Poke has been in the greater culinary consciousness for decades, but in 2016 it’s become a bonafide trend. Restaurants are opening across the country serving raw fish, heavily sauced on kale and zucchini noodles, along with phonetic instruction on how to pronounce the latest fad.
Articles are everywhere with titles like “What Is Poke & Where Should You Get It?” Another video from INSIDER Food, shows eaters “going wild for…sushi in a bowl,” ordering from a Subway-style list of toppings, including cucumbers and jalapeños. While the excitement is understandable, back at home poke is anything but a trend.
In Hawaii no celebration is complete without ahi. Served before anything else, it’s a good indication of what’s to come. Donovan and Cassie’s Moloka’i wedding was no exception. 110 lb. ahi, caught a few days earlier off the coast of Kaua’i. Just enough time to age, like a prime cut of beef. Kept ice cold in a refrigerated trailer, shipped over for the special occasion.
The night before the big day, an expert assembly line is formed. The fish, systematically broken down one quarter at a time. The sharpest of knives used to trim the skin and blood line. Blocks of sashimi carved, remaining cuts left for poke. A seemingly endless supply, hypnotic and beautifully repetitive. It’s a system not anything like Subway.
Better than candy. Knowledge and tradition, passed from one generation to the next.
Trays of sweet, steak-like chunks of fish. If you’re lucky, you might score a few samples before it’s returned to the trailer to chill overnight.
The next morning, preparations continue. Sashimi, sliced and cushioned on beds of cabbage.
Left plain and simple. Ready for the buffet and a touch of wasabi shoyu.
Followed by poke. Real poke.
Deceivingly simple, in its purest form. A holy trinity of flavors on a near spiritual level–delicate and briny limu kohu harvested from Kaua’i, rich and nutty inamona, and a sprinkling of red, mineral alaea salt. Each ingredient elevating, not distracting from the dish.
So much more than the latest health trend and far from “sushi in a bowl.”
Home to so many fisherman and one of the only live fish auctions in the country, Hawaii has a deeply personal connection to seafood. Originating from two very different island cultures, sashimi and poke are reflections of a profound understanding and appreciation for the sea.
While many variations exist, nearly all poke has a higher purpose–to feature raw fish in all its glory, as well as the many efforts it takes to get to our table. The final product, greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s unfortunate the “latest food trend” is so misguided and impersonal, resulting in an arbitrary and thoughtless bowl of salad. Ultimately the next big thing may be delicious, but just knowing how to pronounce it doesn’t make it poke.