Cold Fish. Hot Trend

Cold Fish. Hot Trend

James Sandrini 28th August 2017

Food is fashion. And London’s early adopters define what will be talked about, liked and followed in the months and years ahead. Trends can define a restaurant and bar’s success, just as it can consign a competitor to last week’s news. Stay ahead.

What Is It?

Pronounced ‘poh-kay’, this is – to steal a line from our friend Celia Farrar – ‘sushi’s fun cousin’: chunks of raw fish, rice, seaweed and a marinade. With seeds. And cucumber. Probably some Asian spice and more-than-occasionally a few other things too.

If it sounds free form then, well, you’re getting it. Even traditional poke is hard to pin down too much, resulting from generations of Hawaiian, Asian and European influence. We are a long way from the Aloha state anyway, so leave the surfboard at the door (some restaurants already have) and embrace London’s interpretation of a wildly versatile, all day delight.

When Did It Become a Big Deal and Who Was Involved?

Poké has been a part of island culture for hundreds of years but has only been heading west for a little while. It found mainstream California appeal half way through the decade, before skipping over to New York and hitting the London press in early 2016.

We figure the process looks a bit like this: Hawaiian fishermen > Cali surfers > LA foodies > Action Bronson > English explorers > Hungry London street food folk.

Why Has It Become a Thing?

A confluence of factors that, just a decade ago, would not have enabled an explosion of a hitherto unknown dish:

– Food is, ya know, a big deal now. 10 years ago we said ‘foodie’ 10x less than we do today

– Travel has never been easier and cheaper. We fly further, with more regularity and younger, tech-lead generations are more empowered than ever to explore the globe

– Street food is obviously not an entirely new phenomenon, but the modern scene is a child of our most recent recession; Street Feast only opened in 2012

– Instagram was founded in 2010. This is what Twitter looked like then. Poke is essentially the perfect food to photograph: it is cold, so it deteriorates slowly; it is varied in ingredient, so it is rarely duplicated; it is packed with colour, which never hurts; and it is regularly set to the beach scenery, so you want what it represents as much as the dish

Maths as follows: Snowballing interest in food + increased global travel + street food movement + growth of image-led social media platforms (and a few Hawaiian fishermen thrown in) = Poké trend. Could it have happened sooner? Probably not, but not because of anything already discussed. The real key to poké’s adoption in the UK, much as it was across the pond, is how accustomed we have become to all things Sushi.

Sushi first appeared on our shores in the 70s but only really took off in the late 90s. Younger audiences – the likes of which swarm street food stands across London – recognise sashimi, nigiri and maki as a staple of their food lexicon.

Poké isn’t Sushi, but it owes it a favour.

Where Can I Find it?

A few of our favourites:

Polu Poké

Ahi Poké

Island Poké

And if you’re lucky enough to be in Cali, then you need to get to Sweet Fin. If you’re even luckier and out in Hawaii then a. Damn you and b. Do yourself a favour and get to Da Poke Shack.

Who Might Take it Mainstream?

Poké restaurants are opening at pace in London, but the real catalysts will be the major grab & go vendors: Pret a Manger, Abokado and Pod have already launched their own versions.

Why Does it Matter to the UK Restaurant Industry as a Whole?

If you serve salmon in your restaurant, pay attention. Salmon prices have been soaring for the last couple of years due to an unpleasant and stock-depleting combination of sea lice in Norway and algae in Chile. Scottish salmon, favoured by many UK restaurants – the provenance of which is demanded by so many of their guests – is being tasked with making up for the loss but produces less than 10% of global supply.

A few Poké restaurants won’t cause a major ripple, but a move towards eating more fish and less meat, carried by mainstream food trends and major brands, could.

Poké sales, in the long-term, could provide competition to sushi (aside from the aforementioned battle for fish), particularly as it is ‘free’ from the shackles of tradition and therefore expectation. Savvy brands will find ways to market their poké bowls simply by the inherent flavours and recognisable ingredients, thereby avoiding the obstacle of challenging terminology.

Poké is also highly customisable. Restaurants and Grab & Go’s are benefiting from putting the power in the hands of the consumer, either in the form of smaller dishes (creating more choice for the consumer) or by allowing their guests to personalise their experience.

Finally, the bar for image-worthy content is likely to be raised. Takeaway food rarely looks this good.

How Long Will Poké Be Around For?

Poké, unlike the many images of it shared by its newfound aficionados, appears to be here to stay. It is versatile in flavour and presentation, which allows the vendor to easily angle it to their market while, even in to-order form, production is quick and relies on limited labour.

As already highlighted, poké can quickly gain the attention of a wider audience by being photogenic, having an easily translatable, exotic story and by relying exclusively – if needed – on everyday ingredients.

Most notably, consumers will be able to reproduce what they eat at home, will suffer minimal visual or taste degradation via delivery, and can vary recipes to match their diets.