Will the Real Poke Please Stand Up?

It’s the dish you’ve seen all over your Instagram feed and your favorite blogs. There’s no doubt about it; poke is the trendiest food this year so far, and D.C. has been the latest city to embrace it with open arms.

Poke (pronounced poh-kay) is a raw fish salad that hails from the Aloha State and means “chunk” in Hawaiian. With its mix-and-match concept of a few chopped ingredients of your choice, it is a no-frill, absolutely delicious and not to mention healthy concoction to satisfy your hunger. Common ingredients — influenced by Japanese and other Asian cuisines due to the history of immigrants in Hawaii — include cubed raw fish (tuna is popular), onions, scallions, seaweed, soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds. Poke is usually served on its own but can also be served over rice as a bowl.

As with any nouveau food trends, restaurateurs are more than eager to jump into the poke game, and Hawaiians have mixed feelings over poke popularity boom in the U.S. mainland, understandably so. Many of these new stores use the Chipotle model, where customers can create their bowls as they go down the line, and offer non-traditional ingredients such as tomato. At what point does it stop being poke and start being a fish burrito bowl?

In downtown Washington, D.C., four poke restaurants (each with a price tag around $12) opened this year so far, and curiously enough, three of them are easily within walking distance of each other.

We put some of D.C.’s poke options to the test, and offer our tips for ordering the best poke below:

1. Do your research

Does the store claim its poke is authentic, fusion, or Hawaiian-inspired? If you have more than one poke place in your city, visit their websites. We recommend checking out the store that serves the most traditional fare first. Also, don’t be shy to ask around and befriend the owner!

2. Don’t overload your bowl

The beauty of poke lies in its simplicity. So instead of overindulging, stick with minimal toppings if possible. One of the stores we tried overfilled the bowl with things like pickled ginger and edamame, which did not complement the other ingredients and distracted from the flavor of the fish.

3. Opt for fresh, unmarinated fish

If a store’s fish comes marinated, it may be a sign that it isn’t fresh. However, we’ve noticed that some customers favored marinated fish as an option. Keep in mind that the sauce will be added when your bowl is made, so there’s no need to marinate the fish beforehand!

We would like to note that there is nothing wrong with reinterpreting a traditional dish in a new, exciting way as long as it appreciates the origin and elevates the dish to another level.

However, personal preference aside, if you are new to the poke world and want to know what authentic poke looks like in in the D.C. area, we recommend checking out Abunai Poke.

Abunai Poke / Spicy Salmon

Abunai Poke / Garlic Ahi

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