Poke Bowl Proliferation

Poke is to Hawaiian regional cuisine what hamburgers are to traditional American fare. If you want to offer a sense of the Pacific Islands, ahi-studded poke bowls are a good starting point. Besides, poke bowls are trending, consumers are interested, and with a better-for-you halo, the raw-fish dish is a versatile menu offering as an appetizer, salad, or entrée.

Poke shows up on 54% more menus than it did four years ago, according to research firm Datassential. And while 24% of consumers say they would like to try it, only 13% of them have. But opportunities are expanding as new poke bowl fast casuals pop up around the country. In New York City, for example, consumers have such choices as Wisefish Poke, Sweetcatch Poke, The PokeSpot, and Pokeworks. As you contemplate adding poke bowls to your lineup, work through these considerations.

Traditional and Beyond

Poke bowls can contain a variety of fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, and more. If you plan to add only one poke bowl to the menu, it’s best to stay as close to authentic as possible. Commonly incorporated into any Hawaiian poke dish are fresh ahi tuna chunks, ginger, onions, garlic, chili pepper, sesame oil, sesame seeds, macadamia nuts, soy sauce, and seaweed. To turn the raw-fish salad into a bowl, simply begin with rice, top it with the poke mixture, add vegetables and a sauce, and finish with a garnish.

Develop additional poke bowls by expanding beyond traditional and adopting your local food culture or trendy global cuisines. For a Korean-inspired dish, create a gochu-honey bowl, choosing among such ingredients as Korea’s famous gochu hot pepper tempered with honey, sesame oil, and seeds. For flavors of Indonesia or Malaysia, develop a bowl utilizing sambal oelek, an emerging hot sauce on American menus.

Customization Plan

After settling on a few standard poke bowls, consider upgrading the menu with a customization promotion one night a week for happy hour, for example, “Build a Poke Bowl Tuesday.” Customization is a play from the fast-casual playbook that can work for you too. Offer such choices as:

  • Base: rice, brown rice, quinoa, spring mix, soba noodles, or zoodles (zucchini “noodles” cut with a spiralizer)
  • Protein: ahi tuna, salmon, shrimp, tofu, Hamachi, scallops, or octopus
  • Mix-ins (any five): onions, edamame, seasoned seaweed, kale, cilantro, julienned radishes or carrots, diced mango, pineapple, cucumber, red pepper, or ginger
  • Sauce: lemon sriracha aioli, sweet chili gochujang, spicy citrus soy, wasabi-soy, or pineapple ponzu
  • Garnish (any two): avocado, hearts of palm, fried onions, fish roe, wonton crisps, Hawaiian sea salt, roasted macadamia nuts, toasted sesame seeds, or wasabi peas

Naming Know-How

With only one bowl on the menu, Hawaiian Poke Bowl might be sufficient, but the addition of more creative versions will warrant more thoughtful names. For instant recognition of the bowl, you could name it after the main ingredient, like Spicy Salmon, Sesame Tofu, Sriracha Tuna, or Mango Albacore.

Another option is to include the flavor or sauce in the menu item’s name, which could lead to such names as Spicy Yuzu Chili, Gochu Honey, Garlic Black Pepper, or Lemon Sriracha. If you aim for regional or global ingredients and flavors, identify them that way, as in Southern Style Poke Bowl or Floribbean Sunshine Ceviche Poke Bowl.

Vegetarian Options

Remember the vegetarians and flexitarians in your midst. Mushrooms have that umami quality and would be a suitable substitution for tuna or salmon, as would tofu. A combination of the two could lead to a Spicy Shiitake Tofu Bowl. Also be mindful that vegetarians are looking for flavorful alternative proteins. Thus, consider using a rice and quinoa combo for the base. For additional ingredients, include other flagship protein alternatives like edamame, sesame seeds, nuts, and/or chickpeas.

Price for Profit

A standard price point is one option, but considering the fluctuating price of seafood, you could simply state “market price” on the menu. Other strategic pricing options include pricing by size or offering appetizer, side, and entrée sizes priced respectively. If only one bowl price, consider offering premium toppings for an additional charge.

Dish Extensions

It may not make sense to bring in a vast array of ingredients that you will only use for poke bowls. Line extensions may be in order, like poke burritos, salads, subs, nachos, or sushi rolls. Given the Mexican or Southwestern moorings of burritos and nachos, make sure the ingredients make sense. This could include avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro, jalapeños, and/or green onions. Sushi-themed poke, as in a Tuna Poke Roll, could evoke cravability with an interesting sauce over the top or to dip in, as in spicy mayo or a simple citrus-soy based dipping sauce.