A native dish from the Hawaiian Islands, poke (POH-keh) is taking Chicago and the nation by storm. Remember the sushi boom around 2005? Well, now it is Poke's turn. It has become a popular food among the younger generations and experienced foodies alike. With that in mind, I had to ask the question: is poke just a fad or is it a truly better alternative to sushi?
[Photograph: J. Kenji López]
Poke is a Hawaiian term that translates into chunk or cut to cut crosswise into pieces. So, it makes sense that all poke is cubed raw fish. In the most traditional form, the Hawaiian pupu, or snack, combines chunks of fresh tuna (usually ahi) with a simple soy, sesame oil marinade. Don't get it confused with ceviche which marinates in lime or lemon juice. However, these days poke also goes way beyond the traditional ahi tuna with soy and sesame marinade. Poke is now made with a wide array of seafood (salmon and octopus usually as an alternative to ahi), topped with an array of sauces/marinades and garnishes. Nowadays it is typically served on a bed of rice and with a variety of unique and flavorful toppings. In Chicago, we see poke popularly served like this, as a poke bowl.
[Photograph: Lenny Gilmore / RedEye]
The two big guns in the poke bowl game, currently, are FireFin Poke and Aloha Poke. Both surged into existence in 2015/2016 and have been entertaining the weekday work crowd and foodstragram lovers since. So is it a fad? I certainly hope not! Sushi around the city will still be a fun and exciting thing to do with friends or on a date. Poke is just a better bang for your buck regarding the quantity of fish you get for your dollar, and I enjoy the fact that I have a fresher choice to the chipotle-esque restaurant model.
Nevertheless, sushi rolls have their own advantages too. Poke has a more overwhelming flavor of the fish, and typically lacks the Japanese style sauces that are added to sushi. Poke bowls usually are not prepared tempura-style either, as many mainstream sushi rolls can be. Instead, the fish is almost always raw. But poke has many fun additives that sushi does not. Edamame beans, sliced avocado, bean sprouts, radishes, and even some onion. Many of these toppings are not found in sushi rolls.
In conclusion, poke might be considered a new fad, but in reality, it is an entirely different style and construction of the same foods we all know and love: raw fish and rice. So whether or not you're looking to choose a poke bowl or a sushi roll depends on your flavor palate and your cravings. Both dishes should be appreciated for what they are and should remain an edible representative of their respective cultures.
Written By: Maxine Kasznia
Author bio: Maxine is a Chicago Native and UCLA grad. She has a passion for sustainable eating and loves to find the best environmentally friendly spots in every city she visits. After living in both Chicago and LA, she has an appreciation for local cuisines and continues to look for ways to expand her palate.