By Brandon Yung
The buzz of anticipation can be felt, a fine air of social media-induced excitement resonating through the line that almost reaches out the door. Murmurs of expectation are overheard, “I hear the owner came from Hawaii”, “Maybe the place in Venice Beach is better.” The glass facade of the crowded building prominently displays the words, Poke Salad Bar. It’s clear right away, from the culturally-aware banter to the friction of disposable chopsticks , that we are in the midst of LA’s newest food trend.
Perhaps it was by the holy mandate of Roy Choi (founder of Kogi Korean Tacos and pioneer of the food truck movement) so or simply the alignment of the planets — there is no disputing the booming popularity of Poke.
The Hawaiian dish, pronounced “po-kay,” consists of bite-size pieces of raw fish doused in seasonings. Centuries before being served with imitation crab and brown rice, poke was eaten in Hawaii as a staple seafood. Seasoned with local flavors (which usually include soy sauce, onions, and sesame oil), poke molds its identity to its culinary environment. This gives it all the selling points of a perfect craze: customizability, convenience, nutrition, and a visually pleasing appearance.
“From a restaurant business standpoint, the poke trend makes perfect sense. If made with good quality fish, poke appeals to the public’s love of sushi and the need to customize their food. Much like the frozen yogurt trend, people like the opportunity to create their own dishes… I think we will see this trend continue to grow here,” Los Angeles area chef and writer Patrick Griffin said.
Trying to make a name for itself in the newly booming fish rush, Poke Salad Bar can be found on Colorado Street in Pasadena. The discourse between patron and server on either side of the the Subway-style glass display barrier gives the establishment an atmosphere of hurried excitement. With assorted metal trays of fish and toppings facilitating the flow of food preparation, it almost resembles a Baskin-Robbins, except with fish meat instead of ice cream.
The poke sits atop your choice of rice (white or brown) or salad. You can pick from a vast array of toppings — masago (fish eggs), pineapple, seaweed, or even corn — to adorn your beautiful fishy arrangement. The end result: a quick, photogenic, seemingly healthful meal that would have a hard time tasting anything but delicious due to the sheer abundance of flavoring.
Within the past few months, nearly twenty different poke restaurants have had grand openings across Los Angeles. The storm came swiftly and without apology. With its Chipotle-style stratagem and youthful appeal, it’s no wonder that success came so easily to this dainty piece of culturally-appropriated cookery. There is no hiding from it; the advent of poke is upon us.
Locally, South Pasadeneans can enjoy poke at:
Poke Salad Bar
12 W Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91105
Poke Mix by Flour + Tea
99 S Lake Ave. #102
Pasadena, CA 91101
Spinfish Poke House
36 W Colorado Blvd. suite 7
Pasadena, CA 91105