food + drinks by Maia Puyat

The Anatomy of a Poke Bowl

In a world saturated with fat and junk food, the humble poke bowl makes a refreshing case.

Poke, which is spelled like the action but pronounced like a dance (poh-key), is a staple in Hawaiian cuisine. The word, which means to cut crosswise into pieces, was originally composed of the easiest ingredients the native islanders could get their hands on—namely, scraps of raw fish mixed with limu (seaweed) and garnished with crushed kukui nuts and sea salt. Since then, this Hawaiian pupu (snack) has evolved and adapted to more modern palates.

Most recipes have begun to incorporate shoyu or Japanese soy sauce into their poke bowls, as well as a heaping serving of fresh, white rice. Though it’s become commonplace to think of a poke bowl as a kind of deconstructed sushi (especially since many Japanese joints feature their own version of this by way of chirashi), the essence is still uniquely and undeniably Hawaiian.

So, what exactly goes into making this authentic Hawaiian dish? The basic poke bowl consists of a serving of white rice blanketed with a thick layer of cubed raw fish. While ahi tuna has become the most common, traditional poke bowls also use octopus, tofu, and salmon, as well as other types of tuna. The bowl is seasoned with a mix of shoyu and sesame oil with a dash of layu or chili oil, and then topped with chopped onions. Every bite is a dynamic dance. In each spoonful, the delicate cuts of raw fish blend with touches of tangy and crunchy, all brought together by a soft spoonful of rice.

Everything that goes into a poke bowl is fresh, light, and accessible, especially for those by the seaside (or surrounded by the sea, in our case). Unlike other rice bowls laden with fried meats and heavy sauces, poke bowls keep you full sans that intense food coma. In fact, that’s the main reason why this Hawaiian treat is gaining traction internationally among health buffs.

In Manila, one of the best places to get your hands on a classic Hawaiian poke bowl is at the bustling, food-laden street of Maginhawa. Ahi Hawaii, identifiable through its pastel colored sign hanging high above the sidewalk, boasts its affordable yet delicious selection of on-the-go poke bowls (though you can also choose to dine in). The first thing you see upon entering is a small check-out window decorated like a surfer’s paradise. The restaurant itself belongs beside a beach, with wooden interiors covered head-to-foot in charming Hawaiian décor. Ahi Hawaii adds their own special touches to the poke bowl by mixing in fresh fruits and a line of chili sauce streaked on top, which creates a beautiful balance of strong and refreshing flavors. Their best seller, the Ahi Bowl, mixes together tuna and salmon with fresh melon, which does a great job of cleansing the palate after a mouth full of chili sauce.

DIY Poke, which is a new addition to Madison Galleries’ wide selection of restaurants, allows their customers to assemble their own poke bowls. They offer different kinds of raw fish, along with a motley crew of sauces and toppings. There is also an option to go for brown rice, making the dish even healthier than it already is. For those who can’t decide, DIY Poke has a list of pre-selected bowls to choose from. The restaurant, which is quaint and quiet, with walls painted with ocean-colored abstract art, is targeted toward the busy bees looking for the perfect snack to go.

A general rule of thumb when it comes to poke bowls is that they’re best eaten as soon as they’re served. Storing it in the fridge for later will alter the taste and texture of the dish. The longer it sits out, the higher the chance of it going bad—especially since the main ingredient is raw fish.

For busy bees and health buffs looking for something filling, delicious, and health-friendly, a poke bowl is definitely the next big thing.

Maia Puyat
Maia is a psych major who is constantly hungry, so she channels that hunger by writing about it. She is obsessed with ice cream and her pet pug, Biggie-Smalls. Follow her on Twitter at @marompu and on Instagram at @marompu_.
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