In its most basic and traditional form, poke (pronounced ‘poh-kay’) is a raw fish salad. It is believed that the earliest origins of the dish date back to pre-western contact in Hawaii. The original poke was likely made from scraps of fish mixed with local seasonings such as sea salt and crushed kukui nuts. After Captain Cook’s discovery of Hawaii and the resulting influx of missionaries, western ingredients such as onion and peppers made their way into recipes. Eventually, Asian immigrants brought their particular tastes and ingredients with them, and as such soy sauce and sesame oil became common additions.
While the dish itself dates back to Hawaii’s early days, it is unknown if it was actually called poke at that time. In fact, the name may only date back to the late 1960s or early 1970s. During this time period, poke started to become commercially available and grew in popularity. Today, you can find poke in most Hawaiian grocery stores as well as restaurants. In recent years poke has spread to the mainland and is available in several trendy restaurants from California to New York. The trend has resulted in even more innovations in poke recipes and now you can find poke that contains cooked (rather than raw) fish, as well as vegetarian versions with tofu or vegetables.
Traditionally, a chopped raw fish salad seasoned with sea salt, kukui nuts, and other ingredients such as sesame oil, soy sauce, onions, and peppers.
Ingredients vary widely across recipes but fish, sesame oil, soy sauce, onion, and sea salt are traditional.