News / Toronto

'It's like a tsunami': Hawaiian Poke bowls take Toronto by storm

Eateries serving heaping bowls of rice, veggies and raw fish have popped up from Queen Street to Bloor and everywhere in between.

Bryan Siu-Chong (left) from Pokito Restaurant prepares a Pokito Plastic Tuna, Mike Ramos works on a Tuna and Salmon burrito on Thursday, October 27, 2016.

Eduardo Lima/Metro

Bryan Siu-Chong (left) from Pokito Restaurant prepares a Pokito Plastic Tuna, Mike Ramos works on a Tuna and Salmon burrito on Thursday, October 27, 2016.

A few months ago, there was no such thing as a Poke restaurant in Toronto. Now, there’s at least ten.

The Hawaiian dish, referred to by some as “deconstructed sushi” is undeniably Toronto’s new food trend. Eateries serving heaping bowls of rice, veggies and raw fish have popped up from Queen Street to Bloor and everywhere in between.

“It’s like a tsunami wave that just hit the city,” said Roxanne Tsui, co-owner of Pokito at 420 Queen St. West.

Pokito just opened in September, but Tsui said business is already booming.

“I think the city has been really receptive to new things in general, especially food trends,” she said.

Johnny Chan, co-owner of Poke Guys on Elizabeth Street, behind City Hall, agrees.

“There’s a lot of hype for Poke right now,” he said. “People are flocking to it.”

Poke originates in Hawaii as a traditional local dish. However, in the late 1990s, chef Sam Choy helped popularize Hawaiian cuisine, and Poke made its way across the Pacific to California and beyond.

Eduardo Lima/Metro

Daniel Bender, a food historian at the University of Toronto, said Poke is a “classic example of fusion food” that’s been shaped by everything from immigration to tourism and even war.

The long-standing presence of U.S. military bases in Hawaii means Spam – the canned meat used as rations for soldiers –can be found in certain Poke dishes.

“Spam: the great food of the American empire,” Bender joked.

Bender has yet to try Poke in Toronto, but he encouraged foodies in Toronto to give it a try.

“Eat the food, but think of it as a dialogue,” he said. “Peel back the layers and find the traces of the U.S. military, of tourism culture, of the workers who came to Hawaii from Japan and China to cut cane or can pineapple, and even the expectations we have of Polynesia.”

Poke week coming to Toronto

If you’re a Poke fanatic or a first-timer, you can get your fill of the Hawaiian dish during Poke Week. Sponsored by Crave T.O., the event takes place Nov. 7 to 13. For $15, participants can pick up a Poke passport and sample dishes at many of the city’s Poke restaurants for only $5. 

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