In Hawaii, if a person comes up to you and asks if you want to try poke (pronounced po-keh), don’t be afraid that they are going to poke you or make you dance the hokey pokey. They are actually offering you a chance to sample a Hawaiian favorite, raw fish cubed into chunks and seasoned with salt, kukui nut relish, seaweed and onions.
Hawaiian Poke originated when fishermen began using the leftover cutoffs from their catch to prepare a snack. This practice of not wasting any part of the fish quickly evolved into a mainstay in the Hawaiian diet. Every authentic Hawaiian luau will have a few varieties of poke served on a pupu table (pronounced like poo-poo, but means appetizer).
Hawaiian ahi tuna is the most common type of fish used for poke, but today the poke smorgasbord includes tako, or squid, salmon, crab, lobster and more. Chefs have taken the art of making poke up a notch in recent years, mixing variations that turn the standard salted poke into an explosion of flavors and spices. Poke bowls, which are like deconstructed sushi with hot rice and poke piled on top, have become the latest nationwide phenomenon among healthy eaters, with poke stops popping up everywhere.
On Kauai, poke is offered in many of the grocery stores, small family markets and fish markets. Here are few Kauai spots that must be tried:
- Koloa Fish Market – This tiny shop in Koloa is the real deal, serving the freshest morsels of succulent fish and tako poke. This shop is so popular that there is often a line of hungry seafood lovers waiting out the door. Make sure to bring cash because it is a cash only establishment.
- Living Foods Market– Located in the Shops at Kukui’ula, this grocery store & cafe serves up a killer poke bar for made-to-order poke bowls. Start by choosing from sushi or brown rice, then pick your style- spicy, wasabi or Korean, then pick your toppings- avocado, tobiko, furikake, green onions, pineapple, crunch fried onions, and a few more options. These are huge sellers!
- Ishihara Market – Another small mom and pop shop located in Waimea Town, this family-owned market’s poke varieties include spicy ahi, king crab, hamachi and spicy shrimp. If you are lucky enough to be there before lunch, snatch up their bento lunch and spam or goteburg musubi (a Kauai special of rice and meat wrapped in seaweed) to compliment your poke selections.
- Fish Express – Easily the most well-known and most centrally located spot to buy poke. Because of this, the parking lot is often full and provides a bit of a challenge to get in and out. However, the number of poke varieties are worth the extra effort! Try the lobster salad, macadamia nut ahi and ahi with wasabi cream for a five star poke experience. For a poke bowl experience that is out of this world, ask the worker at the counter to pile your poke selection on hot rice.
- Konohiki Seafoods – Recently opened in 2015, Konohiki Seafoods is the new kid in town. Their hamachi poke is a must try! They also serve the most delicious ginger chicken and shrimp, a highly coveted recipe created by a Japanese restaurant next door that sadly closed down in recent years.
- Pono Market – Among the small boutiques and eateries lining the street in Kapaa is a market that has withstood the test of time. The same family has operated Pono Market since 1968. They serve traditional variations using the highest quality of fish for poke that literally melts in your mouth.
With all the mouthwatering flavors and varieties, Hawaiian poke is a must for a day at the beach or for a long drive up to the Waimea Canyon. It’s so delicious; it might just have you dancing the hokey pokey anyway.