Seafood

Why Poke Is Already the Trendiest Food of 2016

January 28, 2016

The first thing you have to know about poke is that it’s pronounced “poh-kay.” If you’re from Los Angeles or have ever caught a mad wave in Hawaii, you probably already knew this; if you’re from anywhere else, chances are you have no idea what I’m talking about. But if my predictions for the Trendiest Food of 2016 are anywhere near true, you’ll know all about it by the end of the year.

Ahi tuna poke from Wisefish Poke Photo by Leslie Stephens

Named for the Hawaiian verb, “to slice or cut,” poke traditionally refers to any raw fish, typically tuna, that’s been cut into cubes. Chung Chow executive chef and co-owner of Noreetuh, a Hawaiian-inspired New York restaurant, explained, “In the modern context, it can refer to cut cubes of fish, vegetables, or meat—usually cured.” While it’s traditionally served with minimal garnishes—Chung cited just salt and sesame oil—modern iterations of the poke are often served over rice with soy sauce and a number of toppings from furikake to jalapeños. “In California,” Chung told me, “the diversity of poke available is endless.”

Poke Bowls are now available on our brunch menu!

A photo posted by noreetuh (@noreetuh) on

It’s only been a few years since the first poke spots started popping up in the West Coast, but Californians have already adopted the dish as their own, often served over rice as a “poke bowl.” More recently—within the past year, or so—poke, and Hawaiian food in general, has headed even further east to New York, with Onomea in Brooklyn and Chung’s restaurant, Noreetuh in the East Village.

Last night, in a very un-beachy, post-Jonas New York, Wisefish Poke, opened in Chelsea as one of the first casual grab-and-go poke place in the city (though several are slated to open this year). Co-owned by two non-Hawaiian poke-lovers, the concept arose from a craving. Wisefish’s co-owner, Drew Crane, told me over the phone, “During a trip to Hawaii, poke hijacked my vacation—I became enamored with it. When I came to New York and couldn’t find it, the idea to open Wisefish got its start.”

Behind that passion is also a keen sense of business savvy. Drew and his co-owner Bryan Cowan both come from business backgrounds (Goldman Sachs and Columbia Business School, respectively). Poke bowls are, depending how you look at them, a safer bet than many on Wall Street: They encompass two of the arguably most trendy foods of all time, sushi (circa 1980s) and grain bowls (circa 2008).

“When sushi became popular in the 1980s,” Chung said, “people didn’t eat raw fish. But now people are more accepting of it and are seeking it out.” While some Hawaiian flavors are not received as well, Chung said that his customers have found a familiarity in the flavors in the poke. As Drew puts it, “It has similar flavor profiles to sushi, but is served in a more convenient way.”

Last night I grabbed a friend to try poke bowls for ourselves. My bowl, a mix of ahi tuna, sweet onion, tobiko, and wasabi avocado cream sauce was the salad I always wanted: A spicy, umami-rich heap of rice and protein (with no lettuce in sight—no offense, lettuce). Trend or no trend, easy to see why the bowls have caught on so quickly. I’ll be making poke again before the snow melts.

Some Poke Combinations to Try:

  • Brown rice + Ahi tuna + tobiko + ginger-garlic soy sauce
  • Zucchini noodles + salmon + avocado + wasabi aioli
  • Soba noodles + raw tofu + herbs + ponzu sauce
  • White rice + cucumber + furikake + spicy mirin sauce

Have you ever tried poke? Are you looking up plane tickets to Hawaii? Tell us in the comments below!

Editor's note: The original article cited Wisefish as the first poke-only grab-and-go place in the city, but has been changed to reflect that it is one of the first.

21 Comments

MicronCat May 13, 2016
I got a Poke' bowl in Denver last week. It was awesome. We are going to NYC next month, and I already have my Poke' restaurant list made!
 
Frankie Z. February 4, 2016
I know a big of making poke has to do with the way the fish is cut. Does anyone have a guide or a best-practice link where I can learn more about this?
 
SCJ February 4, 2016
3. The Cut<br />Bravo first cuts his fish into filets, "like the ones you see in the window at the sushi bar," he says. From there, he cuts them into cubes. Cobb-Adams says its best to cut "with the grain, not against it," to avoid perforated edges. After it's cut into cubes, salt the fish to taste using Hawaiian or sea salt.<br /><br />The size of the cube depends on personal taste. "A lot of local people and Hawaiians love the taste of fish," Cobb-Adams says, "so having a big piece to chew on is no problem." People who don't like the fishy taste can opt for smaller cubes to better taste the bowl's dressings.
 
Wailana W. February 1, 2016
So glad for all this attention about the poke trend in New York but Wisefish is not the first and hopefully won't be the last and maybe will be as readily available as it is in supermarkets. I remember the first time I had ahi poke in New York it was at Roy's when it was downtown in the financial district. There was barely a spoonful and it was served on a couple of taro chips and not cheap. Other places were sushi bars with some connection to Hawaii would serve tuna poke and lomi lomi salmon but again, those were quite by accident and did not grown to be the trend it has become today. Onomea, a truly authentic Hawaiian does serve a formidable poke as an appetizer, plated the size of a hockey puck and good for a poke fix. Next, Noreetuh has elevated poke to fine cuisine by adding atypical and interesting ingredients like white fungus and pickled jalapeño. If you do a search on Yelp, you'll find about 5 more poke places pre-Wisefish so there are definitely more players out there. Poke means chunk in Hawaiian and almost anything can be made into poke which makes it more accessible. Raw crab is a common poke in Hawaii but not in New York. Maybe one of these new places can put crab poke in their menu. Sons of Thunder has tako or octopus poke which breaks from the more traditional tuna poke available on all the menus. None of the restaurants use fresh limu or ogo, inamona, roasted crushed kukui nuts, Hawaiian salt and to my knowledge Aloha Shoyu. These ingredients are not readily available in NewYork so the restaurants make substitutes like crushed macadamia or cashew nuts, rehydrated Japanese red algae, hijiki and furikake among others. Glad for this poke popularity and looking forward to trying poke in all forms in NY.
 
Christan January 31, 2016
I went to Wisefish last Thursday and it'll definitely be a place I continue to frequent this year. Love the freshness of the food without the high prices.
 
SCJ January 31, 2016
I am new to Southern California having lived in Hawaii for 28 years. I miss good poke desperately! So far, California poke does not taste like Hawaiian poke - too much ginger, no seaweed, and there is very little variety available. I was delighted to see four kinds of poke at Costco last weekend - real poke - and discovered they had brought it in from Hawaii! Oka i'a, please - Samoan poke. More, please in San Diego!
 
Margie M. January 30, 2016
I make a beautiful Poke using Diakon, Cucumber, Seaweed Salad, Ahi, Roe, Macadamia nuts and black and white Sesame Seeds and a citrus/soy dressing. Wish I could post a picture! It's a Beautiful Presentation!
 
Lynne B. January 29, 2016
Poke outside of it's traditional sense is a bowl filled with your favorite ingredients. You are only limited by your imagination...Go & poke yourself.
 
Shanny H. January 28, 2016
I love that poke is getting this attention but I am compelled to point out a couple of errors in this article. 1. It's just poke. No diacritics are necessary since it is a Hawaiian word and we don't use one. 2. Traditionally it is NOT made with sesame oil and salt (although sesame oil is a delicious additive to today's modern poke). Traditionally in Old Hawaii poke was made with sea salt, Limu, and inamona which is just a type of crunchy seaweed and roasted kukui nuts. Aloha.
 
Sophie B. January 28, 2016
Poke is delicious, especially when kept simple. Ahi tuna, seaweed, chopped roasted nuts, soy sauce, chili pepper flakes, green onions... and maybe sesame oil. Nooooo rice. Never rice.
 
Moshee January 28, 2016
People up & down the west coast are privy to poke. Not just SoCal . . .
 
sherry M. January 28, 2016
Going to Oahu for a week, Feb. 2nd 2016...any great recommendations on places to eat poke?
 
Daniel A. January 28, 2016
Personally I loved Safeway's Poke. Try their spicy Poke! I've been trying to recreate that oe for years. Other than that I hear "Poke Stop" has an amazing selection though I never got a chance to try it but Guy Fieri did and loved it for what it's worth. <br />
 
Emily |. January 28, 2016
Yama's Fish Market in Honolulu has amazing ahi poke. Just ate some for lunch in fact. Try the haipua (coconut dessert) too!
 
Kevin H. January 29, 2016
Foodland offers both fresh and previously frozen Ahi/tuna while Safeway only offers frozen, I suggest Foodland - you'll see the difference in price. There are many many places to find Ono poke but beware of the previously frozen stuff. Enjoy your trip. Aloha.
 
Daniel A. January 29, 2016
Maybe it was Foodland I was thinking of!
 
gingerroot January 30, 2016
Most poke places are casual to-go spots, a few of my favorite include: Ono Seafood in Kapahulu, Da Poke Shack (truck) on Queen St., Tamura's (multiple locations), Da Pokeman in Wahiawa (on your way to N Shore). Foodland (multiple locations) poke is pretty good for supermarket fare. Helena's and Highway Inn have great poke and Hawaiian food.
 
gingerroot January 30, 2016
Coincidentally just had a poke bowl from Tanioka's Seafood in Waipahu - so good! A little off the beaten path, but really great poke to-go if you are headed out to the West side or North shore of Oahu.
 
Robin January 31, 2016
You are so right about Foodland's fresh poke. I've been trying to recreate the spicy version also. I use sriracha mayo(very lite on the mayo) with sesame oil and scallions. It's good but not as yummy as Foodlands!
 
Daniel A. January 28, 2016
Lived in Hawaii for years. Loved the stuff. Please don't add any starches like rice or noodles.
 
Kevin H. January 29, 2016
Rice is a staple for Hawaii but poke can be had any which way you like. Great with beer I might add! Enjoy.