Poke’s come a long way from its origins in pre-contact times, when ancient Hawaiians feasted on freshly caught fish massaged with sea salt, seaweed and crushed inamona or kukui nuts. Today poke shops are popping up from Los Angeles to Kansas City to New York. But what of poke in the Islands? Where has poke’s path taken this iconic dish?
Poke’s evolution has been fairly straightforward: Changes mirror the tastes of new arrivals. When ships from the West Coast dropped anchor in local ports, sailors traded salmon for salt. Waves of immigrants from China and Japan introduced soy sauce and sesame oil. Just as each group has added its dishes to Hawaii’s culinary melting pot, selections of poke have multiplied. Visit any poke counter today and you’ll find not just ahi limu (seaweed) and spicy ahi poke, but kimchee shrimp, furikake salmon, miso tako (octopus), pipikaula (dried beef) and even bacalao poke made with Portuguese dried salt cod.