Unconventional Food #4: Hawaiian Poke- The “Raw” Open Sea On Your Plate

There are so many different cultures around the world that have so much to offer to one another. But, we fight, we argue, and we disagree. We misunderstand, we can’t communicate, and we can’t let go of grudges. There are so many ways that cultures cannot coexist. Fortunately, there are some universal necessities that break down boundaries and keep us interconnected. One such example is food. Now, let’s take a moment to imagine the tropical islands of Hawaii. There are dense forests, volcanoes with lazy lava flows, and ocean waves gently lapping the shore. All of a sudden, a strange dish with raw cubed fish appears. Uh, what? In Hawaii, there is this dish called poke (pronounced poke-ay). Poke typically consists of raw fish meat cut into cubes along with Hawaiian soy sauce, seaweed, and a particular type of onion. One could go into a supermarket and find areas that are specifically set aside to serve different styles of poke.

Not-so Spicy Tuna Poke
Not-so Spicy Tuna Poke

Before going into more depth about each ingredient in the dish, let me state the key ingredients of poke. Raw fish meat chopped into cubes is the core element of the dish. Other than this, some forms of poke include shellfish, squid, or even octopus. The soy sauce is the next crucial element of a good poke. All the other ingredients depend on the chef and the clientele to whom the dish is being served, which means it is customizable! Now, let’s dive into a more in-depth description of the ingredients. The quality of the dish will depend on what type of fish meat one uses. Not only would the species of fish alter the flavor of the dish, but the part of the fish from where the meat is taken also heavily impacts the flavor and quality of the dish. Usually, poke is cooked with all types of the fish meat. This means that the top quality fish meat and lowest quality fish meat can be lumped together in one dish and cooked to perfection. But, if one would like to serve a higher quality poke, the belly meat from the fish is the best. Using meat that has higher fat content or bone concentration works well. Be aware though that if tougher and stringy raw fish meat is used, the texture and tasteful aesthetic will be significantly lowered; however, the flavor will stay the same.

Octopus Poke
Octopus Poke

The most common fish that is used to make poke is tuna. Along with tuna, other fish can be used like salmon. Other more exotic ingredients such as octopus or clams can be used as well. It will take some time experimenting with the different fish and exotic ingredients to create a poke that will have a similar taste and texture of the traditional tuna poke. The next crucial ingredient is the soy sauce. One could use fish sauce, soy sauce, or Hawaiian soy sauce to name a few. Using fish sauce would make the fishy dish taste even fishier than it is already. The soy sauce would add saltiness to the fishiness. The Hawaiian soy sauce would add saltiness and sweetness to the flavor. The Hawaiian soy sauce tastes a little saltier than regular soy sauce. So, I recommend making two batches of poke for their first time. The other ingredients like seaweed and special onion, and other garnishes are up to the chef and clientele. A recipe my family uses includes sweet onion, onion, and sesame oil.

Spicy Tuna Poke

Other types of poke that I have encountered included chili pepper, green onions, and siracha—that siracha poke was too spicy! A few days ago, my family ordered take-out from a restaurant and ordered a side of poke. Boy, oh boy, did that poke have a spicy kick! There were chili pepper flakes clinging to the fish cubes. Overall, the poke was okay, even though it was a little dry. When I say it’s a little dry, it’s because it didn’t have enough soy sauce flavoring. Other than that, the amount of green onions, chili pepper flakes, and fish pieces were standard. Comparing my family’s poke to the restaurant’s poke, my family’s matches my taste more. The restaurant’s poke was a little too spicy and had too little soy sauce. The spice overwhelmed the flavor of the fish and the flavor of the sauce. In contrast, my family’s recipe isn’t spicy and blends the delicate flavors together. Each element of the dish can be tasted. But, my family’s recipe may not be suitable for people with taste buds accustomed to spicy and rich, flavorful foods. It all depends on one’s palate and the enigmatic ways in which it adapts amidst the landscape of taste. So, that’s a little bit about Hawaiian style poke! I’ll leave everyone with this small tasteful introduction to Hawaii. But, if seafood isn’t part of one’s diet, feel free to try this mixture with other meats and veggies. Maybe try it with stir-fry or salad, or just take one ingredient and fuse it with dishes from one’s culture. Just remember to keep creating delicious food for it is one way to express our love, happiness, culture, and gratitude to one another.

Image Sources: [1], [2], [3]

About Kendyl Yonamine

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