Pupus: a Hawaiian term for small dishes that's meant to be shared.
Poke, the Hawaii all-time classic dish consisted of diced and sliced food marinated with different types of sauces, has been leading the trend for fast-casual dining within the past year. Hundreds of fast-casual restaurants selling poke bowls started to be poppin’ up all over the globe within the last year, promoting the dish as an adventurous alternative to the health-conscious community. I mean, you can’t go wrong with a bowl of fresh diced fish, lightly marinated to a variety of sauces, over a bed of rice or salad, amirite? To be honest, people all over the world have been eating sushi and chirashi bowl (aka bowl of rice with an assortment of diced sashimi fish) for years, so it’s just a matter of time that folks outside of Hawaii have finally caught up with another raw fish trend.
In Hawaiian language, poke – not poké or poki - literally means “to slice” or “to cut.” Traditionally, poke dishes have been prepared with mostly tuna and octopus, however it could also feature a variety of salmon, Hamachi, pipikaula (beef jerky), mussels, and more. For each type of protein, especially ahi (yellowfin tuna), there are different types of mixing sauces that go with it, such as Shoyu Ahi with a soy sauce-based seasoning or Spicy Ahi with a spicy mayo base. The seasonings help preserving the raw fish from bacteria and enhancing the flavor of the fish overall, making it a great topping for white or brown rice.
Over the past year, I’ve seen a booming trend of poke bowl being sold in fast-casual restaurants in the mainland and overseas. Poke bowl hits the jackpot outside of Hawaii because it fits right in with the customization culture at fast casual restaurants, such as Chipotle, where you can choose several toppings of your choice. Featuring raw fish as a healthy ingredient, poke bowl also appeals to the health-conscious community. Seasoned businesspeople came to Hawaii, saw the profitability potential of poke and brought it over to the mainland with a twist. A poke bowl in a mainland-based shop means the bowl features 30% of marinated fish cubes and 70% of non-fish toppings such as corn, seaweed salad, kale, and more. Having a variety of colorful compartments, a mainland poke bowl seems Instagram-worthy and healthy at its best. However, that is not how poke bowls are prepared in Hawaii.
In Hawaii, poke bowls mean a bowl of rice or salad greens topped with one or two choices of poke that are filled to the brim. It is such a classic local dish that it is sold everywhere from convenience stores to white tablecloth restaurants, and until very recently, fast-casual stores. Everybody in Hawaii has a favorite place to get poke from, and asking where to get the best poke could easily get some Hawaii locals into a debate. I think everyone has a poke place to take visitors to, another place for daily poke consumption, and probably a place to get poke-by-the-pound for big gathering and parties. Since I’m no Hawaii local and did not growing up eating poke, my taste definitely differs from other people in Hawaii. However, I have my fair share of advices for where to get poke on Oahu, and I am more than happy to share my poke list with Hungry Chopsticks readers. You can thank me later.
1. Tamura’s Fine Wine and Liquors
Beer and wine store with a poke bar that features some of the best poke on the island. Upon parking your car in the parking lot, you can already smell the fishiness from miles away. From fried tofu poke to wasabi king crab poke and ponzu Hamachi poke, Tamura’s excels in all of their poke items and that makes their customers sometimes forget that it is also a liquor store.
3496 Waialae Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816 | tamurasfinewine.com
2. Keeaumoku Seafood
Hole-in-the-wall poke store with a Korean twist. Known for their hot masago and sesame oil ahi, Keeaumoku Seafood serves really spicy poke that is for sure awaken your tastebuds. I also heard that the owner catches fresh fish himself, but I’m not too sure – I mean who cares if the fish is really fresh melt-in-your-mouth kine and the bowl comes with Korean side dishes?
1223 Keeaumoku St, Honolulu, HI 96814
3. Yama’s Fish Market
Your one stop shop for fresh poke AND Hawaiian food. If you want to have a plate lunch featuring poke, kalua pig, lomi salmon, poi, and haupia – this is the place. Plus, their poke is really fresh and there’s at least 15 types of poke to choose from.
2332 Young St, Honolulu, HI 96826 | yamasfishmarket.com
4. Alicia’s Market
How about poke and crispy roast pork? Let me repeat that again. POKE AND CRISPY ROAST PORK. Nuff said??
267 Mokauea St, Honolulu, HI 96819 | aliciasmarket.com
Now, this is the place that I would get my weekly, or daily poke craving. Conveniently being a supermarket chain, Foodland offers a variety of poke that I can pick up while doing my grocery or whenever I’m craving for poke that is within walking distance from my house. The cut of fish might be crunchy sometimes due to it being frozen, but sometimes I like it that way, oddly enough. It’s affordable, convenient, and simple. I usually get a spicy ahi (spicy mayo based poke) whenever I feel under the weather, a shoyu ahi whenever I feel like I want something comfort and classic, or both if I feel like I’m in for a grocery treat. The one at Ala Moana shopping center also offers fancy choices such as truffled ahi poke with avocado, which tastes like artificial truffle oil.
Location: all over the island | foodland.com
So that’s my share of favorite poke places on the island. Enjoy poke responsibly, and let’s all hope that yellowfin tuna is not going to extinction… any times soon.