Poke, you’re it: transforming the tasty, classic roll into a trendy sushi bowl

By Alexandria Ferrara

Poke bowls are a Hawaiian dish containing rice, chunks of raw fish, vegetables and sauces mixed together. In fact, the word poke itself translates to “slice” or “to cut.” Poke bowl shops have been popping up all over the country and some internationally as well.

“It’s a very easy concept to open up with low overhead,” Jason Cline, executive chef and owner of Poke Rose, two new poke bowl shops in Largo and Tampa. “You don’t need hood systems or grills or fryers. It’s basically rice and refrigeration. He explains that important steps in making the perfect poke bowl are the sauces, the fresh ingredients and creating a tasteful balance between flavors.

Some Hawaiian chefs Cline worked with turned him onto poke bowls about 20 years ago, and Cline first started to see the trend popping up in California around that time. However, the trend did not make headway until recently.

In the two-year span between August 2014 and August 2016, Hawaiian restaurants doubled to 700 on the Foursquare app. The trend has started to spread worldwide. “We do have some [social media] followers from Brazil…some from Europe, Brazil, and I think that’s it,” said Cline.

The photographs that are posted on social media of these colorful and nutritious bowls are another factor as to why they are so popular. “Especially when food is presentable and photo-ready it can be spread wide with a big range of people because everyone seems to be on social media,” says Remi Helfant, senior communications major at UT. She tried her first bowl at Happy Bowls in Montauk, New York about two years ago.

Social media has worked for the poke bowl trend in spreading it more and more with each new post and drawing people to the nearest poke bowl shop to try it out.

Many restaurants like Chipotle and Fresh Kitchen have taken the concept of bowls and run with it. It’s quick to make, quick to eat, and delicious. Even if you’re not a huge fan of fish or seaweed, you can customize your poke bowl to make it tasteful for you.

“I’m not interested in a lot of seafood but I do like tuna and rice and it depends on what you put in it so I just made it everything that I enjoy. It had great flavor too,” Helfant said.

However, coming from a college student’s perspective, Katherina Moua, junior criminology major, explained that poke bowls can tend to be expensive. At Poke Rose, bowls range from $8.95 to $15.95 depending on which type and what size you order. Moua explained that she would still like to purchase and enjoy a poke bowl every once in a while. “It’s a nice option for fish for lunch instead of dinner where sushi and fish dishes tend to be more expensive,” Moua said.

The future of the poke bowl trend is already looking bright as many poke shops have started to use their creativity to try different formations of the dish. “You might see some cool different things, you know, you can always expand the bases and the options and what not,” said Matherne. Some places have even started serving sushi burritos, tacos and nachos. There is also the idea of wrapping fire Cheetos in sushi burritos to add a crunch. In addition, other cultures are molding the poke bowl into their own by creating Mexican and Greek pokes, according to Cline. Poke shops are taking over more and more cities around the nation.

“I know for a fact you’re going to probably see quite a few more places open up,” Matherne said.

Alexandria Ferrara can be reached at alexandria.ferrara@spartans.ut.edu

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