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Let's talk story about Hawaii

Poke, a favorite Hawaiian pupu

My "Let's Talk Story" subject for today is "poke". No, I am not talking about the English word "poke" but the Hawaiian "poke", pronounce "POH-keh". There are those who pronounce it "POH-kay" or "POH-ki" however both are incorrect. "Poke" in Hawaiian means to "slice or cut into pieces." And this favorite Hawaiian pupu or appetizer is basically that, cubes of raw seafood sliced and prepared with sauces, spices and little bits of vegetables, mainly onions (sweet Maui onions if available) and green onions.

I love poke and I guess you could say that I am always on Poke Patrol. Poke is my comfort food. And it goes so well with beer and other libations. It's a great appetizer. My favorite is 'ahi (yellowfin tuna) and tako (octopus) poke.

yellowfin tuna
yellowfin tuna


There are many ways to make poke. Some of the traditional ingredients apart from the fish or other seafood include Hawaiian sea salt, limu (seaweed), shoyu, sesame oil, Hawaiian chili pepper, ginger and 'inamona (roasted, ground kukui nut). I like the fresh 'ahi shoyu poke (the one at Manoa Safeway) without the shoyu sauce. Most shoyu sauces tend to be too sweet for me so I may ask for it on the side but usually I like to make my own sauce of ponzu (a Japanese citrus seasoned soy sauce dressing) and Sriracha hot chili sauce. And then I dip my poke into this mixture and eat it kind of sashimi style. And tako poke, I like the ones with limu (seaweed) and onion and prefer the Japanese tako called madako. Tamashiro Market makes one of the best. There is also Tanioka's Seafood and Catering in Waipahu that offers more than 40 different poke! That's exciting for one on Poke Patrol.

I recently tried Tamura Market's 'ahi shoyu poke and tako poke, both with jalapeno peppers. They were both so good. I recommend these for those who love hot spicy flavors. As I was doing research on this article I read on the web that Ono Seafood's and Fort Ruger Market's poke are also to die for. I must go to their shops in Kapahulu and Diamond Head next time and try some.
salted salmon, onions and tomatoes
salted salmon, onions and tomatoes

Growing up in Japan I never heard of creating a concoction of raw tuna with sauces and spices. Raw fish in Japan is eaten as sashimi, pure and simple. That is the basis of traditional Japanese cuisine. But my father being from Hawaii, mom would make his favorite pupu, lomi salmon. Come to think of it, the modern poke that exists today is very similar to the lomi salmon (salted salmon, onions and tomatoes).

According to my research native Hawaiians ate traditional poke from long ago. It was raw fish, gutted but not skinned or deboned, served with Hawaiian condiments such as Hawaiian sea salt, limu (seaweed) and 'inamona (roasted and ground kukui nut). Hawaiians would suck on the meat of the fish off the bones and spit out the rest. It was during the 19th century that vegetables such as tomatoes and onions were introduced in Hawaii.

According to food historian Rachel Laudan, the modern form of poke became popular in the 1970s. It used skinned, boned, and filleted fish, like the Japanese sashimi that had become popular in the islands, and added Japanese-style condiments such as soy sauce in place of the more traditional sea salt. This new form of poke was an immediate hit with all ethnic communities in the islands.
Poke, a favorite Hawaiian pupu Poke, a favorite Hawaiian pupu

Sam Choy (Sam Choy's Restaurant), one of Hawaii's most popular chefs, has created all sorts of poke including his fried version.  I believe he even made poke on Emeril's show. He is the originator of the Poke Festival that is held each year. Just goes to show how important poke is to us local folks. Sam even has a cookbook dedicated entirely to poke called "Sam Choy's Little Hawaiian Poke Cookbook". As Sam says in his book the poke may have originated as ceviche from South America, then made its way to Rapa Nui's aku (skipjack tuna) dish, then Tahiti's poisson cru (with lime juice) and Fiji's kokoda, all across the Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands!

Once again the modern poke, much similar to the Honolulu Festival, is a blend of our ethnic cultures. And what is so amazing is that it continues to evolve. For example, the local Koreans must like the poke with kimchee sauce in it. The Chinese and their sesame oil. Of course I'm assuming all these things but it does make sense. There's even vegetarian tofu poke. There really isn't one specific recipe for poke. You can create your own based on the flavors that suit your fancy. Only in Hawaii does each supermarket's seafood section have an array of poke. You would be amazed at some of the original dishes. Go check it out. Aloha!
octopussalted salmon, onions and tomatoesPoke, a favorite Hawaiian pupu

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