Is Poke the Next Big Thing?

The next big thing in fast-casual dining may come as fantastic news for raw-fish fans: restaurants devoted to poke, Hawaii’s answer to sashimi, ceviche and tuna tartare.
Is Poké the Next Big Thing?

The next big thing in fast-casual dining may come as fantastic news for raw-fish fans: restaurants devoted to poke, the raw fish salad that is Hawaii’s answer to sashimi, ceviche and tuna tartare.

Fast-casual poke establishments, such as Santa Monica’s Sweetfin Poké, are rolling out or expanding in New York City and cities in Southern California, Eater notes. The boom is due to “the relative ease of getting a poke restaurant off the ground, the dish's appeal to health-conscious consumers, and the persistent trend of bowl foods,” , Eater adds — and the fast-casual trend seems eminently “scalable.”

Unfamiliar with poke (pronounced “POH-kay”)? Here are a few things to know:

1. Poke (a Hawaiian word that means “ to cut crosswise into pieces”) is traditionally made from fish, sea salt, seaweed and Hawaii’s kukui nuts. In the 1960s or ‘70s, it became popular as a dish, and it is now often made with ahi tuna, as well as ingredients like soy sauce, wasabi, green and white onions, and a dash of chiles. It can also feature other seafood (octopus, mussels or crab) or no seafood at all (avocado poke, tofu poke). It may be served over rice, and it is available in Hawaii not only in formal restaurants, but also in ultracasual neighborhood joints and even in supermarkets.

2. Poke lends itself well to the full fast-casual treatment in the U.S., Eater points out, because the dish is new yet familiar to Americans (we’re comfortable with sushi and ceviche); doesn’t require elaborate cooking equipment (raw, remember?); allows consumers to customize (choose ingredients); includes affordable ingredients (fish bought in bulk is less expensive); and is healthy, light and fresh (it’s raw fish, so it has to be fresh). Plus, it plays into our current obsession with bowl foods.

3. It’s exotic — and that taps into another American culinary trend. Hawaiian Chef Alan Wong told Eater that he believes the surge of fast-casual interest in poke is "all a part of the global cuisine movement happening all over the world. People are traveling much more, food TV is also introducing flavors and dishes that, in the past, you had to travel to experience. Now it is all accessible."

In fact, poke can be as accessible as your own kitchen. Here’s an easy, quick recipe from Anne Burrell.

Photo courtesy of @sweetfin

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