Poke Bowl: Healthy & Satisfying Deliciousness from Hawaii
Poke bowls have exploded in popularity over the past few years, and for good reason.
This Hawaiian dish is a healthy, delicious, and satisfying meal that is perfect for any time of day.
Traditionally made with fresh, raw fish and various vegetables and toppings, poke bowls offer a colorful and flavorful experience that can be customized to suit any taste preference.
In this article, we’ll dive into the world of poke bowls, exploring their origins, nutritional benefits, and how to make your own delicious and nutritious poke bowl at home.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What is a poke bowl?
- 2 What does “poke” mean?
- 3 What does a poke bowl taste like?
- 4 How to make a poke bowl?
- 5 Poke bowl ingredients
- 6 Types of poke bowl
- 7 Popular beverage pairings with poke bowl
- 8 Best sushi sauce for your poke bowl
- 9 How to eat a poke bowl?
- 10 Origin and history of poke bowl
- 11 Poke bowl vs. sushi
- 12 Poke bowl vs. hibachi bowl
- 13 Where to eat a poke bowl?
- 14 Is poke bowl healthy?
- 15 Conclusion
What is a poke bowl?
Poke bowl is a traditional Hawaiian dish that has been around for a while.
The dish typically consists of diced raw fish served as an appetizer or main course.
The most popular variety of fish used to make the dish is ahi tuna, which has a very vibrant pink color that presents a beautiful contrast to green vegetables.
Many traditional forms of poke include aku poke (made with salmon), tako poke (made with cured octopus), crab poke, shrimp poke, and even tofu poke.
Before serving, the dish is marinated, usually with salt and other umami-rich ingredients like soy sauce mixed with garlic, ginger, and sesame oil.
Those who don’t like raw seafood can also keep cooked prawns and shrimp as their protein choice.
A typical poke bowl contains raw cubed raw fish, sided with rice or furikake, and some (usually) fermented vegetables for a smack of fresh-savoriness.
Raw cucumber, radish, and carrot are also popular choices.
Edamame beans, cilantro, mushrooms, and avocados are some other choices to make your poke bowl more flavorful.
Some people also like to add in some jalapenos for an extra kick.
The customizations are endless. You can add in anything per your preference, and be sure that your poke bowl will taste amazing.
That’s what makes it so unique.
What does “poke” mean?
The word “poke” is pronounced as “Pok-eh,” and it means “cut pieces” or “cut into chunks.” The dish is named so because the fish used in the original recipe is cut into cubes.
However, as mentioned, the primary protein choice isn’t always fish.
It can either be other types of seafood like octopus, shrimp, but also vegan options like tofu and chickpeas.
Whatever fits the tastes of the eater.
What does a poke bowl taste like?
Poke bowl is one of those unique dishes that, although super delicious, are very hard to describe, given all the variations.
However, since the one with ahi tuna is the standard version, let’s try just to describe that.
So, imagine a delicious blend of firm, sweet, and slightly fishy flavors. But don’t worry; it’s not like you’re eating a fishy sock.
The fish is raw but marinated in a marinade bursting with flavor that gives it a unique and delicious taste that is fishy but not bad.
Even if there’s some fishiness, it is suppressed by the other ingredients anyway.
The fish is cut into small, bite-sized, firm, and slightly chewy chunks.
It’s served on a bed of rice and mixed with ingredients like onions, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and scallions.
Even more interesting is that each bite of a poke bowl will taste different depending on what combination of veggies you pick with the fish.
While this complex combination of flavors and textures suppresses the fishy notes from the fish, they also add a fresh, herby, and savory kick to each of your bites.
The flavor profile can dramatically differ if you use a protein choice other than ahi tuna.
For example, if you use shrimp instead of tuna, you’ll also taste a little buttery-sweetness there.
If you use cured octopus, e.g., tako poke, then you will experience a slight nuttiness, too, along with the signature sweet-salty notes.
Since poke bowl is available in so many variations, the overall taste and flavor come down to the type of protein you use, the seasonings you put in, and most of all, the type of herbs and vegetables you put in.
A poke bowl is super customizable, which makes it so special.
Every combination has its own unique touch to it, and each time, it just tastes delicious.
How to make a poke bowl?
Making a poke bowl is simple as long as you have the right ingredients.
So first things first, you have to find sushi-grade ahi tuna from any of your trusted fishmongers. Make sure the fish is fresh and does not have any funky smell to it.
Also, make sure to cook your rice in advance so it has time to cool down
Next, you need to prepare the marinade. Surprisingly, it is easy to prepare and uses the simplest ingredients.
Just mix up some soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, and sesame oil, put the mixture in a bowl, and marinate the fish in it for 1-2 hours.
You can add some cut chili pepper for a nice kick, also favored by the locals.
After perfectly marinating the fish, pick a bowl, add the boiled sushi rice or brown rice, and top it with the marinated tuna.
Now add any vegetables of your choice. You can use carrots, edamame, cucumbers, avocado, or anything you think will taste good.
In the end, sprinkle the whole bowl with some sesame seeds, with a drizzle of spicy mayo or any of your favorite sushi sauces, and enjoy!
Poke bowl ingredients
Let’s start with the star of the show: the fish.
A poke bowl is all about raw fish, and choosing high-quality, sushi-grade fish is essential for the best taste and texture.
The most common fish used in poke bowls are ahi tuna and salmon. Still, you can also find other options like octopus, hamachi, and tofu.
The fish is typically cubed and marinated in soy sauce, adding a delicious umami flavor. As for seasonings, it depends on your preference.
There are all sorts of seasonings used to flavor poke bowls.
The most common ones include spicy mayo and the classic poke bowl sauce made of sesame oil, soy sauce, sriracha sauce, and rice vinegar.
One of the best things about poke bowls is that they’re highly customizable.
You can add your favorite toppings to create a bowl tailored to your preferences. Some popular toppings include:
- Shredded cabbage
- Pickled vegetables
- Fried onions
- Sesame seeds
- Spicy mayo
Types of poke bowl
A poke bowl is whatever you decide it to be.
As much as we know, over 20 types of poke bowls are presently enjoyed inside and outside Hawaii.
Since the list can be quite long, let’s tell you about the varieties that are the most common and enjoyed by poke bowl lovers throughout the world:
Ahi tuna poke bowl
This one’s the most common type of poke.
As the name suggests, the fish used is ahi tuna, combined with various vegetables to make a complete summer feast.
It’s fresh, tasty, and crunchy, with a light and easily likable flavor.
Hamachi bowl uses hamachi fish instead of tuna. Hamachi fish offers you a completely different flavor and texture.
It has a little more fat than usual and a slightly sour aftertaste with no fishiness. It could be the perfect option for individuals who haven’t tried raw fish.
Trout poke bow
Trout has a very mild flavor and a delicate texture, making it versatile. While it’s the go-to option for cooking, it doesn’t taste bad even if eaten raw.
The flavor profile of trout is relatively neutral. It allows all the other ingredients to shine but doesn’t let you forget that there’s also raw fish in there.
Salmon poke with togarashi
For those who have tried a salmon poke bowl a couple of times, try giving it a twist by topping it with togarashi sauce.
For a more enhanced experience, side the fish with edamame and avocado. It’s one of the best homemade versions of poke bowl you’ll ever try.
Hawaiian shrimp poke bowl
Not a massive fan of raw fish at all? Well, here’s another traditional variant of the poke bowl you don’t want to miss.
The beautiful texture and flavor of shrimp, combined with the natural flavors of thinly sliced veggies, is something you would like to experience at least once.
Vegetarian poke bowl with tofu
While tofu isn’t a perfect fish replacement, it has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor.
When combined with the buttery goodness of avocado and natural flavors from other veggies, tofu poke bowl is a healthy, wholesome bowl, just enough to satisfy your cravings.
Be sure to marinate the tofu in the same sauce as you would the poke bowl fish, and leave it to sit overnight for the best flavor.
Spicy poke bowl
Try the spicy poke bowl if you’re more into spices and complex flavors. Although it is traditionally prepared with salmon, you can use any fish.
It’s all about the sauce. Mix some soy sauce, sriracha sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar in the correct ratio, and experience the magic.
Spicy ahi tuna with a salmon poke bowl
Mixing two types of fish in a single bowl might sound weird, but believe us when we say this, it works amazing.
Mixing sushi-grade tuna with salmon with a spicy sauce and some freshness from the veggies is a flavor explosion you can’t miss.
Seared Hawaiian beef poke bowl
This one isn’t technically a poke bowl since the dish is closely associated with seafood.
However, it’s serious when we tell you it’s one of the most delicious takes on the dish you’ll ever try!
You can either make this one spicy or simple. Either way, it’s going to be tantalizing.
Ahi tuna with mango salad
Here comes another unconventional combination of ingredients that surprisingly tastes great.
Combine ahi tuna, mango, and avocado in a bowl and top them with sesame seeds and seaweed.
This variant is all about bringing out the true flavors of the ingredients. Simply delicious.
Popular beverage pairings with poke bowl
When pairing drinks with poke, beer is the obvious choice.
But hold up, don’t discount wine just yet. A crisp, fresh, young Riesling from the Okanagan Valley or Washington State is a great option.
And if you’re feeling fancy, go for a Grüner Veltliner. It’s perfect for those Asian flavors in your poke.
But hey, if you’re a beer person, go for a proper German Pils or a craft lager.
If you’re more into cocktails, a retro Pina Colada pairing with its pineapple and coconut flavors is fun and appropriate.
Or you can try sweet and fresh coconut water. It’s good for your health and goes well with the flavors.
Coconut lime rum is another great option to try out.
In other words, whether you’re sipping on wine, beer, or a cocktail, just remember to enjoy your poke bowl and have fun with your pairings.
Best sushi sauce for your poke bowl
Not a huge fan of spicy mayo? This unagi sushi sauce recipe can also be a great option to flavor your poke bowl.
Made with just three simple ingredients, it adds the perfect umami kick to the overall combination.
The consistency of this sauce is also quite thick, especially if you add some cornstarch for thickening, much like teriyaki or sriracha sauce.
Therefore, it doesn’t settle down at the bottom of the bowl and adheres to the ingredients’ surface.
It mixes pretty conveniently, ensuring you get the maximum flavor from each bite.
How to eat a poke bowl?
Well, here’s the good news. While eating a poke bowl, you don’t need to adhere to a specific etiquette.
You can eat it just as you like, and no one will get offended.
Of course, if you are eating in Japan, you might want to check out my Japanese etiquette and table manners guide here, so you don’t fall out of the tone.
Then, if we specifically talk about taking a “complete” poke bowl bite, here’s what you can do.
Pick up your seasonings, and add them to each combination of ingredients as you take a bite.
Since none of the bites contain the same ingredients, each combination of flavors tastes different. And hence, it will be like eating a lot of different dishes in a single dish.
Oh, and remember that the dish is served with chopsticks.
If you are not used to eating with chopsticks, you can tell the waiter to hand you a fork. Whatever suits you best.
Origin and history of poke bowl
While the word “poke” was given to the dish in the mid-1900s, the history of this Hawaiian delicacy dates centuries back.
Some historical accounts suggest that the first ever “poke” was prepared by the Polynesians.
However, it was different from the poke we eat today.
The first form of poke bowl was prepared with raw beef fish seasoned only with salt and seaweed and topped with crushed candlenuts.
From what we know of the overall flavor profile of these ingredients, it must have been salty, with a bitter aftertaste from the ground nuts.
The Asian-origin ingredients, such as soy sauce and sesame oil, were introduced to the dish by immigrants from China and Japan.
And just like that, the dish kept evolving. It was until the 1900s that it was given the name “poke.”
Different Hawaiian restaurants started making it in their specific ways, so the variety kept increasing over time.
In the 1970s, they started preparing it with various types of seafood, including salmon, prawn, red snapper, and octopus.
The same goes for the vegetables found in poke. Right now, you can combine the fish with anything you prefer. It just needs to taste good!
Poke bowl vs. sushi
So, you’re in the mood for raw fish with an Asian twist, but you can’t decide between a poke bowl and sushi.
Although a poke bowl can also be called a sushi bowl (and often is!), it’s not the same a sushi.
Let us break it down for you in a way that even a fish out of water can understand.
First off, let’s talk about the presentation.
Sushi is like the prom queen of the seafood world. It’s all dressed up with perfectly sliced fish, delicate rice, and fancy garnishes.
Meanwhile, a poke bowl is like the laid-back surfer who just rolled out of bed and threw on whatever was lying around.
It’s a mishmash of ingredients all thrown together in a bowl, but somehow it works.
Now, let’s talk about the taste. Sushi is like a symphony for your taste buds.
Each piece is carefully crafted to showcase the flavors of the fish and rice. It’s a delicate balance of sweet, salty, and savory.
On the other hand, a poke bowl is like a party in your mouth.
It’s a riot of flavors and textures, from crunchy veggies to creamy avocado to spicy sauces.
When it comes to nutrition, both poke bowls and sushi are healthy options. Sushi is low in calories and rich in protein, thanks to the fish and small rice portions.
Meanwhile, the poke bowl is packed with veggies and healthy fats from the avocado and fish.
Which one should you eat? Well, it depends on your mood. If you’re feeling fancy and want to impress your taste buds, go for sushi.
But a poke bowl is the way to go if you want something fun, flavorful, and filling.
Either way, you can’t go wrong with raw fish. Just remember the wasabi!
Upgrade your sushi or poke bowl with this kick-ass Wasabi Sushi Sauce Recipe!
Poke bowl vs. hibachi bowl
First up, let’s talk about the poke bowl. As mentioned, this Hawaiian dish is a colorful explosion of flavors and textures.
You can customize it with anything you like, and it’s a perfect meal for picky eaters.
On the other hand, we have a hibachi bowl, a Japanese dish that’s all about the show.
Picture this: a chef in a tall hat and apron, wielding a knife like a samurai sword, cooking your food right in front of you on a hot grill.
Hibachi bowls usually include grilled meat or seafood, rice, vegetables, and a savory sauce.
It’s a feast for the eyes and the taste buds and an experience you don’t want to miss.
However, remember that a hibachi bowl can be heavy on oil and salt. On the health scale, it would be a complete no-no for regular eating.
Another difference is the cooking method.
Poke bowl is a no-cook dish, while the hibachi bowl is all about the sizzle. If you’re in the mood for something quick and easy, go for a poke bowl.
But if you’re looking for a dining experience that’s both delicious and entertaining, a hibachi bowl is the way to go.
In conclusion, poke bowl and hibachi bowl are amazing dishes that offer a unique taste of Asian cuisine.
Whether you’re in the mood for something light and refreshing or hearty and flavorful, there’s a bowl for everyone.
Where to eat a poke bowl?
If you’re looking for a poke bowl, the first place to check is a poke bowl restaurant.
Many cities have at least one or two poke bowl restaurants, and some have several options.
Some popular poke bowl restaurant chains include:
- Sweetfin Poke
- Poke Bar
- Aloha Poke Co.
If you can’t find a poke bowl restaurant near you, try checking out sushi restaurants. Many sushi restaurants also offer poke bowls on their menu.
Just make sure to ask if they have poke bowls available, as not all sushi restaurants offer them.
Food trucks are a great option for trying out new and unique poke bowl flavors. Check out your local food truck scene to see if there are any poke bowl trucks in your area.
Believe it or not, some grocery stores also offer poke bowls.
Many Whole Foods locations have a poke bowl bar where you can build your own poke bowl.
Other grocery stores may have pre-made poke bowls in their prepared foods section.
Is poke bowl healthy?
Well, it all depends on what you put in them.
Poke bowls are typically made of rice, vegetables, and diced raw fish, but you can customize them to your heart’s content.
You’re off to a good start if you load up on nutrient-dense veggies like cucumbers, radishes, and sweet potatoes.
Plus, raw fish is an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your brain and heart.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind.
White rice, often used as the base, is low in fiber and can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes if consumed in excess.
So, try swapping it out for brown rice or other fiber-rich grains like quinoa or barley.
Also, be mindful of the sodium content in soy sauce and other seasonings, as they can be high in sodium.
And if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or immunocompromised, be cautious about consuming raw fish due to the risk of foodborne illness and mercury toxicity.
But poke bowls can be a healthy and delicious meal option if you make intelligent choices.
So go ahead and customize away. You’re gonna love it anyway.
Poke bowl is a delicious Hawaiian dish you can find at many restaurants now. It’s made with raw fish and served over rice, often with vegetables and garnishes.
It’s a great way to eat healthily, and it’s also very popular among non-Japanese people. If you’re looking for something new and exciting to eat, give the poke bowl a try.
Impress your guest by serving your poke bowls in one of the authentic donburi bowls I have reviewed here
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.