Behold, the latest food trend to arrive in Malaysia - poke bowls! Nutritious and fresh, these colourful bowls of rice and marinated raw fish are set to be a hit with foodies and the health-conscious alike.
First things first, what is poke?
Pronounced "poh-kay", poke is a raw fish salad that originated from Hawaii, where it is traditionally served as an appetiser or entree. The word "poke" in Hawaiian means "to slice, section, or cut crosswide into pieces", referring to the cubed shape of the fish.
Poke is made of raw fish such as yellowfin tuna and salmon (some variations feature octopus or various shellfish) typically marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil, tossed with sesame seeds, green onions, and/or seaweed.
Poke can either be eaten on its own or served on a bed of sushi rice, sometimes accompanied with toppings like avocado, furikake (mix of dried fish, sesame seeds, and dried seaweed), chopped dried or fresh chili pepper, limu (a vitamin-rich algae), sea salt, inamona (roasted crushed candlenut), fish eggs, wasabi, and Maui onions. New adaptations of the dish may even include ingredients like edamame, quinoa, zucchini noodles, and tomatoes.
Poke bowls were launched into the mainstream in early 2016, but it only seemed to be picking up most recently, with a slew of specialty shops popping up in hotspots around Klang Valley
Specialty shops like paperfish in TTDI and The Fish Bowl in Bandar Sunway have gotten increasingly popular and are largely attributed for spearheading the poke bowl trend here. Most recently, several new poke bars have opened for business, including Fin in Publika and Poké Bear in Sunway Pyramid.
In catering to Malaysian taste buds, some have adapted local flavours into their poke bowls too. As a spokesperson from paperfish put it, "Poke is relatively new here, hence we have incorporated bold flavours that are spicy, sweet and savoury or light and refreshing that cater to local taste buds. We do what we can to represent Malaysia's amazing flavours."
Check out our list of poke bowl places to try in Klang Valley.
The thing is, poke bowls can be pricey as they're currently priced upwards of RM15. So, how do you know if you're getting your money's worth? Here's a checklist to help you figure it out:
1. The quality of a poke bowl relies heavily on the raw fish a.k.a. the most important ingredient of the dish. So, obviously - the fresher, the better.
It might be pretty much impossible to figure out how fresh a particular shop's selection of raw fish are just by looking at it, but here are some simple things you can look out for - the smell (fresh fish should have a very light smell or almost no smell), colour, and texture (fresh fish is often firm to the touch).
Note: The additional ingredients that go into your poke should be fresh too!
2. There should be a generous amount of additional ingredients that go onto your poke bowl
Most poke bars let you customise your poke bowl, sometimes for a fixed price, so the more toppings you can heap on, the more value you get out of your money. ;)
3. A poke bowl is best eaten hot AND cold. When served, the rice should be piping hot (or at least warm) while the poké is cold.
4. This might sound shallow, but you'll want your poke bowl to look pretty and presentable
Chef Andres Bravo, a private chef who has privately cooked for A-list celebs like Rihanna and Alanis Morissette, once said that contrast and colour is an important part of a poke bowl.
So not only should your poke bowl look presentable enough for Instagram, it's should also look appetising enough, 'coz nothing screams "Ew, that's gross!" more than a sloppily heaped pile of raw fish.
Have you tried a poke bowl before? What do you think of it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!