Poké: "The Chicken Fillet Roll of the Pacific" Arrives in Dublin

In the mornings, Joy Tzu-Juan preps the ingredients.

The edamame beans and crispy onions, the pickled ginger, diced avocado, and fresh mango. The raw tuna, salmon, tofu, and teriyaki chicken, too.

The Third Space café on Aungier Street started to offer poké – a traditional Hawaiian dish of raw fish, combined with a host of accompaniments – back in April.

It’s a quick, healthy meal for the lunch-time crowd and it seems to be going well.

“It’s a lot of ingredients,” says Tzu-Juan, stood behind the counter with a bowl. “We prepare it every morning, so before 11 we start cooking.”

It’s late morning at Third Space. It’s bright inside, the white walls covered in artwork. A handful of customers sit sipping coffees.

On the shelf behind the counter, a large cooker holds the sticky rice that forms the base of a poké bowl.

The idea to offer poké came when Third Space owners Seán Mullan and Tom Slattery visited a friend in New York earlier this year, says manager Dee Kelly.

“Their friend [in New York] started doing poké about five years ago,” she says. In recent years the dish has spread from the Pacific to New York, she says, on to London and now to Dublin.

“We’ve been kind of taking it slow because we’d a lot to learn,” says Kelly.

Behind the counter, Tzu-Juan scoops sticky rice into a bowl. She adds pickled ginger and scallions, then avocado and mango and tuna.

Next, she puts edamame beans, fried garlic and coriander on top, before sprinkling some sesame seeds and a decent dash of sriracha sauce.

Islanders

Across town at Klaw Poké on Capel Street, in addition to his lobster rolls and oysters, Dublin chef Niall Sabongi has also started to offer the South Sea delicacy.

In Hawaii, poké is ubiquitous. “It’s everywhere, it’s very popular,” says Sabongi, sat on a wooden bench. “I came across it about two years ago in the UK and fell in love with it.”

Sabongi worked under a poké cook for a time in the UK, perfecting the combinations before launching it back home in Dublin three weeks ago.

The new space, with exposed brick and wooden benches, is more spacious than Sabongi’s Temple Bar outfit.

At Klaw Poké, customers get to choose the different building blocks for their meal – just as they do in Third Space.

There’s a base of rice, noodles, or leaves. Fish choices include yellow tuna, octopus, and lobster.

Then comes the sauce: sriracha, or the sweet-and-sour dipping sauce called nam jim, or a traditional citrus-and-soy sauce, called the house ponzu.

It’s topped with either salty pineapple, macadamia nuts, or samphire.

For indecisive diners, there are several poké bowls designed already, including, for example, the Ahi Poké with tuna or vegetables marinated in rice vinegar, and the Octo Poké. A bowl costs between €9.50 and €15, depending on the fish.

For Sabongi, it makes sense that poké has finally arrived in Dublin. “It’s reminding people that we’re an island, an island nation,” he says. “So our inspiration came from one island to another island.”

Poké means “to cut” in Hawaiian. “When the fishermen would be out, they’d catch a couple of rockfish, slice them, add a really simple ponzu dressing,” says Sabongi.

Nothing is wasted. “They’d scrape the bones of the yellowfin, what was left and that’s what they’d make their lunch out of,” he says.

The dish spread to Japan and Korea, the flavours from the various countries melding together in time. “One of the lads [working at Klaw] described it as the chicken fillet roll of the pacific,” Sabongi laughs.

At Klaw Poké, the tuna and local salmon are both served raw, the octopus cooked. Like the lobster, it’s sourced mostly locally.

Sabongi says customers have reacted well to the poké bowl, so far. Kelly of Third Space says much the same. “It’s super healthy and it’s really easy to take away,” she says. “It’s something different and you can make it your own.”

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Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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