• On The Menu: Mainland Poke

    Poke! By now, everyone knows about sushi, but are you familiar with its distant cousin Poke? A traditional Hawaiian dish is getting its moment in the spotlight as poke shops are opening all over the US. We visited Mainland Poke in Los Angeles and asked them to give us an education on all things poke!
    Photography by Celeste Wilson

    Can you give us a brief history of Poke? Where did this dish originate?
    Poke, which originated in Hawaii in the 1970s, historically consists of “off-cuts” of fish (usually tuna, but now various kinds of fish) simply seasoned with soy sauce or similar sauces and other Asian ingredients as a snack for fishermen. Found in deli cases at every fishmonger and market in Hawaii, it soon became an ubiquitous local dish.

    How do you stay true to the roots of the dish while still creating your unique menu?
    We stay true to the intent of poke by using the freshest fish possible. We will not compromise and serve frozen tuna simply because the flavors are easily masked by a marinade. We choose to finish our poke with sauce rather than pre-marinate it, so that our sushi-grade fish is the star of the show.

    What drove your decision to open Mainland Poke in LA?
    LA has one of the most preeminent sushi cultures in the world, and our proximity to Hawaii made poke a viable and logical concept to me. We believed that people in LA would gravitate to poke as they have to sushi, and we've found it to be true. And I love poke. Poke restaurants are popping up all over the nation.

    Why do you think they are so popular right now?
    When we made our decision to open Mainland Poke, there was only one poke shop in Southern California. We were a little concerned about the demand, but within three months of our launch, 5 other poke shops opened within LA.

    Also, it's more affordable than sushi. I believe the popularity grows out of the ease of execution. The downside for the industry is that the barriers to entry for someone who is willing to compromise their fish quality is very low. We choose to break down whole fish every day so that our quality is never compromised, and our customers understand and appreciate where their fish comes from.

    You must eat Poke everyday! How do you build your perfect Poke bowl?
    I alternate. When I'm looking for some exciting flavors I switch off between our Ichiban (albacore, picked ginger, green onion, tobiko, wasabi cream) and our So Cali (salmon, avocado, sweet onion, jalapeños, sriracha aioli) where I add octopus and a hint of sweet chili lime.

    When I'm looking for something traditional and clean, the Luau (tuna, seaweed, chili flakes, shoyu) really hits the spot. Every once in a while you'll see me having a bowl with all of our ingredients. The best part about Mainland Poke is that you can't go wrong, and everything tastes good together because our fish is fresh.

    So, if there is no Poke spot near us (yet), what are the most important tips & tricks to remember when making Poke at home?
    Get good fish! When you're picking out a fish at the market, make sure the eyes are clear (not cloudy) and the gills are clean. If you're not sure, ask your fishmonger and they can help guide you.

    Can you share a recipe with us?
    I would say the most important sauce in the poke world is Shoyu. We make ours using sesame oil, soy sauce, and freshly grated ginger. If your looking for a little heat, kick it up a notch with some red pepper. Toss over your ahi and garnish with a little scallion and furikake. You can't go wrong with simple!

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