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Poke (dish)

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Poke and rice
Poke made with tuna, soy sauce, Hawaiian sea salt, green onions, Maui onions, rice, and limu
Place of originAncient Hawaii[1][2]
Region or stateHawaii[1][2]
Serving temperatureCold
Main ingredientsTuna, sea salt, inamona, limu, onions
VariationsLomi oio, lomi salmon
Similar dishes'Ota 'ika, kinilaw, kelaguen, hinava, ceviche,

Poke (/ˈpk/; Hawaiian for 'to slice' or 'cut crosswise into pieces';[3][4] sometimes anglicised as poké to aid pronunciation as two syllables)[5][6][7] is a dish of diced raw fish tossed in sauce and served either as an appetizer or a main course.[8][9]


Pre-contact period[edit]

Lomi ʻōʻio

Most fish were cultivated in large fishponds or caught near shore in shallow waters and reefs.[10] Fishing and fish caught beyond the reef in the deep sea were reserved for chiefs according to the kapu system which regulated the way of life in Ancient Hawaii.[11]

Poke began as cut-offs from catch to serve as a snack.[12][13] Fish was preferably eaten for immediate consumption, raw with sea salt, inamona, and sometimes seasoned with blood from the gills.[14][15] A typical relish was made of inamona mixed with dried ʻalaʻala (octopus inksac), ake (fish liver), and salt. The poke was accompanied with limu and a large bowl of poi.[16][17][18]

Post-contact period[edit]

When Captain James Cook arrived in 1778 he brought along with him onion seeds.[19] He was followed in the 1790s by Spanish horticulturist Francisco de Paula Marin, who was the first to cultivate and raise tomatoes. De Paula Marin would further popularize the planting of onions which became a popular accompaniment.[20] The onion cultivar known as sweet Maui onion would be developed over the years.

Continued Western influence eventually led to the abolition of the kapu. The prohibition on eating certain types of fish was lifted in 1819 and by 1839 Kamehameha III had opened up fishing grounds beyond the reefs.[21] By this time, Hawaiians were first introduced to salmon, as contract laborers sent to the Pacific Northwest in the fur trading and timber industries. Salmon would have likely been prepared as poke initially which would later evolve into lomi salmon.[16]

Beginning in the mid-19th century, immigrants from China and Japan moved to the islands as plantation laborers, bringing with them foods such as namerō, soy sauce and sesame oil.[22][23][24]

Tuna industry[edit]

Tuna fishing has been important in Pacific Island countries for centuries, but prior to 1900 this activity was restricted to small-scale fishing, mainly using canoes just outside the reef.[25] Between the 1920s and 1930s, almost all the fishing vessels in Hawaiian waters belonged to the Japanese, primarily longline fishing for albacore and skipjack tuna.[26] Most of these tuna would be canned for export, but some would be reserved fresh for the local market.[27] By the 1970s, the increasing affluence of the Japanese consumer created greater demand for sashimi grade tuna.[25]

An increase in yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna landing between the 1970s and 1980s resulted in competition for the fresh tuna market, reducing the available market for skipjack tuna. Yellowfin and bigeye tuna are preferred over skipjack tuna for sashimi in the export markets. Skipjack tuna is usually priced lower on average but is widely appreciated by locals. In 1985, the average price for yellowfin tuna was 26% higher than bigeye tuna, increasing to 58% by 1991. Flash-frozen skipjack and yellowfin tuna imported to Hawaii from Japan also competes with the Hawaii fishery for a share of the local market.[28]

Hawaii regional cuisine[edit]

Ahi poke made with tuna, green onions, chili peppers, sea salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, roasted kukui nut (candlenut), and limu, served on a bed of red cabbage

According to the food historian Rachel Laudan, the present form of poke became popular around the 1970s.[2] However, poke made at home or found at seafood counters were only limited to one or two "flavors", onion and/or limu. Sashimi which was already popular by this time evolved into a Japanese-Hawaiian sashimi salad-like fusion, very similar to tataki.

In the early 1990s, a group of local chefs advocated for a distinct Hawaiian fusion style, cuisine which drew from local ingredients and a fusion of ethnic culinary influences.[29] Master chef Sam Choy, was a founding chef of this movement, started a poke festival in 1992 which consisted of a poke recipe contest for professional chefs and amateur cooks. The initial contest offered more than $15,000 in cash and prizes.[30] Chefs showcased many new combination of flavors, and made the rather common dish into an upscale item at restaurants.[31]



Tako (octopus) poke or heʻe poke with sesame seed oil, crushed chili, and sea salt

There are many commercial caught local fish that can be eaten raw according to the FDA.[32][15][33][34][35] However, the most commonly caught fish in Hawaiian waters for poke found at local seafood counters include (alternate Japanese names are indicated in parentheses):[32][36][37]

The influence of the Japanese fishing market still remains strong, that these fish are often recognized locally by both their Hawaiian and Japanese names. But it also recalls that deep sea fishing was not an ordinary practice to the ancient Hawaiians who were adept at naming many fish species.[13][21]

Kona kampachi (kanpachi) is farmed off the coast of the Island of Hawaii. Imported fish such as yellowtail (hamachi) and farmed salmon, such as Atlantic (including Atlantic "Scottish"), King Salmon (from New Zealand) are hugely popular. Wild salmon largely remains unsafe because of the risk of parasites. Most imported fish from Japan are typically served as sashimi or for sushi but are suitable for poke as well, such as madai, maguro, and saba. [38][39] Most fresh shellfish, including octopus, can be safely consumed raw with caution but are often cooked (or at least cured) especially when being sold commercially as poke.[40][41][42][43][44][45]

While poke is associated as a raw fish dish, in contemporary times, it is rather freeform. It can be cured like ceviche or cooked, not made with fish, nor does it have to be cut into cubes. Chef Sam Choy had popularized "fried poke".[46][47][31] Pipikaula (Hawaiian-style beef jerky),[48] ake (raw beef liver) and tripe,[49] and tartare of beef can be prepared into poke as well.[50] Imitation crab (kanikama) is also common, along with tofu a common vegetarian option.


Poke counter with various types of poke circa 2014

The traditional relish is inamona, alaea salt, and limu. The most common flavor profile today is simply soy sauce and sesame oil, followed by additions of Maui onions and scallions, and ogo. Sriracha and mayonnaise are the base for the popular "spicy ahi".

Other additions include oyster sauce, ponzu, teriyaki sauce, chili pepper or crushed red pepper, sweet chili sauce, jalapeno, sea urchin or salmon roe, tobiko (or masago), chopped kimchi, ginger, shredded imitation crab, toasted sesame seeds, or wasabi (or hot mustard).[51]

California roll poke includes avocado and cucumbers.[8] Around 2020, the ginger-scallion condiment (geung yung) used in the Chinese dish cold ginger chicken has become a mildly popular poke flavor.[52][53][54] Other ingredients include mushrooms, fried onions, cilantro, pineapple, edamame and a variety of other vegetables.

Hawaii Chef Alan Wong, another Hawaii Regional Cuisine founding member, was a guest judge on the show Top Chef was inspired by a contestant to create a similar Mediterranean-inspired ʻahi poke using lemons, lemon zest, capers, shiso and canned anchovies.[47]

Contemporary times[edit]

Many of the "poke bowls" found outside of Hawaii are more akin to Korean hoe-deopbap than Hawaiian-styled poke

Since the 1960s, most local grocery chains and standalone fish markets, and sometimes older superettes, in Hawaii have dedicated counters for poke where it is made in bulk and sold by weight. A few fast casual restaurants will prepare them made to order. Locally, a "poke bowl" means poke served over cooked rice.[55] In dining restaurants, it is often served as like tartare (sans egg yolk) or tostada with chips of fried wonton wrappers or with prawn crackers, sometimes referred to as "poke nachos".[56] In casual sushi restaurants, poke fills inari sushi.[57]

Poke became increasingly popular in North America starting in 2012.[58][59][60][61][62][63] From 2014 to mid-2016, "the number of Hawaiian restaurants on Foursquare, which includes those that serve poke," doubled, going from 342 to 700.[58] Many of these restaurants serve both traditional and modern versions of the dish. A modern version of a poké bowl features fully customizable ingredients that are often carefully arranged like bibimbap, to allow the customer to mix the dish before consuming it.

One of these larger chains based in Chicago became embroiled in controversy in 2018, after it sent cease and desist letters to specific poke shops in Hawaii and on the mainland. Shop owners, some of Native Hawaiian ancestry, were told to stop using the words "aloha" and "poke" in its business name. As a result, several shops were forced to rebrand their businesses.[64][65]

The annual festival started in 1992 by Sam Choy still occurs, although going through a couple different hosts. In 2023, chefs Ronnie Rainwater and Aarón Sánchez were the guest judges at the competition. The first place prize offering in 2022 was a $1,000 cash prize and 6-night stay at the sponsoring hotel.[66][67] Started in 2009, a 3-day "I Love Poke" festival is held annually in San Diego to celebrate the dish.[68][69]

Similar dishes[edit]

Raw fish dishes are not uncommon. Common throughout Oceania is 'ota 'ika (or poisson cru). In Europe, fish carpaccio and tartare, Chinese yu sheng, Korean hoe-deopbap, Latin American ceviche, and Japanese namerō, sashimi and tataki. In Inuit cuisine, fish was best eaten raw, and Filipino kinilaw and kilawin where it is known as kelaguen in Guam.

The Ilocano dish poqui poqui, a scrambled egg dish with grilled eggplants and tomatoes, likely derived its name from poke, from returning Ilocano sakadas.[a][71][72]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Most of the Filipinos in Hawaii who arrived in the early 20th century to work in the sugar plantations were of Ilocano descent, known as sakadas, often referred to poke as kilawin (as opposed to kinilaw, a Tagalog term). Today, Ilocanos comprise 85% of the Filipinos in Hawaii.[70]
  1. ^ a b Matt Dean Pettit (10 April 2018). The Great Shellfish Cookbook: From Sea to Table: More than 100 Recipes to Cook at Home. Appetite by Random House. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-14-753058-5.
  2. ^ a b c Laudan, Rachel (1996). The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii's Culinary Heritage. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 9780824817787. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  3. ^ Martha Cheng (24 January 2017). The Poke Cookbook: The Freshest Way to Eat Fish. Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale. pp. 7–8. ISBN 978-0-451-49807-6.
  4. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui; Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of poke". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press.
  5. ^ Noguchi, Mark. "A Conflicted Chef From Hawaii Reacts to the Mainland Poke Bowl Trend". First We Feast. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  6. ^ Tan, Rachel. "6 Things To Know About Hawaiian Poke". Michelin Guide. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  7. ^ Cheng, Martha (13 January 2017). "How the Hawaiian poke bowl became the world's new fast food". Hawai'i Magazine. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  8. ^ a b Talwar, Kalei (17 July 2009). "Make Hawaii-style ahi poke wherever you are. Here's a recipe". Hawaii Magazine. Retrieved 2015-11-24.
  9. ^ Mishan, Ligaya (2018-01-08). "Home to Hawaii in Search of Poke". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-06-06.
  10. ^ "Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites (Chapter 1)". www.nps.gov.
  11. ^ Titcomb, Margaret (1972). Native Use of Fish in Hawaii. The University Press of Hawaii. p. 7.
  12. ^ "Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Poke Recipe and History, How To Make Poke, Whats Cooking America". whatscookingamerica.net. 16 May 2015. Retrieved 2015-11-24.
  13. ^ a b "How Did Ancient Hawaiians Fish?". KONA FISHING CHARTERS. 12 November 2015.
  14. ^ Holland, Jerald J. (1971). Land and Livelihood: The Kona Coast About 1825. University of Hawaii. p. 31.
  15. ^ a b "Dried Akule - Kaʻiwakīloumoku - Hawaiian Cultural Center". kaiwakiloumoku.ksbe.edu.
  16. ^ a b "Steamed Salted Sockeye Salmon - Kaiwakīloumoku - Hawaiian Cultural Center". kaiwakiloumoku.ksbe.edu.
  17. ^ "Nā Puke Wehewehe ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi - Alaala". wehewehe.org.
  18. ^ "Edible Limu of Hawaii". www.hawaii.edu.
  19. ^ "The Origins of Traditional Lomi Lomi Salmon Explained - Amor Nino Foods, Inc". connect2local.com.
  20. ^ Bradley, Harold Whitman (1 February 1974). "Review: Don Francisco de Paula Marin: A Biography, by Ross H. Gast and Francisco de Paula Marin and The Letters and Journal of Francisco de Paula Marin, by Agnes C. Conrad and Francisco de Paula Marin". Pacific Historical Review: 119. doi:10.2307/3637598. JSTOR 3637598.
  21. ^ a b Kawaharada, Dennis (2006). "Introduction: Hawaiian Fishing Traditions". www2.hawaii.edu.
  22. ^ Young, Peter T. (13 July 2016). "Shoyu". Images of Old Hawaiʻi.
  23. ^ Shurtleff, William; Aoyagi, Akiko (21 May 2020). History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in Hawaii (1847-2021). Soyinfo Center. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-948436-38-0.
  24. ^ "Poke History: From the Ocean to the Islands to the Mainland". FOODICLES. 2 August 2022.
  25. ^ a b Gillett, Robert (2007). "A short history of industrial fishing in the Pacific Islands" (PDF). FAO.org.
  26. ^ Ogawa, Manako (January 2015). Sea of Opportunity: The Japanese Pioneers of the Fishing Industry in Hawaii. p. 62.
  27. ^ Doulman, D (1987). The development of the tuna industry in the Pacific Island Region: An analysis of options. Honolulu: Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center. p. 33-52.
  28. ^ Boggs, C. H.; Kikkawa, B. S (1993). "The Development and Decline of Hawaii's Skipjack Tuna Fishery" (PDF). Marine Fisheries Review. 55 (2): 66. ISSN 0090-1830.
  29. ^ "Hawaiʻi Regional Cuisine". GoHawaii.
  30. ^ "Poke Recipes - the Joy of the Hawaiian Appetizer". Aloha Hawaii. 24 September 2009.
  31. ^ a b Cheng, Martha (18 April 2011). "Poke: Past and Present". Honolulu Magazine.
  32. ^ a b "Japanese and Hawaiian Vernacular Names for Fish Eaten Raw". FDA.
  33. ^ "Hawaiian Reef Fish". Hawaiian Encyclopedia.
  34. ^ "Know your mullets". Hawaii 24/7. 1 March 2019.
  35. ^ "Poke Ulua - Kaʻiwakīloumoku - Hawaiian Cultural Center". kaiwakiloumoku.ksbe.edu.
  36. ^ "Hawaiian Fish Name Translations". Hawaii Nearshore Fishing. 13 August 2019.
  37. ^ Cheng, Martha (25 October 2017). "The 11 Best Places to Eat Poke in Honolulu". Eater.
  38. ^ "What Is Hamachi? A Seafood Restaurant Explains - Ahi and Vegetable". connect2local.com.
  39. ^ "Deep Dive FAQ: Kanpachi/Kampachi". Today's Farmed Fish.
  40. ^ "Hawaii-Seafood.org – Pure & Natural". Hawaii-Seafood.org.
  41. ^ Paiva, Derek (27 October 2014). ""Power to the Poke": How to make Filipino "Jumping Salad" Shrimp Poke". Hawaii Magazine.
  42. ^ "Can You Eat Raw Shrimp? The Surprising Truth About This Seafood". betony-nyc.com. 13 March 2022.
  43. ^ "Can You Eat Octopus and How Does It Taste? - American Oceans". American Oceans. 17 January 2023.
  44. ^ Maslovara, Vedran (1 January 2023). "Is It Safe To Eat Raw Clams?". Mashed.
  45. ^ "6 Weird Korean Seafood You Never Knew". Asian Inspirations. 24 March 2021.
  46. ^ "GMA:Fried Poke Recipe by Sam Choy". ABC News.
  47. ^ a b Adams, Wanda (25 January 2007). "Alan Wong creates "Top Chef"-inspired poke". The Honolulu Advertiser.
  48. ^ "Roy's Ko Olina ONO Pipikaula Poke - Where Hawaii Eats Ep#5". YouTube. 29 April 2021. Retrieved 29 September 2023.
  49. ^ "Waimea Gazette - September 1997 - POKE". waimeagazette.com. Waimea Gazette. Retrieved 29 September 2023.
  50. ^ Talwar, Kalei (17 July 2009). "Recipe: Make Hawaii-Style Ahi Poke Wherever You Are". Hawaii Magazine. Retrieved 29 September 2023.
  51. ^ Dingeman, Robbie (9 October 2020). "5 We Tried: We Search for the Best Poke at Tamashiro Market". Honolulu Magazine.
  52. ^ "Ginger Scallion Sauce". Onolicious Hawaiʻi. 20 August 2023.
  53. ^ Toth Fox, Catherine (1 May 2020). "HAWAIʻI in the Kitchen: M Poke with a Ginger Scallion Sauce". Hawaii Magazine.
  54. ^ "Ginger Scallion Sauce with Seared Ahi Poke – Foodland Supermarket". foodland.com.
  55. ^ "What is Poke And Why You Won't Find Poke Bowls in Hawaii". Around the World in Eighty Flavors. 12 August 2021.
  56. ^ Obungen, Thomas; Braiotta, Kelli Shiroma; Kojimoto, Kai (23 February 2018). "Fat Kid Friday: Mauka to Makai Poke Nachos". Honolulu Magazine.
  57. ^ Taketa, Mari. "The History of Poke: Hawaii's Favorite Dish". Hawaiian Airlines.
  58. ^ a b Vince Dixon (September 14, 2016). "Data Dive: Tracking the Poke Trend: Proof that the Hawaiian dish is here to stay". Eater.
  59. ^ Catherine Smart (December 27, 2016). "The Hawaiian raw-fish dish poke is having a moment". Boston Globe.
  60. ^ Laura Hayes (April 13, 2017). "What Does a Hawaii-Born Chef Think of D.C.'s Poke Craze?". Washington City Paper.
  61. ^ Jay Jones (May 12, 2016). "Hawaii's endless poke craze, stoked by new twists and traditional dishes". Los Angeles Times.
  62. ^ Hillary Dixler (January 22, 2016). "Can Poke Be the Next Fast-Casual Trend? Why restaurateurs are building brands around the Hawaiian staple". Easter.
  63. ^ Fabricant, Florence (2016-01-26). "Poké, a Hawaiian Specialty, Emerges in Chelsea". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-05-05.
  64. ^ Rohr, Jenn (14 November 2018). "What's the Controversy Over the Aloha Poke Trademark?". David Lizerbram & Associates.
  65. ^ Ho, Soleil (10 August 2018). "The Chicago Poke Chain That Tried to Stop Hawaiian Businesses from Using the Word "Aloha"". The New Yorker.
  66. ^ Shinno, Stephanie (11 May 2022). "Enter your best poke recipe at Kauai Poke Fest". KHON2.
  67. ^ Uyeno, Kristine (2023-05-30). "Big poke competition returning to Kauai". KHON2. Retrieved 2023-06-06.
  68. ^ "4th annual I Love Poke Festival to return to Bali Hai May 29". SDNews.com. 15 May 2013.
  69. ^ Stradley, Linda (2015-05-16). "Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Poke Recipe, Whats Cooking America". What's Cooking America. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  70. ^ "Ilocano Diaspora". BaLinkBayan Ilocos Norte.
  71. ^ Barnes, Patti. "24 Egg Recipes That Are Totally Cracked (But We Have To Try)". TheRecipe. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  72. ^ "You Are Probably Wondering How the Filipino Dish "Poqui Poqui" Got Its Name". Yummy.ph. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  • Titcomb, Margaret (1972). Native use of fish in Hawaii (2nd ed.). Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaiʻi Press. ISBN 9780870227974. OCLC 309517.

Further reading[edit]

  • Stanford, Lois. “When the Marginal Becomes the Exotic: The Politics of Culinary Tourism in Indigenous Communities in Rural Mexico.” Reimagining Marginalized Foods: Global Processes, Local Places, edited by ELIZABETH FINNIS, University of Arizona Press, 2012, pp. 67–87. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt1814g4b.7.
  • Titcomb, Margaret, and Mary Kawena Pukui. “MEMOIR No. 29. NATIVE USE OF FISH IN HAWAII. INSTALMENT No. 1. Pages 1-96.” The Journal of the Polynesian Society 60, no. 2/3 (1951): 1–96. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20703302.

External links[edit]

Media related to Poke (Hawaii) at Wikimedia Commons