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A very Kiwi take on the poke bowl

Tuna and papaya poke bowl. Photo/Liz Clarkson; styling by Kate Arbuthnot

The Japanese-influenced Hawaiian fast-food sensation is bowling into towns and cities around New Zealand.

Healthy fast foods become fashionable when you find outlets around towns and cities serving them for busy workers. Over the years, we have seen the rise of healthy made-to-order sandwich bars, sushi bars, compose-your-own-salad bars, and meal-in-a glass smoothie bars.

The latest of these trends is the poke (pronounced po-key) bowl. Outlets have opened on several sites in Auckland’s city centre and elsewhere, offering assemble-to-order takeaways.

Poke originated in Hawaii, and was originally a mixture of freshly caught raw fish, usually tuna, chopped into cubes and marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil. It was served with garnishes such as fresh seaweed or Maui onions.

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An enterprising Hawaiian chef, Sam Choy, started a poke competition there in 1992 and both professional chefs and amateur cooks entered. It continues every year and the competition has since expanded to Seattle. All over Hawaii, wherever fresh fish is sold, there will be a large dish of poke made in the original style, marinated according to the local owner’s favourite recipe and ready to be ladled into takeaway jars.

Due to the large Japanese influence in Hawaii, poke developed from this simple concept to become an imaginative fresh meal with a base of sushi rice, or sometimes Japanese soba noodles, in a bowl. The rice is topped with marinated raw fish and ingredients such as pickled ginger, avocado, raw sliced vegetables, sesame seeds and edamame beans all chopped into bite-sized pieces. The result is a bright fresh-looking meal that is easy to eat with chopsticks, Japanese-style. I have spotted poke restaurants in Madrid, Milan and now in Auckland, so there’s no doubt they’ll be everywhere soon.

For those who are not fond of fish, often there’s an option to have sliced, poached chicken breast, or cubes of tofu for vegetarians.

One of my friends finds poke a great way to feed her children, who, like most families, range in ages and have their own likes and dislikes. Kate sets out all the poke ingredients on a platter, gives each child a bowl of rice and lets them help themselves. There’s no fussing or fighting, just peaceful family meals.

This week’s recipes are a very Kiwi take on poke.

Tuna and papaya poke bowl

300g yellowfin tuna (or trevally or kahawai)
6cm piece of ginger
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 cup sushi rice
2 tbsp mirin
1 small cucumber
½ papaya, peeled
6 crisp lettuce leaves
2 ripe but firm tomatoes
4 tbsp edamame beans
2 tbsp pickled pink ginger, shredded
1 spring onion, finely chopped
2 tsp rehydrated seaweed
1 tsp black sesame seeds

Cut the fish into 2cm cubes and place in a non-reactive bowl. Grate or finely chop the ginger and add to the fish with the soy sauce and sesame oil. Cover and place in the refrigerator to marinate for an hour or more.

To cook the sushi rice, wash well in cold running water, then drain. Add to a saucepan with enough cold water to cover the rice by 4cm. Add a teaspoon of salt and bring the rice to the boil. Turn down the heat, cover with a lid and cook for 12-14 minutes until all the water is absorbed and the rice swells and is soft rather than hard in the centre. Turn it into a bowl and stir through the mirin.

To prepare the other vegetables and garnishes, partially peel the cucumber then cut ribbons from the flesh with a potato peeler. Cut the papaya into 2cm cubes, slice the lettuce leaves and roughly chop the tomatoes.

To serve, divide the rice between four bowls. Add the marinated fish so that it covers a quarter of the rice, then arrange the papaya, lettuce, tomato and edamame beans around the fish. Finish with the pickled ginger, spring onion and seaweed and scatter over the sesame seeds.

Serves 4
Wine match: pinot gris or albariño

Salmon, avocado and seaweed poke bowl. Photo/Liz Clarkson; styling by Kate Arbuthnot

Salmon, avocado and seaweed poke bowl

300g fresh salmon
2 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp citrus pressed olive oil
pinch of sea salt
2 bundles soba noodles
1 firm but ripe avocado
1 carrot
2 radishes, thinly sliced
½ cup watercress
1 sheet nori, toasted
sprigs of Vietnamese mint
unhulled sesame seeds

Remove the skin from the salmon and slice the flesh into strips. Place in a bowl and add lime juice, 2 tablespoons of oil and the salt, then mix and refrigerate until needed.

Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and plunge in the noodles. Cook for 4 minutes or according to the packet instructions. Drain, then drizzle with the remaining olive oil.

Cut the avocado into cubes or slices, then peel the carrot and cut into matchsticks. Drop the sliced radish into ice-cold water to refresh it. Wash the watercress, remove any tough stalks and shake dry. Using scissors, cut the toasted nori into strips.

To serve, divide the soba noodles between four bowls. Add the salmon, then top with avocado, carrot, radish and watercress. Finish with the nori strips and Vietnamese mint and scatter over the sesame seeds.

Serves 4
Wine match: rosé

Where to find poke

Many restaurants around the country have listed poke on their menus. Here are some favourite spots:

  • Ika Bowl, Snickel Lane, Central Auckland
  • Yeah Bowl, Britomart Train Station, Auckland
  • Ha! Poke Bowl, Ponsonby Rd and at the University of Auckland campus
  • Lulu, Courtenay Place, Wellington
  • Piki Poke, The Crossing, Cashel St, Christchurch
  • Jizo Japanese Cafe and Bar, Princes St, Dunedin
  • Yonder, Church St, Queenstown
  • Fishbone Bar & Grill, Beach St, Queenstown

This article was first published in the October 27, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.