See How a Poke Shop Creates a Sushi Cake in 11 Gorgeous Photos
There’s way more than poke at Aloha Cones: Here are sashimi rosettes, a bubu arare shell and all the layers in between.
We don’t often get to see how a dish comes together from ingredients to plate. But understanding the process enhances our appreciation. So I’m going to take you behind the scenes of one of the most artistic edible creations I’ve encountered: a sushi cake.
I’m talking about Aloha Cones’ sushi cake. It’s not a dessert—I’m tempted to liken it to a giant chirashi or onigiri, but in truth it’s in a category of its own. High-quality sushi ingredients are assembled into a stunning showpiece. Your friends will ooh. Your family will ahh. Your grandma will ask you to teach her how to take a photo with her iPhone (true story).
Aloha Cones opened on Kinau Street in 2013 but has been at its current Kalihi location since 2019. Named after the sushi and poke bowls they used to serve in shave ice cones, the shop has always had a creative flair. So last spring, when a friend asked chef-manager Mike Alfaro if he could make sushi into a birthday cake, Alfaro did some research, drew up a rough design of ahi rosettes and pressed-wasabi leaves, and made his first cake. From there, word of mouth and social media took over. He’s now refined the process and made about 550 sushi cakes.
Adorned with ‘ahi, hamachi and salmon sashimi roses, the cakes are stunning. Garnishes of ikura, cucumber, shiso leaves, black sesame seeds and edible flowers go with different options. But there’s more to these cakes than meets the eye. A slice reveals layers of spicy ‘ahi, crab salad, furikake and avocado in between neat layers of sushi rice.
Watching a sushi cake take shape from start to finish is a delight. It allows a glimpse into the time and thought behind its creation. And, honestly, I find the artistry of the process to be just as beautiful as the end result.
Alfaro’s 10-plus years of making sushi shows as he deftly slices uniform cuts of fresh ‘ahi, hamachi and salmon.
The first layer of the cake is a generous scattering of small pieces of sashimi. Gently pressed together, they form a mosaic of colors.
Next comes sushi rice, followed by alternating layers of spicy ‘ahi, crab salad, avocado and furikake. It’s like layers of cake and frosting—but savory.
After the final layer of rice goes on, the sushi cake is flipped and eased from the mold, revealing the mosaic. Now it’s ready to decorate. Alfaro coats the sides with crunchy bubu arare, tiny baked rice crackers that you may recognize from your ochazuke.
The shop’s three cake options come with varied toppings and range from $90 to $120. For this one, priced at $105, Alfaro fans thinly sliced cucumbers in a tight circle and scoops fresh ikura into the center. The salmon eggs shine like jewels as they catch the light.
Next comes the trickiest bit—shaping the sashimi rosettes.
Alfaro folds, presses and sculpts freshly sliced fish into rosettes. It is truly mesmerizing to watch!
Who wouldn’t prefer roses you can eat with shoyu?
The final touches: sprinkles of julienned shiso and sesame seeds, and pink-and-white dianthus flowers from Mari’s Gardens.
And voilà! It’s complete. What’s better than admiring this work of art? Getting to eat it! Alfaro recommends removing the rosettes before slicing the cake, then eating the sashimi petals with your cake slice. With a little shoyu, wasabi and pickled ginger—it’s perfection.
(Full disclosure: I reached out to Aloha Cones with the idea of doing a photo post. I assumed I was photographing an order for a customer, but when the cake was completed, Alfaro generously insisted I take it home and refused my attempts to pay for it.)
If you are interested in ordering, you can check out @alohacones’ Instagram page and order by direct message, or call or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to Kelli Kokame & Jason Preble for assisting with the photography for this piece.