If you visit Hawai’i and don’t eat a poke bowl at least once during your stay here, two things: one, I’d feel bad for you, and two, it’s a blasphemous act against food, similar to visiting Bali and not eating babi guling or visiting California and not eating In’N’Out. It’s simply not done.
For starters, poke is pronounced “po-kay” with the last syllable more terse sounding than the “kay” in okay; it’s basically like the word que in Spanish. To this day I have not yet heard anyone call it a poke bowl as in Facebook poke (terribly sorry for the bad example). But if somebody does call it that, rest assured that person will get plenty of glares from surrounding people.
In a nutshell, poke describes a type of dish that involves raw fish cut in cubes marinated in a variety of salty and sometimes spicy flavors, usually garnished with onions and green onions. The fish used can vary, but most typically it is ahi, which is tuna, but in Hawaii the Japanese word ahi and other Japanese terms are more commonly used for food talk. The poke bowl is simply just a scoop of rice placed in a take-away bowl container with poke piled on top. Simple, and yet very magical.
So magical that poke is served by the pound at basically every grocery store’s deli section in Hawai’i, including Costco, which should clearly indicate just how much people consume this dish here on a regular basis. And with all the different flavors you can get—as much as 13 in one counter—you can never run out nor get tired of poke. When I move out of Hawai’i, I know what food I’ll be missing most.
Because poke is so ubiquitous and it doesn’t take much for any raw fish in Hawai’i to be fresh and delicious, I have not put as much time and effort as I should have in getting to know Oahu’s best poke bowl spots. However, there is one that I have frequented the most and always enjoy every time, and where I got the poke salmon bowl pictured above: Paina Cafe. I’ve also heard that Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors serves reputable poke bowls, though I’ve never tried; I should note that I have yet to hear anything about their selection of wine or liquor that they carry, but I’m sure it lives up to their name. And because Yelp says so, I should probably give Ono Seafood a try one of these days.
Do you have any favorite spots for “onolicious” poke? Tell me!
There are two locations but the one I’ve been to is
7192 Kalanianaole Hwy
Honolulu, HI 96825
Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors
3496 Waialae Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816
747 Kapahulu Ave Apt 4 (I know, apartment?! Honolulu is full of surprises like that)
Honolulu, HI 96816
Photo of poke deli counter by Rachelle Bowden.