Poke is party food in Hawaii

It’s not a party without the poke in Hawaii! The word is pronounced poh-kay and it describes small chunks of raw fish. Poke is most often made of ahi (tuna) with various seasonings, although tako (octopus) is also popular. It’s a common appetizer here, often served on crackers or flat bread. Grocery stores sell poke in bins in the meat case. On big party weekends, like the Superbowl or a BJ Penn fight, it sells out quickly. Today, the poke trays were replaced with deeper plastic trays that hold twice as much poke as usual. Poke will make an appearance at most New Year’s Eve parties, as it does throughout the year.

New Year’s tradition, though, is sashimi — premium grade big eye tuna served in raw slabs. It’s a food for good luck, like black-eyed peas in the south. There have been regular news updates about the availability and price of sashimi leading up to December 31. This year there appears to be enough sashimi and the price was around $26 per pound (some years it has been over $30). As with fireworks, people will find a way to celebrate the New Year with their favorite lucky omens no matter how bad the economy (or maybe because of it — hoping for a better 2010).

When we first moved here, I wasn’t too sure about the idea of eating slabs of raw fish. (I am much more familiar with fish breaded and fried.) Over the year, though, I’ve come to enjoy the taste of poke. I’d forgotten about how different it sounds to non-islanders until I recently posted on Facebook that I had eaten diced raw fish on purpose. Most responses from mainlanders were of shock and disgust. All I can say is that it’s better than it sounds – if you find yourself near a bowl of poke, give it a try with an open mind. You may enjoy it!