Time for Poke
Poke (pronounced POH-kay) the ubiquitous Hawaiian street food, is the newest quick food craze.
Yup, the most happening lunch right now is a bowl of chunky raw fish. Tuna is the original poke fish (what you may encounter at a roadside stall in the Islands), its meaty flavour and firm texture suited to eating in a salad, but poke doesn’t end there. Offerings at the new poke spots in town include several different kinds of fish and seafood, pork, chicken and tofu.
Chef and co-owner Lawrence Hui of Ono Poke (10142 104 Street) traveled to Hawaii to learn poke from the masters—Tom Muromoto (Ka’anapali Beach Hotel) Sheldon Simeon (Tin Roof Maui) and Ika Manaku (Westin Nanea Ka’anapali). The well-curated menu at Ono (which means delicious) has six bowls with sides and extras available along with daily specials.
There are three bowls made with tuna. The Ono is seaweed, sea asparagus, a fresh Asian slaw and macadamia nuts for crunch; the Uncle Tom’s Surf Crunch is with edamame, micro greens and puffy wasabi crab chips, and there is one with albacore partnered with a green papaya slaw and citrus ponzu. The Prairie Luau—pork braised with gochujang (Korean sweet and spicy chile sauce), Chinese black mushroom, house-made kimchi and a nice green hit of cilantro, the gingery salmon bowl and the vegetarian Beet Poke with quinoa, vegetables, seaweed salad and chilli oil, excellent, round out the offerings. A shake or two of the house-made Hawaiian chile water, similar to the Vietnamese nuoc cham sauce, heightens the flavours.
There are some absolutely delicious dishes here. The best time to experience Ono? On Saturday market days when you can sit outside on the minimalist patio and watch the passing parade with a beer and a poke bowl. Open Monday to Saturday, 11am to 9pm. Closed Sundays.
Splash Poke (10079 109 Street) takes a different approach, offering a more do-it-yourself experience. Build your own bowl from an array of ingredients and sauces, cooked chicken, tofu and different kinds of fish. The idea is to pick a base, white or brown rice, vermicelli noodle or mixed greens; pick a protein or three (prices are based on the number of proteins) and choose a soy- or mayo-based sauce such as sriracha or the Splash sauce, a citrusy and a coconutty mayo. Then, choose the mix-ins (vegetables) and toppings such as pineapple, tobiko, seaweed salad, sesame seeds, mango and corn. It’s quick and fun to watch your bowl come together in front of you. On really busy days Splash offers ready-to-go salad rolls with either salmon or tuna. Or, choose one of four suggested bowls, called Splash Favourites.
My fave so far is pretty simple—ahi tuna with sesame sauce, cucumber and green onion, topped with seaweed salad and sesame seeds, on a base of rice and mixed greens. I did watch a guy order his bowl with every mix-in and every topping. Is that the poke version of an all-dressed pizza?
“ We made 300 bowls opening night,” says Angela Wong, the owner of Splash Poke. “The line up was around the corner and down Jasper Avenue. People were really patient.” The bright and cheerful spot seats about 14.