Below are some outtakes from an article I recently wrote about poke. If I can get it published, I’ll include it on my website as an embedded page. In the meantime, have a look at the material I’ll otherwise not be able to use.
I recently finished writing an article about poke, which is a traditional Hawaiian “fish salad.” That description falls far short of its complexity, however, and gives no indication of its importance to Island food culture.
Although poke often uses raw fish, it is a completely different eating experience from sashimi. Traditional poke, which native Hawaiians have been eating for centuries – collecting fish from shallow reefs and shorelines, preserving and seasoning it with salt harvested from the sea, and enriching it with seaweed and ground kukui nut – includes the bones and skin of a fish. Today, this old school dish can only be found in the cooking areas of Hawaiian homes, not through commercial purveyors.
Not surprisingly, poke has changed over time. Examples include the introduction of tomatoes and onions (an innovation dating back to the 1800s) and sesame seeds, an increase in the variety of seafood available, and an expansion of seasonings and other ingredients. It’s true, too, that poke has been influenced by non-Hawaiian tastes, most notably Japanese, who first arrived in Hawaii over a century ago as plantation workers and now comprise over one quarter of the Islands’ population. In addition, Korean sauces and South Pacific flavorings have found outlets in poke, too.
Poke is a Hawaiian word meaning to slice, but is generally used today to refer to this signature Hawaiian food. Traditionally served as a pupu (appetizer) rather than a meal, poke can also be made into lunch or dinner by adding steamed rice and a side of vegetables.
As a relative newcomer to Hawaii, an ingredients list for poke sometimes reads to me like a field guide to the Islands. Here’s a quick rundown of some common Hawaiian words you may encounter when shopping for poke: ahi (yellowfin tuna), aku (skip jack tuna), a’u (marlin), ‘inamona (roasted, pulverized kukui nuts mixed with sea salt), limu kohu (a red, spicy seaweed), limu manauea (a red-green seaweed with a mild taste), ‘opihi (limpets), and pa’akai (sea salt used in traditional food preparation and for flavoring).
Today, poke is sold at any number of restaurants, fish markets, and grocery stores in Hawaii. On Oahu, most seafood restaurants offer their own version of poke, and several establishments specialize in it.