I love Hawai’i. And I think we should respect the food traditions of other cultures. With that in mind, I felt compelled to do a short and educational post about poke.
In Milan we are currently living through pokemania, or as most places would write it—pokémania.
C’mon guys, it’s poke! Repeat it with me: poʊˈkeɪ/poh-kay with no accent!
Almost every new poke place here is called poké-something and it’s not just the spelling they’re getting wrong, many are also making a dish far away from the original recipe. I write this out of love for Hawaii, and because I’d like to find a good poke option in Italy, too.
In her wonderful book, The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage, Rachel Laudan posits that the original Hawaiian recipe for poke was created back in the 1960s. It may not be ancient dish, but its deeply Hawaiian, so we should try to get it right.
So, here are the essentials as I see them:
The meaning: Poke means to slice, to cut. Fish in this case. Raw fish. It’s a raw fish salad made the Hawaiian way.
Traditionally, it is made with aku (oily tuna) or he’e/tako (octopus). These days you’ll often see ahi (yellow tuna). Salmon and shellfish are other options, but not the rule. It doesn’t even have to include seafood, avocado poke and tofu poke are common vegetarian substitutes.
Cube shaped: The fish is cut into cubes, not thin slices like chirashi. It really affects the texture!
Seasoning: The fish should be seasoned with shoyu, green onions, and sesame oil. All of these three ingredients are mandatory! You can add more, but you can’t leave these three out.
Now, I’m not Hawaiian—only in my soul—so I’d love to hear what some Hawaiians, chefs, and poke fans think about what makes a great authentic poke.
Poke as it is served at Mai Tai Bar in Maui, Hawai’i in 2016.