Food: Hooked on Hawaiian fish salad

The Aloha Poke bowl from cafe Rollie Olie.
The Aloha Poke bowl from cafe Rollie Olie. PHOTO: ROLLIE OLIE
The owners of Aloha Poke (from left) Lee Yue Xian, John Chen and Selene Ong love the raw fish dish so much they set up a cafe selling it.
The owners of Aloha Poke (from left) Lee Yue Xian, John Chen and Selene Ong love the raw fish dish so much they set up a cafe selling it. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG
Poke served in a tortilla-chip bowl at Lokkee. The owners of Aloha Poke (from left) Lee Yue Xian, John Chen and Selene Ong love the raw fish dish so much they set up a cafe selling it. Dapper Coffee owner Christine Seah caramelising the egg yolk in t
Dapper Coffee owner Christine Seah caramelising the egg yolk in the poke. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Poke served in a tortilla-chip bowl at Lokkee.
Poke served in a tortilla-chip bowl at Lokkee. PHOTO: LOKKEE

Poke, a dish of raw fish marinated in Japanese soya sauce, is catching on here

While on holiday in Hawaii in September last year, financial markets dealer John Chen, 36, had a taste of poke (pronounced poke-ay), a raw fish dish that is common there.

His wife, Ms Lee Yue Xian, and their friend, Ms Selene Ong, both 33, also tried it and the three of them fell in love with the dish.

When they craved poke after returning home, they tried recreating the dish, jazzing it up with sauces such as wasabi mayonnaise.

Then, they decided to set up a cafe focusing on poke. Aloha Poke (92 Amoy Street, tel: 6221-6565, alohapoke.com.sg) opened last month.

Mr Chen says: "Poke is tasty on its own, but it can also be served with salad and rice and we thought it was a dish that could work here."

Mr Chen adds that it helps that Singaporeans are familiar with the taste of raw fish.

They still hold full-time jobs; Ms Lee and Ms Ong also work in the banking industry.

Poke, which means "to slice or cut" in Hawaiian, typically consists of cubes of raw ahi tuna marinated with shoyu (Japanese soya sauce) and sesame sauce and topped with spring onions, onions and sesame seeds.

The streetside staple, which is usually accompanied by rice and greens, has Japanese influences from the huge Japanese population in Hawaii.

Aloha Poke offers two other flavours of poke - diced raw salmon and tuna slathered with wasabi mayonnaise, and chilli sauce with oil.

A poke bowl starts from $11.90 and diners can choose from 15 toppings such as edamame, flying fish roe and dried grapes as well as chia seeds and pomegranate.

The shop sells about 100 servings of poke daily, using about 12kg of sashimi-grade fish.

There are at least three other eateries here - cafes Rollie Olie and Dapper Coffee as well as Chinese restaurant Lokkee - which have been serving poke over the past six months.

Rollie Olie (02-05 Star Vista, 1 Vista Exchange Green, tel: 8188-1525, www.rollieolie.com) sells mainly sushi rice rolls, but sales of its poke bowls (from $11.95) have been growing steadily over the past six months and account for 20 per cent of its business.

The 24-seat cafe is selling poke bowls in flavours such as yuzu and gochujang (Korean chilli sauce) for a limited period of time.

It will expand its poke bowl offerings to seven flavours later this month, when its second outlet in Suntec City opens.

Co-owner Ivan Chuang, 50, who also owns a seafood distribution company, says the interesting combinations of ingredients in its poke bowls are appealing.

On the popularity of poke here, he says: "Diners here are familiar with fusion food and it helps that poke is served with healthy ingredients such as vegetables and nuts."

Contemporary Chinese restaurant Lokkee (03-01 Plaza Singapura, 68 Orchard Road, tel: 6884-4566, lokkee.com.sg), too, serves poke with a twist.

Its Poke Salad ($16) has cubes of tuna, salmon and avocado tossed in wasabi-infused soya sauce and is served in a tortilla -chip bowl.

Its general manager, Mr Norman Hartono, 27, was inspired by how poke was served at eateries in California when he studied there.

Jumping on the poke bandwagon too is Dapper Coffee (73A Amoy Street, second floor, www.facebook.com/DapperCoffee), which introduced a Poke-don ($22) to its lunch menu last month. Owner Christine Seah, 24, who lived in Hawaii as a teenager, counts poke as her favourite street food there, and here, she serves tuna poke on squid ink-infused sushi rice topped with a caramelised egg yolk.

She says: "Adding an egg yolk, makes the dish Instagram-friendly as well."

Diners see poke as a refreshing fish-centric salad option.

Events manager Tara King, 37, who tried the poke bowl at Aloha Poke, says: "It has an interesting mix of flavours."

Mr Adam Ng, 35, a finance portfolio manager, says: "It feels like having a salad with an additional serving of sashimi and it helps that it looks attractive."

Architect Suling Roth, 37, who comes from Hawaii, has eaten the poke bowls at Rollie Olie more than 10 times.

She says: "The poke here tastes slightly different. It lacks the limu seaweed found in the versions in Hawaii and could be saltier too."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 01, 2015, with the headline 'Hooked on Hawaiian fish salad'. Print Edition | Subscribe