Indulge in the Flavors of Paradise: Poke in Hawaii Delights Taste Buds with Freshness and Tradition

Poke isn’t just an appetizer or side dish to enjoy on the islands, it is a big part of the lifestyle here in Hawaii. The raw fish pupu makes its appearances everywhere from birthday parties, pot luck get togethers, picnics to fancy dinners out with family. No where else on the world does Poke bring a sense of place and love of seafood and different flavors that crosses all culinary barriers.

The healthy food poke sensation that everyone loves is not a new thing and has always been popular on the islands as a snack or part of a larger meal. While traditional Hawaiian food has always featured poke as an essential side dish, places outside of the islands are starting up poke bowl shops all around with no understanding of how poke is made here on the islands.

Here’s a few things about Poke in Hawaii that you should know about.

Enjoy the Poke sensation that everyone loves to eat on the islands

So what is poke?

In Hawaiian poke means chunk (mostly local tuna) and the poke here is typically raw fish chunks of big eye or yellowfin (Ahi tuna) that are marinated and eaten that way. Other popular tuna used locally are Skipjack tuna or Aku and Albacore tuna or Tombo. Other poke style fish includes salmon and moonfish or Opah.

But poke was also more than raw fish and included meats and seafood that is marinated. People on the islands who have grown up with this comfort food and love poke made from raw fish and other seafood marinated is a way of like beyond the poke bowl shops sprouting up around the world with toppings. In Japan raw octopus called tako was also infused into the traditional style of poke eaten on the islands. Poke is one of the most popular Hawaiian dishes to try as an appetizer or over a bowl of rice like a donburi style and called a poke bowl.

So what is poke

How do you pronounce the word Poke

Basically you say (po’kay) and it rhymes with okay

How did poke get started in Hawaii?

Poke, a beloved culinary delight in Hawaii, has a fascinating origin that intertwines with the rich cultural heritage of the islands. The roots of poke can be traced back to the early Polynesian settlers who brought with them their fishing traditions and culinary practices.

In ancient Hawaii, fishing played a vital role in sustaining the local communities. Fishermen would venture into the bountiful waters surrounding the islands, catching an array of fish such as tuna, salmon, or octopus. To make the most of their catch, they would slice the fish into small pieces and season it with simple ingredients like sea salt, limu (seaweed), and inamona (roasted crushed kukui nuts).

This early form of poke served as a means of preserving the fish and enhancing its flavor. The use of local ingredients and the simplicity of preparation were key characteristics of traditional Hawaiian cuisine. The word “poke” itself translates to “to slice” or “to cut crosswise into pieces” in Hawaiian, reflecting the technique used to prepare the dish.

Over the years, as Hawaii became a melting pot of cultures, poke evolved and absorbed influences from various culinary traditions. Japanese immigrants introduced soy sauce, sesame oil, and other Asian flavors, further enhancing the taste profiles of poke. The availability of new ingredients and the creative spirit of the locals led to a wide range of variations, including spicy tuna, shrimp, and even vegetarian options.

How do you pronounce the word Poke

Is there just one style of Poke on the islands?

If you visit the islands, you’ll notice an abundance of poke versions beyond the basic style which is raw tuna chunks mixed in with soy sauce, sesame oil and onions. You’ll find poke with octopus, scallops, black crabs, meats and other seafood with different sauces like mayonnaise or kimchee style sauce. There are stronger tasting and smelling and more subtle versions depending on your personal taste and palette for what is delicious.

Garnishes can include wasabi, tobiko fish eggs, seaweed, furikake, Hawaiian avocado and a variety depending on what is sold and mixed into the poke dish. Most of the poke is already made with the seasonings and toppings in place for quick take out.

Is there just one style of Poke on the islands?
Lot’s of poke to choose from

Lot's of poke to choose from

Do you get to choose your flavorings in Hawaii?

Most poke shops or grocery stores already create their own poke styles daily for purchase and quick take out food. Typically most are poke bowls with scoops of rice and the made poke that you choose and is common on the islands including:

Spicy poke

Poke with Wasabi

Poke with limu (seaweed)

Traditional poke with soy sauce, sesame oil and onions

Poke with sweet chili sauce

Poke in ponzu sauce style

Poke with spicy mayonnaise

Poke with some veggie added edamame, pickled cabbage or cucumber tobiko

You get to choose the poke type but not the condiments or separate toppings in Hawaiian stores or take out stands

Do you get to choose your flavorings in Hawaii?

Newer Poke shops and ingredients offered

There are now some newer poke shops that you can create your own poke style with your mains to typically include:

Tuna, shrimp, scallops, octopus, salmon, tofu

Add your condiments

Corn, cucumber, cilantro, green onions, edamame, seaweed

Mixed with your sauce choice

Soy sauce, sesame oil


Spicy Mayo

Sweet Chili oil

Wasabi soyu

Newer Poke shops

Similar Poke style dishes from around the world

Did you know poke or raw fish is celebrated around the world, here’s some examples below.

Japanese created poke with octopus called tako and made their own versions of this dish, sashimi style or dressed up in a donburi rice and sashimi dish

Filipinos created a poqui poqui style with scrambled eggs or Kinalaw which is done ceviche style

 Korean have their version with Hoe-deopbap done with sashimi style over rice bowls and Korean flavorings

Peruvians create their own versions with ceviche in lime juice and a variety of seafood and shell fish

Europeans have eaten tuna tartare and fish carpaccio

Similar Poke style around the world

Tips on making your own poke

Use the best ingredients and as fresh as you can get of Big eye tuna or yellow fin that is typical of Hawaiian tuna and get it from a reputable source, store or fishmonger.

Make sure that you get sashimi grade fish which is the best quality.

Types of poke to make really depends on your personal preference, seasonings and toppings. Here are some fun recipes to follow below on how to make your own poke.

Tips on making your own poke

Check out these cool video recipes below

A classic Ahi poke recipe

How about Poke 3 ways

Hmmm yes Salmon Poke recipe that is easy and fast

More poke challenges – try poke 20 different ways

Check out these other food related posts from Hawaii

You’ll find poke goes well with these other traditional Hawaiian foods and other local food favorites around the islands.

Delicious Kalua pork

Delicious Kalua pork

One of the most popular Hawaiian foods you’ll find at a potluck gathering, luau or special event is Kalua pork. Typically cooked in an open fire pit wit layers of bananas leaves, the modern day equivalent is easily baked or even done in an instant pot for fast and ready to eat goodness of the delicious meat dish staple.

Find out more on our post about Kalua pork here for more inspiration, recipes and the background to this favorite local food of the islands.

Hawaiian breadfruit or Ulu

Hawaiian breadfruit or Ulu

Locally grown breadfruit is a staple Hawaiian food that is used for savory to sweet dishes on the island. This plant that grows so well on the islands produces a variety of breadfruit that can translate to so many delicious dishes and we share our favorites on the islands to try.

Check out our post to Hawaiian breadfruit here for more inspiration and images.

Hawaiian sweet potatoes

Hawaiian sweet potatoes

The original canoe plant and staple food, Hawaiian sweet potatoes are locally grown with Okinawan purple sweet potatoes. These healthy foods are used for a variety of sweet to savory dishes or simply eaten freshly steamed with their earthy and sweet taste.

Check out our Hawaiian sweet potato post here for more inspiration, recipes and the story about this very important crop grown around the islands.

HIlo Farmers market 40 1

Spam in Hawaii

Brought to the islands initially with the US military as food rations, this easy to use meat dish became a very popular food staple on the island for being inexpensive and portable as a meat entree or even a snack. Popular foodie snacks like the Spam musubi or used in bento boxes or plate lunches as a meat staple is always present for a salty inspired dish that is simple and fried.

Check out our post on Spam and some fun recipes here for more inspiration and images

More inside tips about eating Poke in Hawaii

Eating poke in Hawaii is a delicious experience, and here are some inside tips to help you enjoy it to the fullest:

Try Different Varieties: Hawaiian poke comes in various styles and flavors. Don’t limit yourself to just one type. Experiment with classic ahi (tuna) poke, salmon poke, tako (octopus) poke, and more to discover your favorite.

Freshness Is Key: Seek out poke shops that prioritize freshness. Freshly caught fish and high-quality ingredients make a significant difference in flavor.

Go Local: Support local poke shops and markets for an authentic experience. You’ll often find the freshest ingredients and unique, regional poke creations.

Mix-Ins and Toppings: Poke bowls often come with a variety of mix-ins and toppings. Customize your bowl with ingredients like avocado, seaweed salad, tobiko, macadamia nuts, and more to create your ideal flavor and texture combination.

Spiciness Level: Many poke shops offer different spice levels. If you enjoy a bit of heat, go for a spicier sauce or seasoning. Be sure to ask for recommendations if you’re unsure.

Pair with Local Sides: Traditional Hawaiian sides like poi, lomi-lomi salmon, and haupia complement poke perfectly. Consider adding these to your meal for a taste of Hawaiian cuisine.

Freshly Made: Opt for poke that is made to order or freshly prepared throughout the day. This ensures the ingredients are at their peak freshness.

Sustainability: Inquire about the sustainability of the seafood used in your poke. Many places in Hawaii are committed to responsible sourcing.

Local Favorites: Ask locals for their favorite poke spots. They often know the hidden gems that may not be as well-known to tourists.

Be Adventurous: Don’t hesitate to try unique and innovative poke creations. Some poke shops offer creative twists on traditional poke with ingredients like mango, wasabi, or truffle oil.

Mind Food Safety: Since poke often contains raw fish, be mindful of food safety. Choose reputable establishments and ask about their handling and storage practices.

Enjoy the View: Many poke shops in Hawaii are located near the coast. Consider grabbing your poke and enjoying it at a nearby beach or park with a scenic view.

Share the Experience: Poke is often served family-style in larger quantities. Share a poke bowl or platter with friends or family to sample a variety of flavors.

Don’t Forget Dessert: Finish your meal with a tropical dessert like shave ice or malasadas to complete your Hawaiian culinary experience.

Eating poke in Hawaii is a delightful culinary adventure. By exploring different styles, ingredients, and local favorites, you can truly savor the flavors of this beloved Hawaiian dish.

Here’s more Hawaii food topics for you to follow

Traditional Hawaiian food favorite dishes

Hawaii chocolate making and tour

How to eat cheap in Hawaii

Comfort foods of Hawaii

Hawaiian style banana bread

Mango season in Hawaii

Hawaii love for Spam and recipes

Hawaiian snacks

Favorite Hawaiian desserts

27 Hawaiian fruits to try

Have you tried some Hawaiian Poke?

Which on is your favorite? Please share your thoughts and other recommendations in the comments below with your recommendations.

Conclusion to Poke in Hawaii

Poke in Hawaii is more than just a dish; it’s a cultural icon that embodies the spirit of the islands. With its humble origins rooted in ancient Hawaiian fishing practices, poke has evolved into a culinary sensation that captivates taste buds with its simplicity, freshness, and diverse flavor profiles.

As you savor a bowl of poke in Hawaii, you’re not only experiencing the delicate balance of flavors but also connecting with the deep cultural heritage of the islands. The traditional techniques and ingredients passed down through generations reflect the harmony between the people and the abundant ocean that surrounds them.

Thanks for visiting today and checking out this post on Poke. I hope you are inspired to plan a visit and enjoy these wonderful attractions. If you enjoyed the images and post, could you please share it with any of the social media buttons located around the post.

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Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.