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