Poke: Hawaiian fish-based meal takes the world by storm

Susie Mesure reports on the raw fish dish that says shush to sushi

If you’re satiated with sushi and sick of ceviche but still crave the taste of raw fish, prepare to pile in for the latest pescatarian food craze: poke.

Hailing from Hawaii, poke – pronounced “poh-kay” – is usually a mix of raw cubes of fish (often tuna) with a soy sauce-based dressing, served in a bowl with rice and garnishes. It is big in the US, especially in Los Angeles and New York. And now it’s set to conquer the UK. 

Pret a Manger is poised to become the first national chain to add poke to its lunchtime menu, following Bill Granger, an Australian chef who owns three London restaurants and offers a raw tuna and avocado poke dish. 

Chefs love the potential for variety with poke, which means simply “to cut or section”. Anything goes when it comes to ingredients – mushrooms or beetroot are alternatives to fish. Hannah Dolan, a food developer at Pret, said: “Poke salad has been on our radar for a while and we’ll be introducing our own version inspired by the Hawaiian dish this spring. Poke salads are bright, fresh and vibrant … Ours will be centred around marinated mushrooms.”

Celia Farrar and Guy Jackson have big plans for the pop-up eatery they started last year to bring poke to the UK. Their Eat Poke stall trades mainly at lunchtime markets in London but they also do private events. The business partners discovered poke in LA three years ago. 

“Because the fish is marinated and decorated in seasonings, it is more approachable than sushi. Plus you can add different bases and toppings. We use black sticky rice, and a lot of our own homemade pickles,” Ms Farrar said. 

11-poke-london.jpg
Celia Farrar and Guy Jackson have big plans for their pop-up eatery

The chef Gizzi Erskine recently posted tantalising shots on Instagram of her edible highlights from a trip around the Hawaiian islands, and a spokesman for the sandwich group Eat called the concept “attractive”.  Shaun Birrell, Waitrose’s sushi buyer, said the supermarket group was “exploring selling it in the longer term”. 

In Los Angeles, restaurateurs are rebranding themselves as poke shops to get in on the trend. In London, Pond, in Dalston, has been serving Hawaiian food since 2014. And Kua ’Aina, a mainstay of Hawaii’s restaurant scene which has two outlets in London, recently opened in Belfast.

Comments