WHAT IS POKE?
By Renz Regala
Poke has come a long way from its humble roots in the Aloha State. The dish, which literally translate to “to cut crosswise into pieces”,was traditionally prepared by local Hawaiian fishermen, who would season the cube cut-offs of their daily catch. Poke saw its popularity balloon in Hawaii in the 1960s, when it started to become more and more prominent and visible in local seafood markets and restaurants on the island. It is also interesting to note that prior to the shining of the local spotlight on poke in the 60s, poke was made using the small grey reef fish abundant in Hawaiian reefs. The much larger Yellowfin tuna would eventually replace the reef fish as the preferred protein of choice in traditional poke as the years went by.
While poke may be a local success in Hawaii as early as the 60s, it would not be almost half a century later that poke would start appearing on the mainland USA. The poke that reached the mainland US would look very different from the first variations of the dish. Traditional authentic poke was quite simple to prepare. The fish would be seasoned with salt, roasted crushed candlenuts (locally known as kukui), and limu seaweed. That’s it. As time went by however, the dish evolved as people of different ethnicities gave their own unique take on poke. For example, the Japanese added shoyu to marinate and cure the fish. This, interestingly enough, would become the norm as the years went by and as the dish reached the mainland.
Now, poke is found all over the United States and around the world in many different variations. Traditionalists would say the only acceptable protein for poke would either be ahi tuna or octopus. Now, one can find poke places that would serve salmon, shrimp, scallops, and even chicken on their bowls. The creativity of poke shops all over the country are in full display as they create unique bowls that draw inspiration from cuisines outside Hawaii, creating a new world of flavor altogether for their customers.
Poke has evolved significantly from its humble beginnings in Hawaii. No doubt, this wonderful dish will continue to do so as the US and the world become more and more acquainted and enamored with it.