Posts Tagged ‘home made poke’

Poke Paradise – Experiencing the Best Poke Around Hawaii – Part III

March 1, 2010
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

Following Part I of this Poke Paradise series, I received an invitation from a Mr. Jed Inouye to come and spend the day with him. In my article, I had mentioned that I was planning on covering the poke from Sam’s Club in a future article and Jed wanted to make sure that I got the inside scoops. You see, Jed is the president of Seafood Hawaii, Inc., a 100% local company who, for all intents and purposes, supplies and runs the seafood departments at both Sam’s Club locations in Hawaii.

The problem with Jed is that he is painfully humble. Shy even. He refused to be filmed at all during the day and wanted the focus to instead be on the process and educating me on the ins and outs of it. He constantly wanted to divert the attention away from himself and towards his partner and employees, repeating his mantra for the day, “It’s not a me thing, but a we thing.”

This is normally where I’d embed my Youtube interview, but this was an unconventional interview with an unconventional guy. So instead, here’s a pictorial glimpse of our “day in the life” activities, starting from the shores of the United Fishing Agency fish auction at Pier 38, to the display case at Sam’s Club.

As described by Jed, the action all starts at the boat.

Boat unloading their catch [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Boat unloading their catch [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

“This fish hole [image above] is well insulated yeah, so it’s all packed in ice. Time and temperature is really important. The fishermen come in and unload their catch into carts.”

Loading their fish into the cart [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Loading their fish into the cart [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

“Nobody’s throwing anything around. Everything is handled with care. Taking care of the fish is real important. Not to bounce it around… It all starts from the fishing. If it starts right on boat, it ends right on plate.”

Every day is different. You have your slow days and you have days like this day when the bounty was quite plentiful. 85,000 pounds from 6 boats to be exact.

Ahi loaded up in cart [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Ahi loaded up in cart [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

Once the cart is loaded up, the fish is taken to the receiving area where they are scaled, weighed and tagged, before hitting the auction floor.

Auction floor at the United Fishing Agency fish auction [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Auction floor at the United Fishing Agency fish auction [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

“The facility is HACCP managed by the federal government,” says Inouye. “Food safety is of the upmost importance. Core temperature must be below 40 degrees. The longer the fish is out of ice, you get temperature fluctuations, especially when it’s over 40 degrees, it’s no good. You don’t want that to happen. You want to be below 40 degrees all the time. If you noticed, it’s all ice. Ice is 32 degrees.”

Fish is kept under ice to ensure that its core temperature is always below 40 degrees
Fish is kept under ice to ensure that its core temperature is always below 40 degrees

“That’s what’s good about buying the fish here in Hawaii vs. other places. You know, you don’t know where the fish has been, if it’s been out of temp. We try to simulate the bin of the boat because that’s how the fish is best kept: in the hole of the boat. In here, we put it in bins and we ice it again.”

We were then allowed to go into a room at the far end of the auction where boatloads (literally) of swordfish were being stored until they were ready to be shipped away.

Lineup of swordfish, ready to be shipped away [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Lineup of swordfish, ready to be shipped away [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

“I used to send a lot of fish away, but I decided I just wanna take care of the local people. The difference is that there’s no middle man for us. We go right from boat to the troat (throat). Taking care of the customer is essential. By doing this, there’s a lot of value, so we can offer it at a cheaper price so everyone can afford it.”

After the fish is auctioned off…

In the middle of an auction
In the middle of an auction

… it heads straight outside to be loaded into the various refrigerated delivery trucks.

Refrigerated delivery trucks receive the fish that was just purchased [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Refrigerated delivery trucks receive the fish that was just purchased [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

“This is a really good way of taking care of the fish,” says Inouye. “Again, they go ahead and, after they buy it, they put it in bins, and re-ice it. Because it simulates the hole again, because you have ice right around the fish. The temperatures don’t change. You’re keeping the temperature constant.”

Fish kept under ice in delivery bins [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Fish kept under ice in delivery bins [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

Like a scene out of “A Night at the Roxbury”, Jed then said it was time to head to “the club.” So we loaded up Jed’s truck with the fish he just purchased from the auction and headed to the Honolulu Sam’s Club location. On the ride down, he opened up.

“You gotta be real passionate about this job or you’re not gonna be able to last. Over the years, 7 days a week. So every day I pretty much do the same thing. My routine yeah. Nothing fancy. I like driving the truck [even though he’s the president of the company] because I’ve always been with the fish so I know it’s fresh. I enjoy this. I really enjoy this. The fish part, the work part, I really enjoy this.”

Then I asked him about his thoughts on poke.

“Poke is something for the imagination. People in Hawaii, they do a good job with poke. It’s just your preference. For us, we have to make sure that the product you start off with is a good product. Once you start off with that… and if you buy the fish in Hawaii, ahhh, can’t get bettah than that. Look, we going to the market now already. I mean fish came off the boat, 5:30 they selling um, it’s 8:30… three hours! How you goin’ beat that?”

“From here, we go to the club. When you hit the club, I mean there’s not much time change. So quality wise, you know. You saw the fish from the boat, it was purchased, went into the bin, all ice, BANG, right to the club. From there, we cut it.”

Preparing the fish for display
Preparing the fish for display

“When you take a look at the way we do things, you’re gonna understand where the ‘we’ comes from. Our people do a lot of work. They do a good job. They spend a lot of time, they wake up early in the morning. It’s a whole team. A lot of our workers make it what it is. I got my brother (Gerald aka ‘Lucky’), my partner (Arick Yanagihara), my employees. That’s why, keep the video off of me because we get plenny good, really good people. It’s a ‘we’ thing, not a ‘me’ thing. Everybody works hard, so they’re the stars, not me.”

Mike is a professional sashimi cutter with 20+ years of experience [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Mike is a professional sashimi cutter with 20+ years of experience [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

Theresa, an employee of 14 years [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Theresa, an employee of 14 years [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

Julie, an employee of 20 combined years [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Julie, an employee of 20 combined years [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

“The product that you put out should represent the people behind it. If you put out a good product the sales should be reflective. But again, food safety and value. Those two things are KEY.”

Imitation Crab Meat Masago ($4.37/lb), White Crab previously frozen ($6.87/lb), and 50/60 shrimp [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Imitation Crab Meat Masago ($4.37/lb), White Crab previously frozen ($6.87/lb), and 50/60 shrimp [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

“The main message is the fish. If the fish is of good quality, that’s what makes everything. It’s the fish.”

Fresh ahi poke - all under $9/lb [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Fresh ahi poke – all under $9/lb [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

“The customer is your boss. No matter what, the customer is your boss. What they say goes. That’s the one that you have to take care of all the time. You have to please your customer, no matter what. As long as they keep coming back, you know you’re doing something right.”

I asked him how he keeps his prices so low.

“For the average person, when the price of the fish gets too high, they cannot afford it. There are times when we do lose money. The main thing is that we want to make sure that the consumer knows that we’re consistent and that we’ll take care of them. I guess that’s the message that really we try to push: We wanna take care of the local people. For our company anyway, we wanna take care of the local people.”

Jed Inouye, employees Julie and Theresa, and general partner Arick Yanagihara [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Jed Inouye, employees Julie and Theresa, and general partner Arick Yanagihara [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

Wow. If that didn’t make you shed a tear, I don’t know what will. 😉 At the very least, it should make you want to join Sam’s Club and visit/support them. Jed Inouye and his Seafood Hawaii, Inc. family exemplifies the true meaning of what a giving, local company should be. And although he will humbly deny it to no end, this truck driving President truly is the star.

Sam’s Club – Honolulu
750 Keeaumoku St,
Honolulu, HI 96814 (map)
(808) 945-9841
Mon-Fri: 10am-8:30pm, Sat: 9am-8:30pm, Sun: 10am-6pm

Sam’s Club – Pearl Highlands
1000 Kamehameha Hwy 100,
Pearl City, HI 96782 (map)
(808) 456-7788
Mon-Fri: 10am-8:30pm, Sat: 9am-8:30pm, Sun: 10am-6pm

During my tour of the fish auction with Jed, I was introduced to Brooks Takenaka, the manager of the United Fishing Agency, the company behind the auction. I sat down with Brooks to get more info on his company and the history behind the fish auction.

Brooks Takenaka – United Fishing Agency

An Interview with Brooks Takenaka – Part I

[Edward Sugimoto] Describe a little bit about your history with fish in the islands. You know, hana battah kid time?

[Brooks Takenaka] Well basically I was born and raised in a fisherman’s family. So my grandfather was a longline fisherman. My father and my uncles were fishermen as well. And until we were born, my father basically stayed on the boat, they stayed fishing. So I come from a fishing family, commercial longline fishing family, and, as a kid, I was always interested in fish, and I could tell you the scientific names of fish, the common names and all that. I used to raise some fish. They didn’t want me to go into fishing. So I had done all the trolling and diving, all kinds of different forms of fishing and all of that, and they didn’t want me to go into fishing, so I pursued a career in Marine Biology. I studied Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii. Then I did some research with the Oceanic Institute. Well, Coconut Island, worked out of Coconut Island, in the university system. And then I worked out at Oceanic Institute, and then I worked for the Sea Grant Program for a bout 3 and a half years and that’s when I came to appreciate education and outreach. So I was working for those guys and then the industry was going through some changes and they made me an offer and so I came back into the industry and have been here ever since. I’ve been here for about 30 years now with the United Fishing Agency.

[Edward Sugimoto] To those who don’t know, explain who exactly the United Fishing Agency is and its role is in the fish auction?

United Fishing Agency sign
United Fishing Agency sign

[Brooks Takenaka] Well, the United Fishing Agency is the fish auction, and basically, it’s a company that was put together many many many years ago, decades ago actually [incorporated in 1952]. And the whole idea, which is really a beautiful one, was put together by the senior Otani [Matsujiro Otani], and then basically it was a matter of bringing together wholesalers and fishermen to form an organization that basically put together a program that brought together the daily fish demand with the fish supply. And so back then, it was a far more expansive reality in terms of the type of species because you had reef fish, deep sea bottom fish, as well as open ocean pelagic fish. Maybe not in these kinds of numbers that you have today, but back then, when I was a kid, I remember going to the auction and there was a lot of reef fish. Trapping, netting, diving… all kinds of reef fish, and then there was a few bottom fish, and longline. Certainly the situation now is different in that the reef fish is pretty much sold as a different entity. They have their own market, and we don’t get involved with the reef fish anymore. But we do sell the deep sea bottom fish and the longline stuff, the um, pelagic stuff. So how the auction works basically is that when these fishermen provision up to go out fishing, the purveyors they buy their products from – the food, the fuel, the water… those purveyors would send their billing here to United Fishing Agency. These fishermen go out fishing, they come back, first up on the dock, first up on the floor. And every day, six days a week, the list of boats is listed on the board there. There is a phone service that people can call in to find out you know what we’ve got, how much they’ve got. So then we basically put up their fish, we unload their fish and put up their fish. All of every boat’s fish is color coded, and we sell one boat’s fish at a time. So we start off with the bigeye tuna, which is the target species of this fleet, and then with the yellowfin, and then the different tuna species, like your albacore or tombo, and then your skipjack or aku, and sometimes some kawa kawa. But longline not so much kawa kawa. Then um, your marlins, then your mahimahi, ono, other species like that: monchong, walu, opah. One of the good things about the Hawaii fleet is that historically, they’ve always brought back all the species they catch, with the exception of the blue fish, the blue shark, they bring back everything. And the nice thing about the Hawaii situation is that there’s a fond appreciation for all the species, so we don’t waste any of these species at all. And with the cultural diversity that we have, there’s so many different ways of preparing these fish, that you know people have a good appreciation for all these species. So that’s basically how it works. In terms of how we get paid, we take 10% off the gross sales for our payment. Basically that’s how it works.

[Edward Sugimoto] I read somewhere that this market is based off of the Tsukiji market (in Japan) in a little sense. Is that the true?

[Brooks Takenaka] Not in a little sense. Very very much so. We’re actually a very junior version of Tsukiji. It’s based after the traditional Japanese method of auction selling fish.

[Edward Sugimoto] You were kinda briefly walking us through the process. Can you in a little more detail (explain the process), how it comes off the boat, you do the scaling, you do the weighing and all of that?

[Brooks Takenaka] Yeah. How it all works is basically, when they come home, we unload the boats. If you go outside and take a look at some of the carts, the carts were built… Actually, prior to coming, moving to this facility, we were over in Kewalo, and what we used to do is we used to send trucks out to go pick up the fish at the various piers. Since moving here, the accommodations are great because we unload the boats right here. So it’s much more timely and the freshness and quality are significantly better. So it’s a far better facility. And basically how it works is these boats come home and we have an answering service, so first in, first up, and the answering service lets us know who’s first, second, third and all this. So, in order for us to start the auction at 5:30 (AM), my guys come in at 1 o’clock. They call the answering service, they figure out who’s first, then they just start unloading the boats. Those carts that we have now to unload the boats basically represent the same size of the truck bed that we used to go pick up fish with. And one of the reasons why we did that was because we have a good idea of about how many pounds are in each truckload. So that way, it’s another form of checks and balance(s). So that, we built the carts to be the same size, and about the same amount of fish, so we know there’s about 3,000 pounds of fish in that cart. Around there, yeah, depending on the species and sizes. So then, the boat unloads the fish into the carts. Those carts then are moved over to the facility, and then you see the weighing area where we stage it all out, and then the fish gets weighed and then tagged. And then you have a weight tag as well as a bar code and on the bar code, you have the information of the boat, the date, all this kind, what kind of species, how many pieces, that sort of thing. Then those fish are lined up, like I said, bigeye, big to small, yellowfins big to small, and then the others by catch species. And, that’s basically how we started. At 5:30, the bell rings, and off they go. What we do with the tunas however, is that you’ll notice that we do a tail cut, wedge cut, and then we’ll do an anterior coring. So basically, that’s all on each fish, each tuna in particular. And so the buyer has a good profile of what that fish is in terms of quality. And that facilitates and expedites their bidding on the fish. So that’s how it works.

The tail cut, wedge cut, and anterior coring shows buyer the quality of the fish [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
The tail cut, wedge cut, and anterior coring shows buyer the quality of the fish [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

[Edward Sugimoto] What do they kind of look for: bloodline?

[Brooks Takenaka] Well, what they’re looking for is freshness and quality, also relative to their client base. OK, so in other words, they have a good feel for their client base and then they’re bidding on fish that basically services their clientele. And so you have companies in there that play the whole gamut in terms of quality and range and prices, and you have those that are more of a niche market type of situation. And so, what’s interesting is that you have a whole different approach by different people in terms of how they’re buying, what they’re buying, how much they’re willing to spend, depending on what kind of client base they have. So some of these companies do send fish to the mainland. They work with people on the mainland, they’ll send fish to the mainland. Others will send… they’re even marketing in Vancouver. On occasion, you’ll hear comments about some of these fish maybe going to Japan. Not as much as before because what’s happened is that the world has come to appreciate sashimi and sushi and raw fish a bit more than it has in the past, and so what’s happening is there… and people are beginning to appreciate the value, and so, there are more people that are buying tuna today as compared to before. So not as much ends up in the Japanese market. A lot of it does go to the mainland United States. Canada. Vancouver’s a very strong market. So the rest of the world has figured out what’s happening with fish and that’s part of the reason why we’re talking this sustainability today. So that’s why we talk about those kind of issues today.

An Interview with Brooks Takenaka – Part II

[Edward Sugimoto] What kind of famous chefs/people come through here that you rub elbows with?

[Brooks Takenaka] Oh jeez. You name um, we’ve had um. Aw cheez, we’ve had Nobu (Matsuhisa), we’ve had Iron Chef (Masaharu Morimoto), we’ve had Paul Prudhomme, Ming Tsai, Chan Can (Martin Yan?). We’ve had a number. Of course and then there’s people like Chef Mavro (George Mavrothalassitis) and Alan Wong and Roy (Yamaguchi) and D.K.’s (David “D.K.” Kodama), you know, those people. And we also have a fair amount of visiting chefs from around the world and the country. So, far more than I can name. In fact we’ve also done tours for a lot of associations like nutritionists and people like that. I teach the coast guard… actually I also teach culinary classes, marine biology, oceanography classes, and I teach the coast guard.

[Edward Sugimoto] So your (Marine Biology) education comes in handy then?

[Brooks Takenaka] Yes, very much so. That was the purpose of it all. We have an incredible industry, but I think the industry was remiss for a long time because they pretty much did their own thing and kept to themselves. And then, in the meantime, what’s happened is that of course there’s interest that has just generated with respect to issues like sustainability and all this. And so we felt that it was important for us as an industry to get this message out, get some information out. And that’s the reason why we started the program that we have. So the program that we have now is called the Hawaii Seafood Council. It’s a non-profit organization, and we’ve set that up to develop the educational programs and materials to assist the industry.

[Edward Sugimoto] In terms of poke, what’s your favorite type?

[Brooks Takenaka] It all depends on what kind of fish there is and what kind of ingredients there are and what I’m jonesin’ for. I love aku poke and I happen to also love a lot of limus like waiwaihole and limu kohu, and lipoa, as well as the ogo. Actually the ogo to me doesn’t have that much taste. Lipoa, which is a really stinky one, is to me a real good limu to use for poke, but most people cannot eat that because of the strength. It’s kinda strong. So in terms of poke again, there’s so many different ways of preparing it, and in reality you can use all kinds of fish to do this. So it really becomes a matter of how you want to prepare it, what you want to prepare. But for me, I like aku poke. I like ahi poke, marlin poke (either nairagi, kajiki), and then, there’s also, you know again, like I said, poke is really a matter of imagination. You can do all kinds of things with that. Lobster poke is ono, you know, opihi poke is ono, so it depends. Crab, you can make crab poke, you know raw crab, stuff like that.

[Edward Sugimoto] It must be pretty hard to please you though since you’re so used to the freshness here?

[Brooks Takenaka] Well yeah, I’m a stickler for quality. And so, if you know of like say Take’s Fish Market in Moiliili, that’s the kind of place my wife will buy sashimi. I mean you know it could cost us $60-$80 for a pound and a half or two pounds you know, but it’s worth it. So here, again, it depends on what you’re used to. And since I was born and raised with fish, I’ve eaten parts of fish that most people don’t even consider. So again, my appreciation with fish is far greater or different than most. Like I said today, when I was a kid, I remember eating parts of fish that nobody else would eat. That was poor man’s food. Today, because of health, people are looking into other parts of the fish too, so we’re finally getting to… it’s gone 180. I mean now people are beginning to appreciate some of the other parts of the fish too. So I would venture to guess that anybody learning how to eat fish from people in Hawaii, they really learn how to eat fish. Hawaii people know how to eat fish.

[Edward Sugimoto] Speaking of kinda “stranger” pieces of the fish, the abura mi, the fatty parts, that’s of more value as opposed to the (aka mi)…

[Brooks Takenaka] Yeah well, you know, as the chefs say, the fat is where the flavor is. And so, in this case, one of the things that we teach the culinary kids of course is that the difference between the aka mi, or red meat, and the abura, or fatty fish vs. non-fatty fish, that doesn’t mean that the non-fatty fish is no good. In fact, some of these non-fatty fish can be nice enough that it can go 7, 8, 9, 10, 12 dollars a pound. But, if that same fish had some fat in it, it can probably go dollar, two dollars more a pound. And there is a significant difference even from species to species, there’s difference in terms of. So recently, I shared some fatty yellowfin and some fatty bigeye with Chef Mavro and Alan Wong, and they noticed the difference, the significant difference between the two species. Different kind of flavor, different kind of intensity in terms of the fat. So there’s a lot of things we can do, to share with the public in terms of understanding about quality and appreciation for quality.

Ahi, freshly cut on the auction floor [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]
Ahi, freshly cut on the auction floor [Photo Credit: Arthur Betts]

[Edward Sugimoto] What’s in store for the United Fishing Agency?

[Brooks Takenaka] Well, I hope that we can work our way through some of the issues that we have to deal with in terms of the sustainability issues, and protecting species like turtles and birds and things like that. We certainly, you know the United Fishing Agency has been around since 1952, and I certainly hope that in history, we continue to succeed and can move forward you know, for the next generation. And I hope that we can continue to be innovative and stay ahead of the curve in terms of doing things the right way for the right reasons, and being able to continue to supply fish for our people because I think it’s a very significant part of our culture as well as lifestyle. And seafood of course, fresh seafood is, I think very very healthful. And so from that perspective alone, I certainly would like to continue to be able to provide good, healthy fish for the public. And, if you think about it, like I ask people think about this: what is the only form of food today that has no chemical additives in it? Wild fish, right? And you have concerns like bird flu, swine flu, all this other kind of stuff, but, you ever heard of fish flu? No. So the demand for fish, the concern for protecting the resource is important and we need to continue to do things to protect that resource. But, the thing is, I think people can also realize… learn and realize that some efforts are in fact being done the right way for the right reasons and I think the Hawaii effort is indeed one of those exemplary efforts. So I think if the rest of the world were to in fact conduct their fishing like we do here, then we may not have the kind of concerns that we have for the resources and stuff, so it would be better for the resources.

[Edward Sugimoto] And your auction is open to the public. Is there anything else you want to mention?

[Brooks Takenaka] Yeah, it’s open to the public, but we gotta be careful about how many people we get over here. That’s one of the things that again, we do these kinds of interviews, and I’ve got a few others to do within the next couple of weeks, but again, I do this with a grain of salt because the thing is, on one hand, we want people to know about our industry, but I also have a business to run and I gotta be careful about my time. But I mean people are welcome to come. It is open to the public.

[Edward Sugimoto] OK, thank you very much!

[Brooks Takenaka] You’re very welcome.

For more information on the Hawaii Seafood Council and what Brooks folks are doing for the seafood community, please visit: http://www.hawaii-seafood.org.

Since we’ve already covered Sam’s Club, let’s turn this one into a “supermarket kine poke” piece and take a virtual stroll through some of the others doing poke here in the islands shall we?

Costco Poke

One of my favorites from Costco is their Japan Clam Poke, which, according to the label, contains: Japan clam meat, alae salt, chili pepper flakes, green onions, sliced sweet onion, and sesame seed oil.

Japan Clam Poke - Japan clam meat, alae salt, chili pepper flakes, green onions, sliced sweet onion, and sesame seed oil ($11.99/lb)
Japan Clam Poke – Japan clam meat, alae salt, chili pepper flakes, green onions, sliced sweet onion, and sesame seed oil ($11.99/lb)

I haven’t seen it in some time though, but I’m hoping and praying that it’s a “seasonal” thing as opposed to a “discontinued” thing. :

Other good ones include their Fresh Ahi Limu Poke,

Fresh Ahi Limu Poke - ($12.99/lb)
Fresh Ahi Limu Poke – ($12.99/lb)

their Fresh Ahi Shoyu Poke,

Fresh Ahi Shoyu Poke - ($11.99/lb)
Fresh Ahi Shoyu Poke – ($11.99/lb)

and their Garlic Shrimp Poke.

Garlic Shrimp Poke - ($9.99/lb)
Garlic Shrimp Poke – ($9.99/lb)

Costco
(Many locations)

Safeway Poke

I have a soft spot in my heart for Safeway ’cause they be my peeps. They were the ones to give me my first part-time gig during high school daze, where I eventually moved up to the “Fish Cutter” position in the seafood department. This is where I experienced my first taste (literally) of the art of poke making.

Back then, there was no such thing as “spicy tuna” (as it’s known today), and some of the other “fancy” kine styles like wasabi, furikake, avocado, etc. My bread and butter was the ahi limu poke. A batch I recently picked up, though previously frozen, tasted eerily similar to the one I used to make.

(Previously Frozen) Ahi Limu Poke ($7.99/lb)
(Previously Frozen) Ahi Limu Poke ($7.99/lb)

If it’s available, and you can at all help it (and can afford it), my recommendation is to always go for the “fresh” version. There’s a HUGE difference in taste, texture and quality. Not to mention that a lot of times, places will treat/preserve their fish with carbon monoxide in order to “promote color retention” (keeps their fish looking red or from turning brown). Any time you can eat poke naturally (or any food for that matter) and avoid the chemicals, I advise it. Unfortunately, on this occasion, Safeway (and some of those below) didn’t have many fresh options.

Next to the Ahi Limu Poke, wifey particularly enjoyed the Ahi Poke Furikake from Safeway.

(Previously Frozen) Ahi Poke Furikake ($7.99/lb)
(Previously Frozen) Ahi Poke Furikake ($7.99/lb)

The current Fish Cutter told us that these next two batches were new, so we gave them a whirl. The Hot Ahi Poke (made with Sriracha sauce)…

(Previously Frozen) Hot Ahi Poke ($7.99/lb)
(Previously Frozen) Hot Ahi Poke ($7.99/lb)

… and the Ahi Wasabi Poke.

(Previously Frozen) Ahi Wasabi Poke ($7.99/lb)
(Previously Frozen) Ahi Wasabi Poke ($7.99/lb)

In the mood for some octopus, we rounded out our visit to Safeway with their popular Kim Chee Tako Poke.

Kim Chee Tako Poke
Kim Chee Tako Poke

Safeway
(Many locations)

Foodland Poke

I have to be perfectly honest. I’ve never been a fan of Foodland’s poke, though I do strangely enjoy some of Sack N Save’s versions on the neighbor islands. It could’ve been the taste/flavoring, the fish itself, the fact that I worked at Safeway (Ha!), or perhaps that I’ve just been unlucky whenever I ordered from there. To be fair, I picked up 4 types of their previously frozen styles: their Spicy Ahi…

(Previously Frozen) Spicy Ahi Poke ($7.99/lb)
(Previously Frozen) Spicy Ahi Poke ($7.99/lb)

… their Ahi Limu…

(Previously Frozen) Ahi Limu Poke ($7.99/lb)
(Previously Frozen) Ahi Limu Poke ($7.99/lb)

… their Ahi Shoyu…

(Previously Frozen) Ahi Shoyu Poke ($7.99/lb)
(Previously Frozen) Ahi Shoyu Poke ($7.99/lb)

… and their new Ahi & Avocado Poke.

(Previously Frozen) Ahi & Avocado Poke ($7.99/lb)
(Previously Frozen) Ahi & Avocado Poke ($7.99/lb)

They also had signage speaking of the carbon monoxide preservation methods, but interestingly enough, they also mentioned this: “From Philippines.” Not quite sure why, but perhaps because it is not local to Hawaii?

If anyone from Foodland wants to fill us in, complete the feedback form on the right and I’ll put your statement in here for ya.

Foodland
(Many locations)

Poke from TKS in Honokaa, Hawaii

To make sure I cover those doing poke well on the neighbor islands, I flew over to Hilo to visit my friend Dave. We found time to hit up KTA and Sack N Save, as well as the T Kaneshiro Store or TKS in “nearby” Honokaa.

T Kaneshiro Store (TKS) in Honokaa, Hawaii
T Kaneshiro Store (TKS) in Honokaa, Hawaii

As with many mom and pop type groceries like this, they didn’t have a dedicated seafood department, but they did provide a handful of poke options in their refrigerated section, including Ahi Poke – Korean Style, Ahi Poke with Sesame Oil, and Ahi Shoyu Poke.

Ahi Shoyu Poke
Ahi Shoyu Poke

T Kaneshiro Store
45-5002 Lehua Street
Honokaa, HI 96727
(808) 775-0631

Poke from KTA Super Stores – Hilo

There are two KTA locations in Hilo: on Keawe street and Puainako Stree, but we made sure to hit up the significantly larger Puainako locale.

KTA Punainako
KTA Punainako

Woah. In order to match the sheer size of their store (I’m guessing), the size of their seafood department is equally enormous!

Bruddah Dave checking out the wide range of goodies
Bruddah Dave checking out the wide range of goodies

Their selection included such items as Tako Miso, Tako Hawaiian, Tako Kim Chee with Cucumber, Tako Shoyu, Tako Sesame, Spicy Tako, Marlin (Au) Korean, Marlin Nori, Marlin Low Salt Shoyu, Marlin Shoyu, Ahi Korean, Ahi Nori, Spicy Ahi, Ahi Hawaiian, Ahi Shoyu, Kim Chee Soybeans, Crab Poke, Shoyu Clams, Nori Tofu, Mussel Poke, Shoyu Hokkigai (Surf Clam), Pipi Kaula, Kim Chee Shrimp, etc.

Numerous poke choices at KTA
Numerous poke choices at KTA

I know it’s hard to tell (based on the amateur panoramic photo attempt above), but take my word for it, they had CHOKE options. 🙂

We sampled the Ahi Shoyu and Ahi Korean options (BTW, they weren’t labeled, but they tasted of the pre-frozen variety).

Ahi Korean Poke (left/top) and Ahi Shoyu Poke (right/bottom) and from KTA ($7.99/lb each)
Ahi Korean Poke (left/top) and Ahi Shoyu Poke (right/bottom) and from KTA ($7.99/lb each)

KTA Super Stores
(Many locations)

Sack N Save Poke

And finally, we hit up the Kinoole Street Sack N Save location in Hilo.

Kinoole Street Sack N Save in Hilo
Kinoole Street Sack N Save in Hilo

They had a pretty reasonably sized selection that included Ahi Hawaiian Style, Ahi Shoyu, Ahi Sesame, Ahi Furikake, Spicy Ahi, Ahi Oyster Sauce, Ahi Limu, Ahi Garlic, Avocado Ahi, Korean Ahi, Ahi Wasabi and Fresh Ahi Poke, as well as Soybeans, Tako Kim Chee Poke, Tako Furikake Poke, Cooked Madako Tako Poke, and Smoked Tako Poke.

Sack N Save's Poke Selection
Sack N Save’s Poke Selection

The Avocado Ahi was a big seller, so we picked up the rest of that tray along with some Spicy Ahi.

(Previously Frozen) Spicy Ahi Poke ($7.99/lb)
(Previously Frozen) Spicy Ahi Poke ($7.99/lb)

(Previously Frozen) Avocado Ahi Poke ($8.99/lb)
(Previously Frozen) Avocado Ahi Poke ($8.99/lb)

As with their sister/mothership Foodland, they had their previously frozen trays clearly marked with the “carbon monoxide” and “from Philippines” warning labels.

Comparing the poke from Hilo’s Sack N Save to the Oahu equivalents from Foodland, I really enjoyed the Hilo versions more, especially the Avocado Ahi one FBI (From Big Island)! Good job B.I.!

Sack N Save
(Many locations)

Home Made Poke

And finally, as if I didn’t bombard you enough with photos already 😛 , here’s a step-by-step look at a home made batch I recently put together for a family gathering. Enjoy!

Cubed up Aku
Cubed up Aku

I started by cubing up some aku that my mom had purchased from downtown. Aku has a stronger/fishier taste than Ahi, but to me, is a LOT better for making poke.

Below are some of the “ingrediments” I used including shoyu, chili pepper flakes, chili pepper watah (water), green onions, tobiko, and a generous serving of sesame seed oil (I have a preference for Kadoya brand sesame seed oil).

Ingredients for my poke - Shoyu, chili pepper flakes, chili pepper water, green onions, tobiko, and Kadoya sesame seed oil
Ingredients for my poke – Shoyu, chili pepper flakes, chili pepper water, green onions, tobiko, and Kadoya sesame seed oil

Don’t forget the limu/ogo!

Mixing the ingredients together as the limu/ogo awaits
Mixing the ingredients together as the limu/ogo awaits

We add all the ingredients to the bowl (I like to save the sesame seed oil for last) and it looks a little sumthin’ like this…

Poke mixture before mixing
Poke mixture before mixing

Here it is up close.

Poke mixture up close
Poke mixture up close

I then added some furikake and the sesame seed oil and we got something that looked like this.

Ed's Aku Poke
Ed’s Aku Poke

Yeah, the color turned a little dark because of the shoyu, but it was yummy nonetheless… If I do say so myself. 😛

Ed’s Fish Hut
1 Ono Way
Honolulu, HI.
(808) 999-NEVAH-MINE!

A-ight, that’s it for Part III of this Poke Paradise series. Stay tuned for next month, when I interview Rachel Haili of Haili’s Hawaiian Foods, Guy Tamashiro of Tamashiro’s Fish Market, and visit a few other island favorite poke spots.

A big mahalo to Jed Inouye, Arick Yanagihara, Steve Rudolph, and the entire Seafood Hawaii, Inc. team, Brooks Takenaka and everyone at the United Fishing Agency fish auction at Pier 38, Dave Oi for the FBI Hilo hospitality and Grant Lau for assistance with the air accommodations. See y’all next month!

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

Poke Paradise – Experiencing the Best Poke Around Hawaii – Part II

February 1, 2010
Part I |  Part II  | Part III | Part IV | Part V

Wow! What an unbelievable month! I guess y’all really love your poke eh?

Last month, we struck gold when I introduced a topic that was near and dear to my heart. She went by the name of Poke. 8) Your feedback and comments were amazing and, as a result, I was able to make contact with some of the “giants” of the industry.

This month, we’ve got a very special treat for you with a star-studded lineup of exclusive interviews from the likes of Sam Choy (Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch, Crab & Big Island Brewery), Mel and Justin Tanioka (Tanioka’s Seafoods & Catering), Hideaki “Santa” Miyoshi (Tokkuri-Tei) and Alan Wong (Alan Wong’s Restaurants)! Normally, an interview with these living legends, would each merit its own column, but this is Poke Paradise and this is how we roll, 😉 so strap on your seatbelts and get ready to go go go!

Sam Choy

What’s a special on poke without some words of wisdom from Hawaii’s poke authority Sam Choy? Yep, my thoughts exactly. That’s why it was imperative that I get a few soundbites from bruddah Sam.

Hawaii's Poke Authority: Sam Choy
Hawaii’s Poke Authority: Sam Choy

[Edward Sugimoto] You are often looked to as THE preeminent expert/authority in poke. It’s even been said that the popularity of poke in Hawaii can be traced back to you. How does that make you feel?

[Sam Choy] It is an honor for people to trace the popularity back to me. My love for poke has made me want to make poke recognized as much as sashimi and sushi.


Buy This Book from Amazon.com

[Edward Sugimoto] Your poke contests/festivals are legend. Are you still doing them and if/so, when can we expect the next one?

[Sam Choy] We are working with Turtle Bay to have our Poke Contest there again later this year.

[Edward Sugimoto] What are your top 3 favorite pokes and where are they from?

[Sam Choy] My top three pokes are traditional ahi poke with Hawaiian salt, limu kohu and inamona, kole or opelu poke and oio poke which I make at home.

[Edward Sugimoto] Where is your “go to” poke place (besides your own kitchen)? 😉

[Sam Choy] Besides my own kitchen, Tanioka’s is my “go to” poke place. How can you go wrong with poke and one of Mel’s famous cone sushis? Try the alae poke! Have you ever tried the mochiko chicken? I was there doing a book signing with Mel in December and got to have it right out of the fryer… broke da mouth!!

[Edward Sugimoto] I’ve read somewhere that you even have a recipe that includes peanut butter? Is that true and how/why did you come up with that?

[Sam Choy] I actually got the peanut butter poke recipe from my dad who got it from his dad.

[Edward Sugimoto] What is one unique ingredient that surprised you (in a good way)?

[Sam Choy] The texture and the flavor of uni has surprised me. It is truly like taking a bite of the ocean!

[Edward Sugimoto] What’s in store for Mr. Sam Choy?

[Sam Choy] I am in the process of opening a new restaurant in Kona and looking forward to possibly expanding to the mainland (once) we’re up and running. The sky’s the limit!

Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch, Crab & Big Aloha Brewery
580 N. Nimitz Highway
Honolulu, HI 96817 (map)
Tel: (808) 545-7979
Breakfast Hours: Mon-Fri: 7am-10:30am, Sat & Sun: 7am-11:30am, Breakfast Buffet: Sat & Sun: 9am-12noon.
Lunch Hours: Mon-Thurs: 10:30am-3pm, Fri: 10:30am-4pm, Sat & Sun: 11:30am-4pm
Dinner Hours: Sun-Thurs: 5pm-9:30pm, Fri & Sat: 5pm-10pm

Tanioka’s

Sam Choy’s self proclaimed “go to” place for poke is Tanioka’s. What say we head over to Waipahu and have a chat with father-son super combo Mel and Justin Tanioka to talk poke?

Tanioka's Seafoods and Catering Sign
Tanioka’s Seafoods and Catering Sign

An Interview with Mel and Justin Tanioka of Tanioka’s Seafoods and Catering

[Edward Sugimoto] You first opened your doors in 1978 in a thousand square foot space with just four employees. What were those first years like?

[Justin Tanioka] I don’t know. *laughs* I was one years old.

[Edward Sugimoto] Yeah I heard you were like a kid sleeping on the cooler or something like that right?

[Justin Tanioka] Yeah, I was actually born one month before we opened.

[Edward Sugimoto] Oh wow, OK. So no memories of that huh?

[Justin Tanioka] Yeah. The first four years, I don’t know… *looks to dad*

[Mel Tanioka] It was simple. We had less items. So basically we were more like a fish market, selling just fish. No sushi, no chicken, you know, anything like that. It was just you know, mostly filets, poke. The trend of poke was just starting then.

[Edward Sugimoto] Oh so you didn’t have poke from the very beginning?

[Mel Tanioka] Oh we did.

[Edward Sugimoto] You now have a very successful catering business (like you said) to add to your seafood side. How or why did that come about?

[Mel Tanioka] Well, in the 1990s, we looked at the fish availability, and I felt that… If it started to get depleted, which we look at in the 90s and we thought if it starts to get depleted, what else, what kind of income is going to subsidize our market. So we decided to start our catering business, which has grown to equalize our fish. Before it was just a small percentage, but now it’s becoming a larger percentage of our business. So in the future, we’re going to hopefully gear towards more catering as the fish start depleting, unless you go into frozen fish. But for 30 years we’ve been dealing with fresh fish, so we’re trying to avoid that, but eventually it’s gonna come yeah.

[Edward Sugimoto] What are your top sellers in terms of poke?

[Justin Tanioka] Probably our Limu Poke. That’s our top seller.

Limu Poke ($12.95/pound)
Limu Poke ($12.95/pound)

[Justin Tanioka] Onion with Limu Poke is right there with it.

Onion Limu Poke ($12.95/pound)
Onion Limu Poke ($12.95/pound)

[Edward Sugimoto] It’s just onions on top of that (the limu poke)?

[Justin Tanioka] Yeah kind of. A little different mix. A little bit stronger flavor on the onion poke side (with limu yeah). But the limu poke has been our item.

[Mel Tanioka] For parties, Spicy Ahi has been one of the best sellers because it stretches. You know the rice and spicy. For parties of two to three hundred, if you put like 20 pounds of poke, they’re gonna eat it up in a few minutes. So we thought that at least Spicy Ahi would stretch it out so everyone would have a share.

[Edward Sugimoto] What about not in terms of customers, but your guys’ personal favorite? Do you guys have any from here?

[Justin Tanioka] Mine would probably be the Onion with Limu. His is probably the Alae.

[Mel Tanioka] (*in unison*) Alae. *laughs* He knows yeah?

Alae Poke ($12.95/pound)
Alae Poke ($12.95/pound)

[Mel Tanioka] I love the Alae Poke. Chili pepper water oooh, that’s my favorite. With some poi and dry aku.

[Edward Sugimoto] Yeah, you guys have dry aku poke too right?

[Mel Tanioka] Yeah yeah yeah.

[Justin Tanioka] Yeah, we have dried poke. That one, it’s like a salty candy. When you eat it, it’s good, you know, just to pick on.

[Mel Tanioka] I always brag that we were one of the first guys to do that. Eventually, I don’t know who else does it yeah? *looks to Justin*

[Justin Tanioka] I’m not too sure. The only hard part about that is the price yeah? It’s priced kind of high, but, you know, after you dry it, you lose over 50% of your product just off the bat, and that’s not including the time and all of that.

[Mel Tanioka] So if you can picture a $10 pound of poke, when you dry it, it becomes $20 yeah? But the drying process is again, the labor process, the equipment used to dry, and all of that. For me it’s worth the price, but when you look at it at $19.95 (per pound) you’re like “woah”, but when you eat it, it’s worth it. *laughs*

[Edward Sugimoto] You guys have, like, I heard over 40 different types of poke, or almost there?

[Mel Tanioka] Yeah, probably.

[Justin Tanioka] Close to that. Yeah, maybe 30 something. We never really took a count.

The Different Types of Poke from Tanioka's
The Different Types of Poke from Tanioka’s

[Edward Sugimoto] Are you guys continuing to think of new ones here and there?

[Mel Tanioka] We try to.

[Justin Tanioka] We try to. It’s hard to step away from the… Even when we make a new one, people kind of like it, but, like if they had to choose between a pound of the old Limu Poke or the new Garlic Poke, the Limu Poke is going to always come first.

[Edward Sugimoto] When making poke for yourself maybe like at home, what’s your one, go-to ingredient?

[Justin Tanioka] Aloha Shoyu. *laughs*

[Mel Tanioka] Our famous friends is Aloha Shoyu. We’ve been with them for 31 years.

[Justin Tanioka] Tell Sam (Choy) I said that.

[Mel Tanioka] Yeah, we’ve been using Aloha Shoyu for 31 years.

[Edward Sugimoto] You were mentioning earlier that Justin and your daughter Jasmine’s gonna be taking over. What else is in the future of Tanioka’s?

[Justin Tanioka] So far, everything’s up in the air yeah?

[Mel Tanioka] Yeah.

[Justin Tanioka] It depends on the economy. You know how everybody bounces back. I think some of it is fate you know? You gotta look, if you see something, maybe something might pop up (like) “Eh, you wanna be a part of this” or whatever, that’s how we would…

[Mel Tanioka] We did create a franchise. We went through the manual. But we’re not sure right now yeah ’cause it’s hard to… I tried, we had three stores at once, but it’s hard to keep the quality. You can expand a lot, but sometimes you lose the quality. So it’s trying to keep that quality vs. trying to expand… I guess people expand because they want to make more money right? But the end result is… You gotta expand with the intentions of keeping the quality.

A look inside Tanioka's during a rare down time
A look inside Tanioka’s during a rare down time

[Justin Tanioka] And with it being harder and harder to get fresh ahi.

[Mel Tanioka] Yeah. That’s the part.

[Justin Tanioka] You know, each store is going to have to get their own fish and if we’re having trouble getting fish sometimes, like I don’t know what’s going to happen to them.

[Mel Tanioka] There’s a lot of factors. The Fresh Limu Factory is another one to consider. On a daily basis, it’s easy to get, but when it gets to the holiday time, I mean everybody is scrambling to get it, because you know, the volume goes higher. So that’s another thing that we’re looking at. But I think the franchise stores will probably go into like a different type of program. Not maybe 40 different types of poke, maybe they’ll have like 5 of just the basic sellers. Spicy Ahi, Shoyu Poke, Limu Poke.

[Justin Tanioka] And then of course the cooked food side. You know like the okazu-ya, just grab and go. Fried Chicken, Fish Patties, Shrimp Tempura, you know, stuff that’s consistent every day, tastes good. You know, it’s basic things that you would eat every day too yeah?

Family Bento with Fried Noodles ($5.50)
Family Bento with Fried Noodles ($5.50)

[Justin Tanioka] But as for me, I think my future is here at the market. Just keep it going. Keep this place going.

[Edward Sugimoto] Carry on the name ah?

[Justin Tanioka] Yup. Make my father proud. Make my parents proud.

The Tanioka `Ohana: Mel, Lynn and Justin (not pictured: daughter Jasmine Tanioka Lum)
The Tanioka `Ohana: Mel, Lynn and Justin (not pictured: daughter Jasmine Tanioka Lum)

[Edward Sugimoto] You guys have anything to add to your loyal customers or future customers?

[Justin Tanioka] Well, I would like to thank our customers. Thank you for standing in line. Some days are so busy. We try to get them (in and) out of here as fast as we can. I think we have a pretty good system right now.

[Mel Tanioka] And they’re so pleasant. Our customers are like, “Oh sorry, sorry you gotta wait in line,” (and they’re like) “No, no, no, it’s worth the wait.” They’re so positive and we’re just, we appreciate that yeah.

[Justin Tanioka] A lot. We appreciate it a lot.

[Mel Tanioka] And first of all we always trust in the Lord to guide us.

[Justin Tanioka] And our employees too. Our employees are what makes us. You know, without our employees, we wouldn’t be Tanioka’s you know. But our employees work hard, they work, you know they work fast… *looks at dad* Anything else?

[Mel Tanioka] *smiles*

It was great to see a truly genuine family doing good here in Hawaii. Justin was super cool and mellow, like he could’ve been your high school buddy growing up, while Mel Tanioka was very generous in packing, and I mean PACKING 3 shopping bags full of okazu items – like maki sushi, cone sushi, and even a bento to go along with their popular Limu Poke – for us to take back to the office. And though I didn’t get to meet daughter Jasmine, mom Lynn was just as warm and bubbly and always smiling.

Not only is their poke winnahz, they, as a family, are as well. Go and support the Taniokas k?

Tanioka’s Seafood and Catering
94-903 Farrington Highway
Waipahu, HI 96797 (map)
Tel: (808) 671-3779
Email: Onopoke@taniokas.com
Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8am-5pm
Sat: 9am-5pm
Sun: 9am-3pm

Tokkuri-Tei

No stranger to the world of poke, Hideaki “Santa” Miyoshi of the Izakaya style Japanese restaurant Tokkuri-Tei, is the winner of many cooking competitions, including Sam Choy’s Poke Contest, and has been delighting clientele to his unique poke stylings since the ’90s. Celebrating his 21st anniversary this year (the restaurant’s, not his 😉 ), Santa continues to push the culinary envelope for creative eats in Hawaii.

Hideaki "Santa" Miyoshi inside his restaurant Tokkuri-Tei
Hideaki “Santa” Miyoshi inside his restaurant Tokkuri-Tei

Here’s a quick interview with the man simply known as “Santa”:

An Interview with Hideaki “Santa” Miyoshi of Tokkuri-Tei

[Edward Sugimoto] Hi Santa, did you have poke on your menu from the beginning and if not, when did you start carrying it (and why)?

[Santa Miyoshi] Why? We didn’t have before, but after the poke contest (1997), we start carrying some poke.

[Edward Sugimoto] Was it a good seller in the beginning?

[Santa Miyoshi] Uh yeah, kind of.

[Edward Sugimoto] You won numerous awards at, like you said, the poke contests. What made you first want to enter the contests?

[Santa Miyoshi] Ah, well, it was Aloha Shoyu Cooking Contest I entered (in 1996), and I won a prize so I tried looking into other cooking contests, and there was one poke contest come up so I just entered. *laughs* There was no particular reason.

[Edward Sugimoto] And you had a story about wearing sweat pants and the security guard stopped you or something like that?

[Santa Miyoshi] Oh yeah yeah, because I just wear like T-shirt and start running around the display area and they told me not to, you know, stick around there because only for the chefs. Um, I have a badge saying I can enter. *laughs*

[Edward Sugimoto] On your menu, you have quite a few poke dishes (Ahi Poke, Spicy Ahi Poke, Ahi Tempura Poke, There’s a Spider in Da Poke, and Ahi Tar-tare Poke). Which is the most popular and which is your personal favorite?

[Santa Miyoshi] I think the Ahi Tar-tare Poke is the most popular one. And then Spider Poke is very popular too.

Ahi Tar-Tare Poke - 1997 Sam Choy's Poke Contest Winner ($15)
Ahi Tar-Tare Poke – 1997 Sam Choy’s Poke Contest Winner ($15)

There's a Spider in Da Poke - 2000 Sam Choy's Poke Contest Winner ($16)
There’s a Spider in Da Poke – 2000 Sam Choy’s Poke Contest Winner ($16)

Also on the menu: Ahi Tempura Poke - Tempura Fresh Ahi with Shrimp Tempura ($16)
Also on the menu: Ahi Tempura Poke – Tempura Fresh Ahi with Shrimp Tempura ($16)

[Edward Sugimoto] How about your personal favorite?

[Santa Miyoshi] My favorite is maybe Amaebi poke which we don’t serve here.

[Edward Sugimoto] You also have some that are not on the menu (Ericka’s Poke, New Age Amaebi Nigiri Poke, Lilipuna Poke, Redefined Lomi Salmon Poke, Poke-ing Emi, and Poke Pasta Italian). Which is your favorite from these and why don’t you include them in your menu? Can customers order (them)?

[Santa Miyoshi] Some of the stuff is very hard to prep and we don’t have it (the ingredients) all the time so it’s really hard to make all the time.

(Off the menu) Lilipuna Poke - named after the street that some of Santa's regulars live on.
(Off the menu) Lilipuna Poke – named after the street that some of Santa’s regulars live on.

(Off the menu) Seafood Risotto - not necessarily listed as a "poke" dish, but I just had to mention it 'cause it's literally to die for!
(Off the menu) Seafood Risotto – not necessarily listed as a “poke” dish, but I just had to mention it ’cause it’s literally to die for!

[Edward Sugimoto] Are you working on any new poke dishes?

[Santa Miyoshi] Not necessarily but any kind of new item I’m always thinking (of).

Santa served this (hamachi, truffle, & shiso roll) to us recently, jokingly referring to it as the Sugimoto Roll! Could it be??? Santa san, douzo yoroshiku onegai shimasu! If not, maybe you can rename the Seafood Risotto to Sugimoto Risotto (or Risotto Sugimoto?)?
Santa served this (hamachi, truffle, & shiso roll) to us recently, jokingly referring to it as the Sugimoto Roll! Could it be??? Santa san, douzo yoroshiku onegai shimasu! If not, maybe you can rename the Seafood Risotto to Sugimoto Risotto (or Risotto Sugimoto?)? 🙂

[Edward Sugimoto] And how about some of your favorite poke not from here?

[Santa Miyoshi] I like the one (jalapeño ahi) from Tamura’s. They make pretty good poke.

[Edward Sugimoto] Your new book Izakaya Hawai (Tokkuri-Tei Cooking), tell me a little bit about that.

[Santa Miyoshi] It’s just a history of this restaurant plus whatever I’ve been working on to make new dishes. It just consolidates all of the stuff we did (for) over 20 years.

Buy Izakaya Hawaii - Tokkuri-Tei Cooking from Amazon.com
Buy “Izakaya Hawaii – Tokkuri-Tei Cooking” from Amazon.com

[Edward Sugimoto] Do you have anything else to add to your loyal customers or future customers?

[Santa Miyoshi] Thank you for coming. *waves at camera and laughs*

Tokkuri Tei
611 Kapahulu Ave, Suite 102
Honolulu, HI 96815 (map)
(808) 739-2800
Mon-Fri 10:30am-2pm
Mon-Fri 5:30pm-12am

Alan Wong

Last but definitely not least, we feature the god of Hawaii chefs: Alan Wong. Alan graciously took some time out of his insanely busy schedule to sit down with me to talk about poke, his use of it in his restaurants, and the importance of buying local.

An Interview with Alan Wong of Alan Wong’s Restaurants

[Edward Sugimoto] As a local boy, what are your fondest memories of poke?

[Alan Wong] You know when you’re raised in Hawaii, you grow up with that. It’s at every potluck, it’s at every gathering. I mean, you know, when you think of the holidays, New Year’s, Christmas, Thanksgiving, you’re always going to have red sashimi. Think of all the tailgating and all the hibachis. When you go tailgating at the football games, what does everybody have in their cooler? Poke, great pupus. You just grow up with it.

[Edward Sugimoto] Why was it important for you “the Master of Hawaii Regional Cuisine” to add poke dishes to both of your Hawaii locations?

[Alan Wong] I think what’s important is for people to taste Hawaii when they come to the restaurant. We want people to taste Hawaii so how do you taste Hawaii? We feature things grown/raised here in Hawaii, we also feature dishes that local people like to eat, whether it’s an ingredient, or whether it’s a concept like Loco Moco. So how do you take the Loco Moco and put it into this kind of a setting? Poke is a natural because it’s a big part of our culture. And so, every household eats that, so how do you take the poke, just like the Loco Moco, and put it in the setting?

[Edward Sugimoto] What’s the story behind Poki-Pines and how did you come up with it?

[Alan Wong] You know, Poki-Pines is, first of all a play on words. You know the animal the porcupine. *smiles* And so, cooking ahi or frying the ahi is one way to eat poke. You know, especially after it’s marinated. You marinate the poke and sometimes when you add shoyu to the poke it gets kind of dark, it doesn’t look very attractive, but you know, you can still eat it. Then you fry it and it tastes good. So we just wanted to encase that in the won ton strips, and it came all like you know, all this, like a porcupine. So it’s a play on words, and when you think about the crispy texture that you have on the outside, with the cooked poke, and then you marry that with wasabi sauce but with avocados, you know, that makes a good marriage.

Ahi Poki-Pines - Crispy Won Ton Ahi Poke Balls On Avocado with Wasabi Sauce ($15)
Ahi Poki-Pines – Crispy Won Ton Ahi Poke Balls On Avocado with Wasabi Sauce ($15)

Restaurant Manager Kerry Ichimasa describes the Poki-Pines dish

[Edward Sugimoto] In your book New Wave Luau, you mention several different types of poke (Ahi Poke, Ahi Poke Gyozas with Soy-Vinegar Chile Dipping Sauce, Ahi Poke Nigiri, Nairagi and Kajiki Carpaccio with Swordfish Poke, Nori-wrapped Akule Stuffed with Poke, Seared Ahi Poke Cakes on Crostini, as well as the Poki-Pines). Are there any plans of making any of these available on your menu in the future?

Buy New Wave Luau from Amazon.com
Buy “Alan Wong’s New Wave Luau: Recipes from Honolulu’s Award-Winning Chef” from Amazon.com

[Alan Wong] They come in and out. We’ve served things in the book, in the various restaurants, but, you know, it’s like you gotta keep moving forward and try new things and different things and as you learn more, as you travel more as you taste more things, see more things, you’re cooking style evolves. So I think we will have more. Let’s say instead of poke dishes, more raw preparations yeah? It’s something that we love to do so we’ll always see those evolutions happening in our restaurants.

Chopped Ahi Sashimi and Avocado Salsa Stack - Stacked Crispy Won Ton, Spicy Aioli and Wasabi Soy ($19.50)
Chopped Ahi Sashimi and Avocado Salsa Stack – Stacked Crispy Won Ton, Spicy Aioli and Wasabi Soy ($19.50)

Restaurant Manager Kerry Ichimasa describes the Chopped Ahi Sashimi and Avocado Salsa Stack dish

[Edward Sugimoto] So even you’re still evolving as a chef?

[Alan Wong] Oh, you know, the local people love to eat raw fish. We are an island state, we’re surrounded by the ocean so, we like to serve the fishes from our waters, we are a culture that eats a lot of raw fish, and so it’s only natural that if you want people to taste Hawaii, and taste the culture, that you serve a lot of these preparations, whether they’re in poke form, or tartare form, a carpaccio form, or a kind of seviche or sashimi form, it’s all kind of one big category.

Alan Wong (Photo Credit: Arthur Betts)
Alan Wong (Photo Credit: Arthur Betts)

[Edward Sugimoto] Do you eat poke outside of the restaurant…

[Alan Wong] Of course. *smiles*

[Edward Sugimoto] … and if so, where do you like to go?

[Alan Wong] Well, you know, I don’t go out too often, but every once in a while, the poke at side street, my buddy Colin (Nishida), you know. I don’t go out too often.

[Edward Sugimoto] What’s in store for you personally, and what’s also in store for your restaurants?

[Alan Wong] Well, I think, you know, you put the economy aside, you still have to do your thing. I think I’m ready to cook up another concept or two, and I hope that we can grow as a company, I think we can grow as individuals within our company, so that I think, you know, we want to move forward, but sensibly in this time.

Alan Wong's Restaurant Sign
Alan Wong’s Restaurant Sign

[Edward Sugimoto] Do you have any words for your customers out there or future customers?

[Alan Wong] *laughs* Well, besides come taste Hawaii, um, this past Christmas I said, imagine if every dollar you spend buying Christmas presents for your friends and family, you bought everything that was made or raised in Hawaii, or produced in Hawaii. With the economy the way it is, what better way to fuel our own economy. So I think I speak on behalf of all the restaurants, all the mom and pop stores and restaurants that dot the community and become the community, we need to support our local restaurants. That’s what it is. It’s like the farmers. If we don’t buy local, we don’t support the local farmers, well, we’re not going to have farmers. Well you know, it’s the same with the restaurant industry. It’s time to come out and support your local restaurants, and *looks at camera* I hope to see you.

Alan Wong’s Honolulu
1857 S. King Street
Honolulu, HI 96826 (map)
Tel: (808) 949-1939
Reservations: (808) 949-2526
Hours: 5-10pm daily

The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong
1450 Ala Moana Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96814 (map)
Tel: (808) 945-5529
Reservations: (808) 945-6573
Breakfast Hours: Sat: 8-11am, Sun: 9-11am
Lunch Hours: Mon-Sat: 11am-4pm, Sun: 11am-3pm
Dinner Hours: Mon-Sat: 4-8:30pm

I’d like to send a big Mahalo to all of the folks who made this possible: Sam Choy and his Executive Assistant Sally Watanabe; Mel Tanioka, Justin Tanioka, Lynn Tanioka; Hideaki “Santa” Miyoshi; and Alan Wong, his Project Coordinator Nicole Ng, his Restaurant Manager Kerry Ichimasa, and his entire kitchen staff!

Stay tuned for Part III, when we spend a day in the life of Seafood Hawaii, Inc.’s President Jed Inouye. From the fish market on the pier, to the kitchen, to the market at Sam’s Club, we get a history lesson from one of Hawaii’s experts. We’ll also pay a visit to some of the other supermarkets’ poke offerings from the likes of Safeway, Costco, Foodland, and more.

As always, if you know of anyone in the industry, send them my way and I’ll include them in this series. Shoots!

Part I |  Part II  | Part III | Part IV | Part V

Poke Paradise – Experiencing the Best Poke Around Hawaii – Part I

January 1, 2010
 Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

I gotta admit… One of the perks of working on these “best of” pieces is the eating. I’m lucky enough to grind some of the most onolicious foods Hawaii’s got to offer and live to write about it. This month, I’m covering one of my all-time favorite snack/food/pupu/whatever-you-wanna-call-it: Poke! Aurite!

According to Wikipedia, poke (pronounced poh-kay) is “a raw fish salad served as an appetizer or main course in Hawaiian cuisine. Poke is Hawaiian for ‘section’ or ‘to slice or cut’.”

The expert in local kine poke is local kine chef Sam Choy. In his new book, simply named “Poke” he shares some history: “In the old days, the whole slice would be eaten, skin, bones, and all. Inedible portions were picked or spat out. When the raw fish was ‘prepared,’ it meant the fish was mashed (lomi), or other ingredients were added to it, mostly salt and savories like ‘opihi, lobster, sea urchin roe, kukui nut relish, and different kinds of limu (seaweed) – manauea, lipe`epe`e, kohu, lipoa, etc.”


Buy This Book from Amazon.com

Growing up as a second generation Japanese-American, raw fish and seafood has always been a part of my life, so poke was a natural and, frankly, easy transition for my taste buds. In high school, I worked in the seafood department at my neighborhood market and became somewhat known for my poke concoctions. I remember customers asking if I made the poke that day, and, if I said, “No, I just came in,” they would frown and walk away. I took that as a great compliment.

My goal with this article is simple: Give props to the local establishments, big and small, who are doing poke right, right here in Hawaii. I’m proud to be from Hawaii, and feel that it’s almost my duty as a local boy to spread the word about those who are doing their part to perpetuate the rich culture that is poke.

Yama’s Fish Market
Yama’s is a small fish market I used to frequent during my old school UH days, back when they were near Poha Lane. Now, they’re right down the road on Young Street and is almost always a pumpin’!

Yama's Fish Market Sign
Yama’s Fish Market Sign

Though their Hawaiian plate lunches are pretty mean, my main focus whenever I go to Yama’s is their Ahi Masago Poke. It’s to die for! Trust.

Ahi Masago Poke - just made for me! - $11.95/pound
Ahi Masago Poke – just made for me! – $11.95/pound

Masago is already an escape from the norm of “standard” poke ingredients, but furikake on top of that? Combine that with green onions, sesame seeds (which may be part of the furikake), shoyu maybe?, and choke sesame seed oil, and you getcho self one winnah!

Yama's Ahi Masago Poke up close
Yama’s Ahi Masago Poke up close

I’ve been trying to reach Yama’s Fish Market’s President Brian Yamamoto for a soundbite, but da buggah is hard to reach. If you’re out there Brian, holla, and I’ll add your quote here.

(UPDATE! Mr. Yamamoto emailed me, thanking me for the plug. Mahaloz!)

Until then, go give the Ahi Masago Poke from Yama’s a try, but be sure to save some for me kay? 🙂

Yama’s Fish Market
2332 Young Street
Honolulu, HI 96826 (map)
(808) 941-9994
Mon-Sat: 9am-7pm
Sun: 9am-5pm
(Holiday Hours)


Golden Mart
Not too many people know about this hidden gem in Mililani, but it’s quickly become one of my all-time favorite places to get my poke fix on (like Donkey Kong).

Outside Golden Mart in Mililani
Outside Golden Mart in Mililani

Located in a small strip mall on the Mililani Golf Course side of Kamehameha Highway (across Mililani Shopping Center), Golden Mart sells what you’d traditionally find at a local mini mart like snacks, beer and cigarettes. How they separate themselves from the pack however, is their mouth-watering selection of hot foods, boiled peanuts, and poke.

Three popular pokes from Golden Mart: Creamy Wasabi Ahi, Spicy Tuna and the Golden Mart Special
Three popular pokes from Golden Mart: Creamy Wasabi Ahi, Spicy Tuna and the Golden Mart Special

Employee Cori, and owner Julie Miyatake, who doubles as a USPS employee, both agree that Fridays are the best days to come if you’re looking for poke as the entire display case is filled with the different varieties they carry. My personal favorites are the Creamy Wasabi Ahi Poke…

Creamy Wasabi Ahi Poke in the display case
Creamy Wasabi Ahi Poke in the display case

Creamy Wasabi Ahi Poke up close - $10.99/pound
Creamy Wasabi Ahi Poke up close – $10.99/pound

… and the Golden Mart Special.

Golden Mart Special with the special sauce on the side -$9.99/pound
Golden Mart Special with the special sauce on the side -$9.99/pound

Golden Mart Special with the special sauce inside
Golden Mart Special with the special sauce inside

Although, I’m not a fan of wasabi (I don’t even use it on my sashimi/sushi), the Creamy Wasabi Ahi Poke brok’ da mout’! How they make it is still a mystery, but if I had to guess, I’d say the tobiko-like topping (they’re green!) is filled with (or marinated in?) wasabi flavoring, while the rest of the poke is mixed with mayo (and wasabi?) in a creamy ahi sorta way. 😛

The Golden Mart Special’s lure is the Golden Mart special sauce, hands down. Filled with a concoction of liquids including shoyu, sesame seed oil and other mysterious ingredients that I’d pay to know 😛 , this sauce is what keeps ’em comin’ back. You can’t even get the special sauce (other than paying for it separately) if you don’t order the Golden Mart Special!

For good measure (and since I’ve got the photo 😉 ), here’s also a shot of Golden Mart’s Spicy Tuna poke for kicks… another winnah!

Spicy Tuna Poke
Spicy Tuna Poke

Golden Mart
95-119 Kamehameha Highway
Mililani, HI, 96789 (map)
(808) 625-2442‎

While, we’re in the Mililani area, let’s visit the place that Diners, Drive-ins and Dives’ Guy Fieri recently visited: Poke Stop.

Poke Stop
Chef Elmer Guzman, a graduate of the Kapiolani Community College Culinary Arts program, has trained under Alan Wong, worked as a sous chef under Emeril Lagasse, and was the Executive Chef at Sam Choy’s Diamond Head Restaurant before opening his two Poke Stop locations (one in Waipahu and one in Mililani Mauka).

In addition to serving up “gourmet food at plate lunch prices” (their catch phrase), Guzman and company offer a bevy of poke to live up to their namesake. Some of their “must tries” are the Sweet Onion Ahi poke, the Blackened Ahi poke, the Furikake Salmon poke, the Ginger Scallion Shrimp poke, “Da Works” Oio poke, and my personal favorite, the Spicy Creamy Ahi poke.

Spicy Creamy Ahi Poke - $10.95/pound
Spicy Creamy Ahi Poke – $10.95/pound

Poke Stop – Waipahu
94-050 Farrington Highway, E-4
Waipahu, HI, 96797 (map)
(808) 676-8100

Poke Stop – Mililani Mauka
95-1840 Meheula Parkway
Mililani, HI, 96789 (link on Google maps is inaccurate. Should be here.)
(808) 626-3400

And, to my neighbor island bruthas and sistahs, no worries. I gotcho back! Here’s a little Honolulu love to The Fish Express in Lihue, Kauai.

The Fish Express
Very conveniently located on Kuhio Highway in Lihue, Kauai…

Outside The Fish Express in Lihue, Kauai
Outside The Fish Express in Lihue, Kauai

… I like to pick up a quarter pound or so on my way to Hamura’s Saimin. The cold saltiness of the fish matches perfectly with the hot saltiness of the saimin.

(Previously Frozen) Ahi Limu Poke from The Fish Express - $6.99/pound
(Previously Frozen) Ahi Limu Poke from The Fish Express – $6.99/pound

The Fish Express (Kauai)
3343 Kuhio Hwy. # 10
Lihue, HI 96766 (map)
(808) 245-9918
Mon-Sat: 10am-6pm
Sun: 10am-4pm

Alas, I’ve been tasked to make my poke for a New Year’s family gathering, so here’s a lil’ step by step action that will 1) help you if/when you make your own batch and 2) help to refresh my memory! LOL! Enjoy!

Diced/Cubed Ahi blocks with Hawaiian salt and green onions added (props to Ryan Moriguchi for reeling in the fish!)
Diced/Cubed Ahi blocks with Hawaiian salt and green onions added (props to Ryan Moriguchi for reeling in the fish!)

Inamona (kukui nut) added
Inamona (kukui nut) added

Limu Kohu/Ogo (seaweed) added
Limu Kohu/Ogo (seaweed) added

Close up of each portion greeting each other
Close up of each portion greeting each other

Everything mixed together with sesame seed oil and shoyu
Everything mixed together with sesame seed oil and shoyu

Though, I’d love to continue, I don’t think my stomach can take any more of this torture (it’s lunch time as I write this 😛 )! Besides, I need to save some poke shots for parts 2 and 3 (and 4?)! 😛

Here’s a sneak peek at what I’ve got in store: Tokkuri-tei, Tamashiro Market Inc., JJ’s Seafood, Pa`ina Café, Off the Wall, Safeway, Costco, and Sam’s Club. My “To Do” list includes: Ruger Market, Ono’s (Kapahulu), Fresh Catch, Masa & Joyce, Alicia’s Market, Tamura’s, and Tanioka’s.

If you have any hook-ups/connections to any of the places above, holla! I’d love to interview them! If you have any poke (dish) suggestions for the above as well, or new locations altogether, feel free to let me know in the comment area below!

Happy New Year y’all! Shoots!

 Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V