MANILA – Poke bowls are definitely among the biggest food trends in the country today, as seen in the many restaurants serving this Hawaiian dish.
A poke bowl consists of cubed marinated raw fish on top of steamed white rice. It usually uses ahi tuna in a soy sauce-based marinade, but is also available in salmon and tofu varieties.
This dish has evolved drastically in recent years, even in Hawaii. New restaurants are using different ingredients and adding new components to the poke bowl, giving people more options. Some include the ever-so-trendy avocado, while others use quinoa instead of rice, making it irresistible to health buffs.
In the Philippines, the poke bowl craze was started by Poke Poke, which opened late last year. Restaurateurs Speedy and Alta Lyttle partnered with chef Kel Zaguirre to develop a menu and introduce Filipinos to the world of poke bowls.
Not even a year after opening, the brand already has four branches. Recently, Poke Poke opened its fourth branch at the Atrium of SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City.
“It’s definitely exciting and a bit overwhelming to have opened four branches in less than a year. We’re very glad to be well-received by foodies and health aficionados and we look forward to extending our brand to other parts of the country,” said Alta.
Poke Poke has been received so well that it was awarded Best New Restaurant in The Choice Awards, which is organized by Our Awesome Planet, World Food Expo, and a group of food bloggers. It gives out a survey to Filipino food enthusiasts so they can choose their favorite restaurants in various categories.
“When we won the award, we got a lot of praises and congratulations which inspired us to do more, especially because it’s the first homegrown concept to win that award,” explained Zaguirre, who is also behind the popular Filipino restaurant Locavore.
FILIPINO-INSPIRED POKE BOWLS
Poke Poke has developed dishes with the Filipino palate in mind – a step up from the original Hawaiian raw fish dish, which Zaguirre described as “one-dimensional and straightforward.”
“We added more pops of flavor, different components, and textures. That’s what makes the Filipino taste different. It needs to be flavorful,” he said.
At Poke Poke, customers can create their own bowls by choosing the base (rice, quinoa, mixed greens, etc.), toppings, and sauces.
They can also order signature bowls like the Samurai (fresh tuna and vegetables with a generous drizzle of creamy spicy sauce and topped with fish roe) or the Cali (white rice topped with kani and mango, basically a deconstructed California roll).
For those who don’t like raw fish, Poke Poke also serves cooked meat and seafood. An example of this is For the Rich Only, which has beef, vegetables, bacon bits, and a creamy sauce, topped with fish roe and soft boiled egg.
The Spam Musubi bowl is also a must-try – Spam slices with rice wrapped in nori are rolled in panko bread crumbs then fried to a crisp, and served on a bed of mixed greens.
“We’re really trying to expand so that there’s another healthier alternative to eating good food. Instead of eating salad, you can eat poke,” Zaguirre said.
“That’s why we decided to keep on opening, to educate people that poke is really good. It’s suited for the Filipino palate, and it’s healthy,” he added.
Poke Poke has branches at SM Megamall, SM Aura in Taguig City, Estancia Mall in Pasig, and Greenhills in San Juan City.