The rise of the Poke Bowl

We may have thought that Asian bowl food would be the next big trend. Instead, poke bowls were the next big thing.

Although the exact origin of the dish is unclear, the poke bowl (pronounced poh-keh), is a classic Hawaiian snack. Originally made of fish scraps, the dish has been influenced by other cultures. Only in the 1960s did it gain its name, by the 1970s a ubiquitous snack throughout Hawaii, in its worst form, sold by the bag in supermarkets.

While traditional poke was a simple mix of cubed raw tuna with a bit of soy sauce, really, a bowl of poke is limited by the maker’s imagination. Our advice is to try several poke bowls from different venues. You’ll soon establish your own favourites, just as we have.

Where to find poke on the Gold Coast

Aloha Bar & Dining – Aloha does their own adaption of poke using salmon or Mooloolaba yellowfin tuna, eggplant or tofu with a squirt of aioli dressing on top, served on a bed of chopped lettuce, with sections of avocado chunks, wakame, edamame and carrot over sticky coconut rice.

Baskk at Kirra Point – Baskk takes a different tack on the poke bowl, giving diners a choice at each point in the making of base (Japanese sesame rice or green salad), filling (different veg, roasted nori and seeds), dressing (sesame kewpie or soy) and topping (salmon salsa lime and chilli, teriyaki chicken or organic chili lime tofu). Served from 9am – 3pm, the bowls are priced at $15 each.

Beachside Pavilion – With Japanese sushi chef Yus-uke (ex-Ten and Etsu) in tow, seafood is an emphasis in this bright and breezy beachside venue. Their three poke bowls are modern classics with ingredients including: Ocean trout (the belly cut only, Yus-uke says, for quality and texture, cut in a certain way,) with quinoa, avo, sesame seaweed, edamame, spinach and kewpie dressing (GF), Tuna with brown rice, kimchi, nori, pickled ginger, ponzu and kewpie, and Kingfish togarashi with ginger, cucumber, nori, kimchi and sriracha over rice. What a choice, and they’re even available for breakfast! ($23 – $24)

Caffeine Kings – Among the bowls, bun and waffles, it’s said that Caffeine Kings was the first venue to introduce poke bowls to the coast. Jess, the owner, believes in traditional sectioned bowls, the Japanese way, telling us that key elements are fresh fish, seaweed such as wakame, edamame, avocado and either a citrus ponzu or shoyu dressing. Caffeine Kings’ menu holds two: Breakfast poke with mushrooms, kale, poached eggs, and Japanese hollandaise, and The Classic with raw local salmon bedded down on brown rice with cucumber, pickled radish, edamame, bean sprouts, and crispy shallots, with a choice of sauces. The largest serve we encountered, it’s a filling, nutritious meal. Choices of vego, chicken and three sauces are available. ($16 – $19.50)

The Collective – The Collective’s Hawaiian tuna poke is a generous serving of tuna sashimi tossed in chunky avocado, soya, shallots, peppered with sesame, served with garlic pastry dippers for $16.

Harajuku Gyoza – Harajuku’s Salmon Sashimi Poke Bowl contains some prime ingredients, including saffron threads, roe, slaw, pickled ginger, beansprouts, broccoli and carrot on rice for $14.90. It’s a great size for a meal on the run.

Poké Poké – What defines a great poke bowl? ‘Morgan Walsh’, her staff say, and we have to agree. In the first dedicated poke restaurant on the Gold Coast, Morgan not only plays with the name (with the addition of an accent aigu), she also takes the idea of poke and reinvents it for the coast’s existing ingredient loves. ‘Breakfast pokes’ are completely adventurous, including Ham hock, Hot smoked salmon and Breaky salad, while the ‘All day poke’ menu contains more traditional versions along with vegetarian, chicken and karaage. The ‘Tuna me on’ is one of our favourites, mixed to order with sashimi grade tuna, tangy soy, sesame and wasabi mayo dressing and the interesting texture balance of avo, shallots and crispy plantain. This dish may not look the prettiest but the taste is superior. Makes me hungry just thinking about it…(Great value at $14 – $17)

Sandbar – On the beach at Surfers, Sandbar has undergone an amazing makeover. To match the venue, its new menu, devised by Maxie Hill, is seafood dominant. Lunch features three types of Hawaiian poke bowls: traditional Kauai tuna, Oahu snapper with pepper, honey, ginger and lemongrass, or Maui kingfish sashimi marinated in passionfruit, green chilli and lime. At $16 each, they’re served with different spicy mayos; completely addictive as a beach brunch! We loved them!

SoPo – Having had ceviche on the menu since opening in 2016, SoPo has morphed it into an Ahi poke bowl. Poke rules? There are none, according to Jules, whose Tuna sashimi poke marinated in lime tamari or chilli sesame dressing with cucumber and avo, pickled ginger, kaffir lime, eschallot and seasoned wakame is a taste sensation. Served with fried wontons, SoPo has slightly different versions of the bowl available for lunch and all-day dining. At $16 – $18 it’s one of our favourites, plus great value!

Stones Throw – Poke or Hoke, take your pick at Stones Throw, where sashimi cured or braised salmon is mixed with rice wine-pickled vegetables, probiotic kimchi, soy-braised wakame, over avocado and brown rice. Partly mixed, it’s a healthy, tasty version that is favoured for its combination of ingredients and flavours. ($17)

What of the future of poke?

Though the possibilities are endless, here are some possible futures we see in store for the poke bowl:

  • Better saucing options, such as sesame shoyu, lime ponzu, Korean kimchi and spicy salt, sesame oil and wasabi aioli, miso garlic
  • More variation of flavour and spice using crushed wasabi peas, chilli and jalapeno, fried onion flakes, kurikake seasoning
  • Different bases, such as kale, broccoli or cauli salad or salad greens, quinoa, farro or other grains, kelp or soba noodles, cucumber slaw or zucchini noodles
  • Taking advantage of fresh local produce such as prawns, fish roe, macadamias, avocado, finger lime, mango and jackfruit
  • Use of probiotic and healthy food alternatives such as pickled shitake mushrooms or pickled carrots or radish, edamame, seaweed such as nori and wakame, toasted black sesame seeds
  • Use of more vegan options, such as tofu, wasabi toasted coconut, sprouts
  • Use of crackers of some sort as eating implements, such as thin sweet potato crisps, dehydrated kelp triangles, homemade corn chips or crispy wonton wrappers
  • Use of other elements besides seafood as the main ingredient, or cooked ingredients rather than raw
  • Choose your own adventure – poke bars where you choose your own mix
  • Following the hamburger, we’re waiting for poke to cross over into casual fine dining with ‘poke stacks’ of avocado and raw fish in beautifully decorated presentation.

Perhaps, in time, we’ll see a quintessential Gold Coast version emerge. If so, what do you think it would hold?

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