often ask…What is Hawaiian Poke?… Some will not like the Answer.
So What is it?
First of all most descriptions of it are poor. You hear it most often called a raw fish salad. This sounds pretty disgusting and it’s missing the point of the dish somewhat. Yes it is normally made from Raw Fish, and we suppose it’s a salad of sorts, but it is something very unique. We also hear it compared to Ceviche. But again this is wide of the mark. While similar in concept the execution is very different.
Poke means “To Slice” and the basis for any Poke is something Sliced, (Not Chicken) normally Tuna (see Below). Added to this are Diced Sweet Maui Onions, Chopped Green onion, or Scallions and then Marinated with Soy Sauce and Toasted Sesame oil.
This is the basic recipe but various other things can be added as well, such as dried seaweed, Sesame seeds, Chilli Flakes, Sliced Chilli’s, and Sea Salt. We go into making Poke Below.
The simplicity of these ingredients belies the complexity of the dish, which is a posh way of saying, raw fish, with a bit of sauce, is in fact incredibly delicious. Really if you are coming to Hawaii You simply must try it. It is the only way to really understand the Poke Phenomenon.
How Do You Pronounce Poke
Like most Hawaiian words it can be hard for mainlanders to properly get their tongues around the word. However “Po Kay” will get you by in 99.9% of cases.
You will hear a lot of tourists come out with a myriad of pronunciations. Poke is understandable, as that is how it’s spelled, but Wrong, and will often draw corrections. Pookay, Pokee, Pookee. All wrong and pedantic locals will correct you. “Po Kay” is the only acceptable pronunciation and we advise practicing a few times so you don’t get it wrong in the heat of ordering it so you don’t look like a tourist…Which you probably do anyway.
TIP – Don’t take any of the above too seriously, in truth, no one cares!
For the Main part, Poke Refers to Ahi Poke. There are several acceptable variants (none are Chicken), but the original and best is Ahi. Tako (Octopus) is a close second, but It’s the ahi that draws us back.
Ahi, If you didn’t know, Ahi is Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna to Be Precise. Good Ahi has a deep red color and this gets darkened with the addition of Soy Sauce and makes the whole dish a deep translucent red. It’s the perfect dish and other main ingredients just lose some of the visual appeal.
Tuna also has one of the best textures for eating raw, it’s firm meaty texture melts in the mouth and lacks a strong flavor. Instead, it takes on the intense Salty, savory and toasted notes of the marinade.
Yeah, Yeah We get it here now too…no Big Deal…
Sure you do, but you are doing it wrong. It probably comes in a Bowl right? pfft That’s poor man’s Poke, the real Deal will come on its own, Just Ahi, Ahi, and more Ahi (and a bit of onion). You can Stick you “Chicken Poke Bowl” right up your… well you know.
Maybe it’s just the fact we are not in Hawaii that makes all other Poke seem so fake and unauthentic. There is just something Magical sitting on your Lanai, With a Glass of POG, Watching the Whales, with a huge portion of Ahi Poke that just makes you feel all Hawaiian.
As we said Ahi is the Killer Poke but even this comes in varieties. And on top of this, there are other acceptable items that can replace the Ahi. There are some things that can’t too!
- Ahi Poke
- Spicy Ahi Poke
- Wasabi Ahi Poke
- Tako (Octopus) Poke
- Salmon Poke
- Mussel Meat Poke
- Imitation Crab Stick Poke
- Shrimp Poke
- Scallop Poke
What is does it taste like?
The Overriding flavor is toasted Sesame. The Soy adds a pleasant saltiness along with some savory notes and then the tuna comes through in the background. There is the hit of sweet and tang from the onions in there too. That all sounds terribly pretentious but the point is it is not overly fishy.
It is that Slightly Salty, Savoury Toasted Sesame hit that instantly takes you to the Hawaiin Islands. It’s so overtly Polynesian and just the smell is all it takes to carry you away to the land of blue seas, golden sands, and gentle turtles. If one taste and Flavour sums up Hawaii for us it’s the rich toasted flavor of Poke.
Tako Poke is even less fishy and pretty much lacks any fishy notes and just bathes in the marinade. Other Verities have stronger flavors which do come through more but the marinade is pretty intense and it mainly this that
Is it Really Raw?
You Betcha! Well, Ahi Poke is Raw. Salmon Poke is too. But the rest are pre-cooked. Tako poke would be pretty vile if not pre-cooked. And mussel meat and Shrimp would probably kill you raw. By pre-cooking, we mean the Tako/shellfish is cooked plain, allowed to cool and then chopped and then marinated.
Ahi Poke is made from good quality, Sashimi grade Tuna. So it is perfectly safe to eat. It is essentially marinated Sashimi although the slicing is far more primitive than the art that goes into good sashimi. If you like Sushi or Sashimi then Poke is going to go down very well. If this is not your thing still maybe give it a try as the marinade takes some of the Rawness feeling away. Same with Salmon Poke it’s got to be good quality or it can take on a bit of slimy an unpleasant taste.
But don’t be under any illusion. It is not “cured”. There is a long tradition in northern Europe of eating raw fish that has been cured in a number of ways either by smoking, salting, pickling or drying. These fish are essentially cooked. Any harmful bacteria or parasites are killed and the food is now safe to eat. A lot of people think the Marinade in Poke has a similar effect. This is not the case. The fish is just raw. The only reason it is safe is due to the hygiene practices and lack of natural harmful bacteria in fish.
Good Quality Raw fish is deemed safe to eat as long as it’s handled well. With millions of tons of it consumed worldwide in Sushi and Sashimi then it is fairly obvious this is the case.
Is it Fresh? or has it Been Frozen?
Frozen, at least it SHOULD have been Previously Frozen. Most Poke will display a sign saying it has been previously Frozen and a lot of people look at this as a sign of lower quality. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Ahi Should ALWAYS be frozen prior to Consumption Raw.
Sorry, but we have a little unpleasant truth here. But some Tuna can carry the odd unpleasant parasite. If eaten raw you do run the risk of picking these up…Sorry. However, Freezing the Fish Beforehand kills off pretty much everything making it safe to consume! This is what is meant by Sashimi Grade Fish and any good Poke should be made from Sashimi Grade Tuna.
Can I cook it?
Yes, But don’t. Bought from a supermarket it will even come with cooking instructions. Ignore them, this is just to cover themselves. Poke is meant to be eaten raw, or cold if the main ingredient is pre-cooked
Any Self-respecting supermarket on Maui will sell Poke. The good news is it is normally really good. The even better news is it’s normally pretty cheap! Safeway is one of our favorite stops for Poke in Hawaii and you can pick up a good portion for around $9.99-12.99 a lb depending on offers. a lb of Poke is quite a lot, it isn’t something you eat in vast quantities.
The best thing about it is they will allow you to try. Just ask and they will happily provide you a piece on a cocktail stick. If you are New to Poke, or the thought of Raw fish is a bit strange to you just give it a go.
Can You Make it at Home? Oh Yes…
After many months of refining and perfecting, we have put together our Perfect Hawaiian Poke Recipe. After munching pounds of tuna to get the authentic Hawaiian flavors just right we bring you this amazing Hawaiian delicacy with everything you need from your local supermarket!
What is Wrong with Chicken Poke?
Have Your Say?
Did we miss something? Are there any Poke Questions we missed? Fire away in the comments below and we will get them answered. What are your Poke Experiences. Did you fall in love with it like us? did you fins the whole Raw fish thing too much? Whatever you have to say about Poke just let us know in the comments below…unless you want to tell us you like Chicken Poke…then We don’t care.