How a bowl of raw fish became the next big thing in fast food

Sweetfin pokeSweetfin Poke/FacebookPoké has been popping up everywhere.

If you haven’t yet heard of poké (pronounced POH-kay), that’s bound to change soon.

A wave of restaurants serving this Hawaiian raw-food specialty have crashed into dining scene, bringing the next phenomenon in fast-casual food.

Poké is a mix of raw cubes of seafood (usually ahi tuna or salmon) in a soy sauce-based marinade. It’s often garnished with seaweed, cucumber, avocado, or tobiko, and served over rice or greens. Ubiquitous in Hawaii — you can pick it up at grocery stores or even gas stations — poké is a deconstructed, flavorful version of sushi. It’s also generally healthy and endlessly customisable.

It also doesn’t hurt that, as Bloomberg has pointed out, it’s much more economical to open a poké spot compared to a traditional restaurant, which requires industrial-strength cooking equipment and a venting system.

Raisa Bruner contributed reporting to an earlier version of this article.

Already a mainstay in the Los Angeles dining scene, poké spots are popping up all around New York City.

They're a middle ground between quick salad bowls (think Chop't, Just Salad, or Sweetgreen) and the more calorie-filled offerings of Chipotle. Poké bowls fit that niche: they're flavorful, packed with protein, and don't feel like 'rabbit food,' but they're still light and healthy.

Peter N. / Yelp

By allowing endless customisations, poké bowl restaurants are playing into our modern desire for new tastes and changing options.

Kate Taylor

While sushi can cost upwards of $US15 or $US20 for anything more than a small, basic roll, most poké bowls are priced in the $US10 to $US20 range (depending on the add-ins) for a complete meal. If you balk at a low-priced, raw-fish meal, remember: the restaurants are buying quality fish in bulk, reducing cost on both ends.


For those concerned about health and quality -- it is raw fish, after all -- chefs and restaurant operators say that the more volume being served, the fresher the product can be. Consistent consumption means that the food doesn't sit for more than a day.

Julienne D./Yelp

Source: Eater

Finally, we can't dismiss the fact that poké bowls are being served in, well, bowls. The bowl trend is well-documented (last year, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed that 'bowls are the new plates'), and it isn't slowing down anytime soon.

Emily H./Yelp

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Ready to give poké a shot? If you're in New York City, you have some options. There's Wisefish in Chelsea -- similar to Chipotle, you choose a base (rice or zucchini noodles for the carb-conscious), a protein, and a variety of toppings, like fresh cucumber, crab, or seaweed salad.

Raisa Bruner

Pokéworks, located in Midtown East, serves a quinoa or kale base option with unusual accoutrements like lotus chips or edamame. Sauces come in variations like sriracha aioli and umami shoyu.


Sons of Thunder -- also in Midtown East -- offers octopus poké along with the usual tuna and salmon varieties (and hot dogs, for those less inclined to raw fish).

Ashwin M./Yelp

There's also The PokéSpot in Union Square, which offers its own take on the trend.

The PokéSpot / Yelp

For Californians, meanwhile, poké is already easy to find. In Los Angeles, try Mainland Poke, Sweetfin Poke, Ohana Poke Co, or Poke Bar, for starters.

Sweetfin Poké/Facebook

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