Editor’s Page: At Its Core, Poke is a Humble Dish

Finding the best and photographing it was a little more complicated. Here are our fish tales.
Christi Young
PHOTO: KAREN DB PHOTOGRAPHY

The door was locked when I got there, a fact I discovered after awkwardly yanking on the handle. That’s something I’m guessing has happened a lot, as hinted by the “Do Not Pull on the Door” sign I, and I’m assuming numerous customers during these COVID-19 months, failed to read. Through the glass, workers lined up plastic-bag-swathed paper takeout containers next to towers of tubs filled with cubes of fresh fish.

 

Welcome to Ken’s Fresh Fish in Lā‘ie.

 

When the HONOLULU team fanned out across the island to find the best places for poke, I was assigned the most scenic drive: up the stretch of Kamehameha Highway that hugs now uncrowded beaches to Lā‘ie Country Store. On weekends, cars pack the small parking lot so people can get Cackle Fresh eggs and, of course, Ken’s fish.

 

I visited Ken Broad on a weekday. Thankfully, he unlocked the doors (and didn’t scold me for ignoring the sign) so we could chat about his roots as a fisherman, his 10 years in Alaska—where he visits his kids several times a year and pulls in catches to bring back—and how he went from working for a seafood company in the 49th state and running his own roadside fish stand on O‘ahu, to the Lā‘ie lunch spot where he’s been for five years now. Here, he and his wife mix their poke using fresh fish, wild limu and ‘inamona dressed in secret sauces.

 

That’s why we love poke. The comfort food that is truly ours is a study in eating local. It is always best when the ingredients are pulled from our waters, harvested from our land and seasoned, by hand, by our poke chefs. And, for me, it’s always best eaten outside, using chopsticks to pluck each piece directly out of the quarter-pound container. Hot rice on the side.

 

picking up poke
You can get Ken’s fresh fish right across the highway from Hukilau Beach.
Photo: Christi Young

 

In a time when finding comfort, supporting our neighborhood businesses and watching our budgets have become as essential as a well-fitting mask, we found it fitting to celebrate one of our favorite foods that you buy by the pound.

 

We focused on places that emphasize fresh, not frozen, fish. We tried dozens of different types and spoke to poke makers across the island to come up with 12 every poke lover should try. We also look back at the history of the dish, explain why frozen fish cubes are bad for fish stocks, ask chefs what they put in their poke bowls, and discover poke’s origins in Native Hawaiian family recipes that offer flavors most modern foodies have never tasted.

 

Our cover image also took a team. Food and dining editor Martha Cheng carved perfect cubes of ‘ahi from Tamashiro Market. Creative director James Nakamura and photographer Aaron K. Yoshino spent more than seven hours—working from their own homes and conferring over the phone—and took more than 600 photos in their quest to honor every ingredient. They used skewers to suspend the fish in the air, toothpicks to painstakingly move single Hawaiian chile pepper seeds, and carefully studied each slice of green onion, piece of gangly ogo and jagged particle of Hawaiian sea salt composited on the cover.

 

The passion we put into this story is a reflection not only of the affection we have for this humble cornerstone of local food, it’s a nod to the love Tamura’s Dean Okimoto told me the best poke chefs put into their dishes. “If you don’t have that, you go with just a recipe, you can come close, but it’s not the same,” he says.

 

We agree. And we’re hungry again. We hope you are too. So, this month, we’re hosting our first HONOLULU Poke Fest. Join us on Oct. 17 for a special drive-thru event with special dishes from poke purveyors around the island. Find more information at frolichawaii.com.


 

Christi Young
 

Got a good story? Reach me at christiy@honolulumagazine.com

 

Read all of these stories in the October issue of HONOLULU Magazine. Available on newsstands in October, or purchase the issue at shop.honolulumagazine.com. Subscribe to the print and digital editions now.