Poke Bowls: The Meal of the Summer

The interesting thing about food trends is that they can come out of nowhere and really hit with a bang. Poke bowls have done just that. By combining our modern love of bowl food — and our enduring love of sushi — poke bowls are set to become a fast food classic that’s also fresh and healthy. Here’s why you should try out this fast-growing trend:

Bowl food + fresh fish = poke

Poke is the perfect marriage of the fresh, healthy bowl food that’s taken the world by storm, and our insatiable appetite for attractively plated raw fish. Poke (pronounced “poh-kay”) is Hawaiian for ‘to cut crosswise into pieces’, and hails from the Polynesian islands of Hawaii. For thousands of years, subsistence fishermen brought their catch in from the sea, sliced it up and ate it mixed with some ground seaweed. These days, traditional poke is made with tuna or salmon, some form of base — this can be a starch like rice, veggie slaw or salad — and a variety of tasty and crunchy toppings.

You can use almost anything as the base

Depending on where you decide to try your first taste of poke, you’ll be offered different options as the base. For example, Capetonian poke joint Hokey Poke offers sticky rice, brown rice, kale slaw, baby salad leaves and even gluten-free nachos as the base. This alone should tell you that it’s a leftover’s paradise! Have a couple of spoons of leftover roast veg, a bit of salad or some leftover rice? Your poke bowl is the perfect home for it. The Japanese influence in Hawaii means that sticky sushi rice is often offered, but one of the great things about poke is its versatility.

They’re easy to customise

This is all about the fish so make sure you have sashimi grade, fresh fish. Once that’s sorted, and you’ve decided on your base, all that’s really needed is a little bit of dressing and some fresh and crunchy things. Shoyu (soy sauce, but no-one in Hawaii uses that name) is popular, as is ponzu, a citrus-infused soy sauce. You can also try spiced or wasabi mayo, but not too much as it overwhelms the flavour of the fish. To top your poke bowl, you can try a variety of cubed veggies and fruit. The Poke Co in Cape Town offers summer fruit and crisp veggies, like red onion and cucumber. Pickles are also great, as their acidity is welcome as a foil for the fatty fish. Crunchy-salty furikake is great, but crispy onions are also popular, and toasted nuts, seeds and flaked coconut also work well.

It works for everyone (and it’s great for entertaining)

If it works for fast food, it should work for entertaining! If you’re feeding a crowd, you can tailor your offerings accordingly. Yes, poke is traditionally all about the fish, but you can substitute fried tofu or chickpeas as well as a vegan option. Joburg poke joint, ONO Poke Eatery in Illovo, offers salmon, tuna, prawns, chicken and a vegan option, so even those not into raw fish can indulge.

There are some food trends we wish would leave as soon as they start, but the poke bowl is one we plan to keep for a while. It’s fresh, easy to put together, healthy and delicious. As Anthony Theodosiou from ONO says, “I opened ONO with the intention of making the Joburg food scene more aware of alternative food options that are twice as fast to prepare and do the body a world of good when consumed.” Cape dietician Amanda Webber agrees: “poke bowls are a much-needed alternative to the very limited and mostly unhealthy fast food options we have available in SA.” As they’re based on Omega-rich fish, they provide us with a tasty and easy way to build this powerhouse nutritional source into our diets. Fast, fresh and healthy? Count us in.

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