It means “to slice,” and it’s popping up all over the country.
Poke, or the unofficial food of Hawaii, has seen an incredible spike in popularity over the last couple of years. Traditionally made with raw ahi tuna cut into chunks, marinated with soy sauce, some sesame oil and a sprinkling of green onion, shops boasting the dish have recently made their way into the Triad.
Benny Zeng, the owner of ZC Hawaiian in Greensboro, trained for about three months in Hawaii before opening up his shop here a few years ago. His rendition of poke is pretty close to the traditional variety. Simply seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil and sriracha, ZC’s poke is made up of bright-red tuna and chopped bits of white and green onion.
He says that while some people are still wary about eating raw fish, poke has become one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. He says his is like a marinated salad and comes with a mound of rice and a macaroni salad.
Other shops have started to advertise poke bowls, in which customers can choose a base, a protein and toppings, not unlike a Chipotle bowl, just with fish and Asian and Hawaiian flair.
The exact origins of poke are unknown but historians trace the popularity of the dish back to the 1970s in Hawaii and the early 2010s for us on the mainland. Many guess that poke began as a native Hawaiian dish, born out of easy access to fresh tuna. When Japanese workers arrived on the island in the 1800s, a “mash-up of Hawaiian flavors and Japanese donburi became popular in restaurants in Hawaii,” said Hawaiian professor Kealalokahi Losch in a 2017 Washington Post article.
Growing up, my dad, who is a trained sushi chef, often made us maguro zuke dons, or marinated tuna rice bowls for lunch or dinner. Sound familiar?
When poke spots started popping up in the state a couple of years ago, it was like seeing an old friend. Here was a food that I could relate to. Given that there aren’t as many Japanese restaurants in the South as in the Northeast or West Coast, I was excited to try anything resembling or reminding me of Japanese food. But don’t get it twisted; it’s a Hawaiian thing.
“These kinds of restaurants create opportunities for folks who otherwise may never taste poke, to expose their taste buds to something very different,” said US Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) in the Washington Post piece. “The real thing comes from Hawaii, as far as I’m concerned.”
For now, there are at least three spots in Greensboro where you can find poke and a few in Winston-Salem and High Point as well.
It’s fresh, it’s healthy and it’s delicious.
Go see what all the fuss is about.
Greensboro poke spots:
- ZC Hawaiian, 2224 Golden Gate Dr.
- Poke Bowl, 116 N Elm St.
- Thai Corner Kitchen 2, 3741 Battleground Ave. #B
- Sushi Republic, 329 Tate St.
Winston-Salem poke spots:
- Poke Star, Hanes Mall
- Hakkachow, 615 St. George Square Ct.
High Point poke spot:
- Juice Batch, 2758 NC-68