The poke-bar concept has spread from Hawaii Costco branches to selected ones in Seattle, and also is a regular feature at Metropolitan Market stores.
PICTURE A STANDARDIZED test with a list of comfort foods — mac ’n’ cheese, mashed potatoes and . . . poke? “Which one doesn’t belong?” the question reads. Poke seems the obvious answer.
The seasoned mix of cubed raw fish — often ahi tuna — tastes bracing and clean. It relies on fresh ingredients. It’s low in fat, high in protein.
Still, while it’s not the usual creamy, carb-loaded choice, poke is a beloved comfort food classic in Hawaii, where it is a ubiquitous casual appetizer or side dish. And finally, after years where it was an esoteric find, it’s widely available in Seattle.
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It can be found on a food truck — Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max, a collaboration with Hawaii-based Sam Choy, one of the dish’s foremost champions. The truck offers poke made with tuna, salmon, or tofu. Poke is available in a few casual Hawaiian restaurants, as well as in fancier venues. Perhaps most impressive, what sounds like a fantasy to true fans — a “poke bar” where different varieties can be scooped up by the pound — is a reality. The concept has spread from Hawaii Costco branches to selected ones in Seattle, and also is a regular feature at all Metropolitan Market stores.
Poke’s absence always seemed strange here, in a city that thrives on sushi and Asian-influenced meals.
“For us, it had been on a wish list,” says Angela Rihacek, market deli specialist at Metropolitan Market. The main barriers weren’t the most obvious ones: If you have peerless fish available it’s not hard to make, and most of the traditional ingredients weren’t too tough to source in multicultural Seattle. (Ground and roasted kukui nuts are the hardest to find, though she’s heard of locals substituting hazelnuts. Mossy ogo seaweed is the hardest after that.) The most difficult barrier was probably establishing a relationship with a trusted fishery. Metropolitan Market uses Norpac.
“There’s an enormous amount of traceability and documentation on their part and on our part,” she says. Then, the market dealt with the daunting food-safety issues that come with a raw fish bar. “We build programs around our programs” for production and food safety, Rihacek says. Each store has a designated chef with his or her own space and tools. The bars now generally have three raw seafood salads and three cooked ones, plus condiments and sides like fresh mango and black forbidden rice.
The poke bar was first tested three years ago in the company’s Magnolia store. Fans flocked. If poke was an acquired taste, it was one that Seattleites had already acquired.
“It wasn’t new to them,” Rihacek says. “It was more of ‘Oh my gosh, it’s poke! I’ve eaten that in Hawaii! Wow.’ ”
Ahi Onion Poke
1 pound ahi tuna (yellowfin), cut into half-inch cubes
¼ cup ogo seaweed (fresh is best but can be difficult to find; alternately reconstitute dried ogo, which can be found at some markets or online at nohfoods.com.)
¼ cup shoyu soy sauce
1/8 cup green onion, chopped both green and white parts
¼ cup sweet onion, diced or sliced for a more interesting texture
2 teaspoons sesame oil
½ teaspoon chili flakes
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
Pinch of pink Hawaiian sea salt, or to taste
1. In a nonreactive bowl, combine all ingredients.
2. Cover and keep chilled at least an hour before serving.
If desired, serve with a selection of sides or condiments that could include sushi rice, wakame seaweed, kimchi and furikake seasoning.
— Courtesy Metropolitan Market