Most people have tried sushi at least once in their lives, but what about poke? Hailing from the breezy shores of Hawaii, poke (pronounced po-KAY) is a raw fish salad that's often called "surfer's sashimi" due to its effortless concept, laid-back presentation, and overall chill vibes. Poke has also been praised for its low-calorie, low-fat, and high-protein status whose raw fish base contains higher omega-3 content than most kinds of meat. Imagine poke as a bowl of glistening raw fish chunks sometimes served on a bed of white or brown rice and tossed with ingredients like onions, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and scallions. I decided to jump on the bandwagon and give it a try for the first time.
Looks pretty good, right? As someone who likes most kinds of raw seafood, I wanted to try poke to see if this trendy new form of sashimi was up to the hype. My poke stop of choice was Poke- Poke, a casual, feel-good poke restaurant originating from Venice, CA, that recently opened in Austin. Poke-Poke's founders, Jason and Trish, are the masterminds behind the poke dishes and describe themselves as "adventurous eaters that love delicious food made to order and served with a smile."
Poke Poke's menu includes local favorites such as JT's Spicy Poke, Veggie Poke for non meat-eaters, and Shiso Salmon Poke, a modern spin on the traditional tuna poke. The menu also lets you make your own bowl by choosing from flavored blends like Original, Spicy, Wasabi, and Aloha (sesame oil, vinegar, and crushed red pepper), as well as 15 add-in options like pickled ginger, kale, and avocado.
I went with the Shiso Salmon Poke with no add-ins, just to get a taste of what an untampered, pure combination of poke ingredients tasted like (and because the guy there told me JT's was pretty darn spicy).
Taking my first bite, my initial thought was on how subtle the flavor of the salmon was. No overwhelmingly fishy taste, no sliminess — basically, nothing to really gross out people who are iffy about raw seafood. What really stood out, though, was the texture of poke. The crispiness of cucumbers and the graininess of rice were perfectly incorporated into the oils of the salmon, making every bite nothing short of umami perfection. The more I ate, the more I forgot I was eating raw fish and the more I felt as if I were eating balls of perfectly seasoned, unsaturated-fatty goodness.
Still unconvinced? I could practically hear the sounds of the ocean and of Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole's dreamy ukulele-vocals by the time I took my last bite. I honestly could've eaten another bowl of the stuff, considering how light and not greasy the poke made me feel. Compared to other kinds of raw seafood I've tried, poke ranks in the likes of that 5-star buffet sashimi I had once in my life and is on par with one surprisingly delicious raw oyster I remember eating long ago. I'm not saying it's for everyone, but I can see poke converting a lot of anti-seafood people into at least neutral acceptors of seafood. And living in a city like Austin, I can definitely see a poke revolution sweeping waves of salmon and tuna through the city in the near future.
In the end, poke is a dish that seems to be gaining notice not only for its taste and potential health benefits, but also for its ability to reflect the "healthy-chic" aesthetic in food culture popular among today's generation. When we eat food such as poke, we are reminded of the way in which food is a reflection of distinct cultures, and that what's trendy to us has long been a way of life for others. All musings on the perfection of poke aside, eating poke is a personal dietary and monetary choice (poke comes at around $15 a bowl), and ultimately, a food adventure on which only you can decide you want to embark.