Getting to the salt of one of Hawaii’s favorite dishes: Poke
With a sea of food to choose from in the islands it shouldn’t be a surprise that some of Hawaii’s most popular dishes are food from the sea.
Hawaii residents love their seafood – but poking out amongst the dishes is an especially beloved snack: poke. Hawaii has long loved this simple seafood salad. It is a fixture in every Hawaiian restaurant menu, takeout deli, and grocery store. Even the local Costco keeps a well-stocked high-quality selection and many locals insist a party wouldn’t be a party without poke.
Pronounced “poh-kay”, poke translates in Hawaiian to mean “to slice or cut crosswise.” It is a dish that is usually served as an appetizer or snack and consists of bite-sized pieces of raw, fresh fish (typically ahi) mixed with a garnish of either salt or shoyu (soy sauce). Different types of poke are garnished with different toppings such as seaweed, sesame seeds or onion.
While poke may seem to have been a mainstay since the islands were first formed, it wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that poke was seen outside of a luau setting or the homes of fishermen. As the practice of pau hana (after-work) gatherings grew, poke became a popular snack, usually savored with beer. Other ethnicities, particularly the Japanese, who have a long tradition of eating raw fish, took to poke and made it their own by adding their favorite ingredients like shoyu, changing the dish’s flavor profile. In fact, many poke recipes today call for shoyu (soy sauce), as well as other Asian ingredients, such as sesame oil or furikake (a seaweed and sesame mixture), ginger and garlic.
Can’t decide where to pick up some poke? We’ve poked around for you and come up with a list of our favorite spots!
- Foodland (All Islands): One of Hawaii’s most popular poke spots and dubbed “Hawaii’s favorite poke,” Foodland offers a wide selection of poke at affordable prices. Swing in to grab some snacks for a day at the beach and peruse their wide selection of poke from traditional flavors like spicy ahi to their signature avocado ahi poke. If you’re looking for a meal grab one of their freshly made poke bowls – poke over hot rice. They guarantee you’ll like it or they’ll give you your money back!
- Poke Stop (Oahu): En route to the North Shore make a pit stop at the Poke Stop in Mililani. Some of their “must tries” are the blackened ahi poke, sweet onion ahi poke, da works, and the furikake salmon poke. Traveling with less adventurous eaters? They also offer a daily rotation of cooked meals like kalbi (boneless short ribs) or garlic shrimp.
- Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu): A tiny shop in the Moiliili neighborhood, this is local food made by kamaaina. Locals crowd into the small space (more like a deli counter than a market) for their Hawaiian food faves and pick out their poke from cases. Catering to those who know their poke, labels are brief so feel free to ask what the mysterious opihi (sea snails) are or ask for a sample of the pastele (a tamale-like snack).
- Tamashiro’s Market (Oahu): There is no doubt about the quality of fish swimming around at Tamashiro Market, a veritable seafood supermarket. The entire back wall is devoted to poke, an impressive display that includes more than seven varieties of ahi poke alone.
- Da Poke Shack (Big Island): Da name says it all. This is the place to find fish on the island of Hawaii. South of Kona town, Da Poke Shack is comprised of a little room wedged into a nondescript apartment building. Here, the food stands out and flavors live up to the taste, like their refreshing and bright kimchi tako poke; creamy ahi poke with bursts of tobiko (fish roe); and the house special, dynamite poke (avocado and spices).
- The Fish Express (Kauai): Keep your eyes open to spot this small shack along Kuhio Highway or look for the long line out the door. The Fish Express is definitely a hot spot with affordable prices. Go for their flavorful classic ahi poke and lobster salad, you won’t regret it!