Ultimate Hawaii Guide

The Poke Phenomenon

Seattle is crazy for the fish dish, but one version is best.

By Ethan Chung December 20, 2016 Published in the January 2017 issue of Seattle Met

Seattle met poke bowl nelle clark vw4xs4

Image: Nelle Clark

Sam Choy, a regional James Beard Award–winning chef from Hawaii, knows poke. He’s been called the godfather of poke and runs an international competition devoted to the fishy dish. Before Choy branched his culinary empire into Seattle, diners only saw the cubed raw fish salad on the menu of upscale restaurants like Aqua by El Gaucho or Ma‘ono Chicken and Whiskey. In 2013, Choy and partner Max Heigh changed that with Poke to the Max food trucks, the aqua-green vehicles emblazoned with the motto “Mo’ poke, mo betta!”

Poke to the Max then went brick-and-mortar three years later with a counter-service eatery in Hillman City. The raw fish dominos fell from there. Poke started popping up everywhere, from Metropolitan Market to newer spots like GoPoke in the ID, 45th Stop and Shop and Poke Bar in Wallingford (look for the line out the door), and Wanderfish Poke in Capitol Hill.

Many of these new pokecentric restaurants offer customers the chance to create their own bowls by choosing from a list of ingredients featuring sashimi-grade raw fish (usually tuna or salmon), a choice of rice, noodles, or salad, and toppings like avocado, edamame, sea beans, or seaweed salad.

The build-your-own-bowl model that’s trending here certainly ups the ante in terms of variety with seemingly endless amounts of toppings (Mango! Enoki mushrooms! Jalapeño chips!). The Chipotleization of poke is all fine and well as far as business models go, but poke purists crave simplicity—a touch of Hawaiian sea salt, a bit of diced onion, and chopped limu kohu (a mossy, briny seaweed) go a long way when paired with impeccably fresh fish. The closest Seattle has to this no-frills delight? Costco’s occasional offering.

But the tastiest poke is homemade and uses just three ingredients: fresh ono, Hawaiian sea salt, and a light drizzle of soy sauce. Uwajimaya has everything you need.

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