Pokey Bowls? Nope, Poke Bowls!
Poke bowls, not pokey bowls, these flavorful fish-based bowls have their roots on the islands of Hawaii. Now that these delicious bowls are gaining in popularity across the mainland and the world, it is not surprising that there is some confusion about how to properly pronounce “poke”.
The word poke is not pronounced like the poke an annoying person on Facebook gives you. It is pronounced “poh-kay” and rhymes with the word “okay”. Don’t make the mistake of pronouncing “poke” like “pokey” it sounds too similar to the Hawaiian word “Popoki” which means cat. You don’t want anyone thinking you have an appetite for raw cat meat, do you? Poke literally translates to “ cut crosswise into pieces”.
Why Would People Say “Pokey Bowls” instead of “Poke”?
It is not uncommon to see misspellings such as “pokey bowls” or “poki bowls” because of the confusion around pronunciation. After all, poke is new to a lot of people. Some people still haven’t even heard about it yet and still consider sushi to be on the fringe of edgy fished-based foods. Additionally, a lot of people simply arent’ exposed to cultural dishes. They may not understand why certain languages exclude letters from their alphabet or why they would pronounce things one way or the other.
Other people might be doing it in a playful way. A way to… pokey fun at it, if you will. If you just enjoy being a total goober and saying things weird because the wordplay brings you joy, trust me, I totally get that. In fact, I frequently say words with a bit of personal touch or flare. I can see why it would be fun to say “pokee” instead of “poke”. It has a playful ring to it. However, for anyone who says it wrong, or just spells it wrong, we’re here to help. It’s time to set the record straight. No, it’s not “pokey bowl” and it’s not pronounced “pokie”. It’s poke, pronounced “poekay”.
Understanding the Origins of Poke
Hawaii – The Poke OGs
Before native Hawaiians had contact with colonizers, they feasted on freshly caught fish that they massaged with sea salt (called paʻakai), dried seaweed, and inamona – a traditional Hawaiian condiment or relish that is made from the roasted kukui nut. This was done as a way to naturally preserve the fish.
Fish, shellfish, and other marine life serve as major sources of protein for the people of Hawaii. According to the Bishop Museum, “the most commonly eaten fish like ʻahi, ʻanae, ʻōpelu, invertebrates like heʻe (octopus), ʻōpae (shrimp), ula (lobster), pāpaʻi (crab), and ʻopihi (limpets),” are used in many dishes, including poke. While birds and hogs were common sources of meat for the Hawaiian people, most of the protein-based foods came from the fish-rich ocean. And even then, fresh raw fish was considered to be a rare treat.
Again, the word poke means “to cut crosswise into pieces” in Hawaiian, so we at least understand why poke is called poke. However, it’s unclear as to where the dish specifically originated. It’s very likely that poke was, at first, simply a way to prepare the raw fish. A way to add a bit of flavor and to spice up the simple protein.
Other Cultural Influencers
Over time, different combinations of seasonings and sauces were likely tried. I’ll bet there was some interesting experimentation going on on a person-by-person basis as well. Finally, with the introduction of other cultures into the Hawaiian islands, it’s likely that poke bowl fusion recipes became more common.
Immigrants from China and Japan also influenced the flavors found in a poke bowl. They introduced flavors that have become emblematic of poke such as soy sauce and sesame oil. It is not uncommon to find all kinds of different takes on poke. Frequently, they’re influenced by the flavors of many cultures. For example, some poke restaurants serve Korean kimchi or Portuguese dried salt cod. Others, like Pola Poke Bowl in Reno, NV offer a poke-fusion; a mix of Hawaiian with traditional American influences and additions.
Poke Chef Sam Choy
Poke bowls weren’t formally named as such until around the 1960s and ’70s. It is thought to have been pioneered by Chef Sam Choy, a respected purveyor of Hawaiian regional cuisine. It is thought that one of the reasons why poke surged in popularity was due to the fact that ahi tuna was becoming more readily available. Additionally, Ahi has a bright pink to dark pink hue. It’s considered a lot more aesthetically pleasing than the meat from reef fish, which tends to take on a grey color. Juicy pink chunks of fresh ahi look a lot more appetizing by comparison.
In 1991`Chef Sam Choy launched his first-ever poke contest, which featured recipes from all around the state of Hawaii. The recipes shared in this contest inspired countless other chefs and home cooks to be inventive with the ingredients and flavors they combined for their poke. In fact, this contest is still held annually in the month of March.
Today poke has evolved to include many innovative ingredients, flavors, and textures. It usually still starts as a very simple dish made from chopped fish such as tuna or salmon. It is then marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil, and mixed with green onion. Mussels, octopus, crab, shrimp, and chicken are other protein options that are commonly found in poke bowl restaurants. For vegetarians, flavorful poke bowls can also be built around tofu.
At Pola Poke Bowls on Plumb Lane in Reno Nevada, we offer many of these options along with a variety of toppings. Some are traditional and some are just our personal flare. We offer fish, chicken, and vegan poke bowl options for people looking for a tasty lunchtime treat in Reno or a filling dinner for the family. Deep-sea crab, ahi, sake, shrimp, and octopus, macadamias, furikake, mangos, pineapple, beets, oranges, a variety of sauces. You get the idea. It’s a dish that’s ripe for experimentation.
So Why Shouldn’t you Pronounce “Poke Bowls” Like “Pokey Bowls”?
While some people may consider poke to be a trend, to the people of Hawaii it is a lifestyle. You will see poke served everywhere from casual family cook-outs to high-end events like weddings. As poke spreads in popularity throughout the world it is important to remember that this is a dish that has a lot of meaning and importance to the Hawaiian people.
Unfortunately, there are some non-Hawaiian-owned, big chain poke restaurants that have come under fire for trying to aggressively trademark words such as “poke” and “aloha”. This has made it harder for family-owned restaurants to thrive. Additionally, it’s been hurtful to people with cultural ties to the Hawaiian islands. Instead of giving your business to big chain restaurants, support small family-owned restaurants that honor the cultural roots and history of this beautiful dish instead.
By educating yourself about the proper pronunciation, spelling, and meaning of poke, you are also helping to foster a culture that respects the contributions of the wonderful cultures that blessed us with this delicious dish. So the next time you hear someone say “pokey bowl” or “pokey bowls”, gently inform them that raw cat meat is not on the menu. You can also share with them some of the interesting meaning and history behind this wonderful culinary masterpiece.
Get Your Fresh Food Fix!
Pola Poke is proud to bring fresh poke, acai bowls, smoothies, and craft coffees to Reno, Nevada! We’re a locally-owned business created and operated by a Reno native. Furthermore, our palate-pleasing sustainably sourced bowls offer the perfect combo of healthy and tasty.
Customize your bowl to kick start your wellness and nutrition for the day. Choose from our menu or make it your own poke bowl with a variety of fresh, delicious ingredients. Our menu offers the perfect selection of healthy lean meats, veggies, and toppings to satisfy every fish-lover. Additionally, we’re the perfect choice for keto and protein-rich diets.
So what are you waiting for? An invitation? Well, here it is! Come join us and see why everyone in Reno is raving about Pola Poke Bowls! And if you’re too busy to come say hi, we also offer online ordering for your convenience. What more could you ask for?
Enjoy Fresh Poke in Reno
Pola Poke Bowls
3594 W. Plumb Lane Ste A
Reno, NV 89509