Poke! My favorite of the more traditional Hawaiian foods I tried on my trip to visit Logan in Hawaii. It's pronounced poke-eh, though sometimes pokey. The pronunciation variations totally bring to mind Tony! Toni! Tone!, right? Poke is composed of large cubes of raw fish tossed with seasonings. That's it, but there are pretty much infinite variations.
Tanioka's in Waipahu has won awards for their poke, and that was where I really wanted to try it. So, after the farmers' market, we headed out that way, ready to eat a bunch of raw fish.
The place is in a strip mall just off a main highway, and for some reason, there's a guard posted at the door - maybe to forestall raw-fish related beatdowns.
When we walked in to the deli, I was completely overwhelmed. A line snaked around the small store, which was packed all the way around with interesting, new-to-me eats.
I didn't even know where to start - I mean, just the options for poke were mind-boggling! Most of the pokes were made with ahi, marlin, or octopus, though we did see one made with raw crab that we bought. There were dried fish pokes, spicy pokes, pokes with different kinds of seaweed, oniony pokes, shoyu pokes, and plain pokes. In front of the poke case were prepared inarizushi and nori sushi rolls, which people were grabbing as fast as they were put out.
There was another case which we mostly ignored which contained prepared ahi sashimi, broken glass jello (some of Hawaii's favorite foods are right out of the 1950's), pickled seaweeds, pineapple with li hing mui, and edamame. Oh yes, and of course, mac salad and boiled peanuts!
After a whole lot of dithering (don't worry, we let people pass us in line!) we chose four pokes to take with us. The really friendly counter guys scooped healthy servings of our selections into Styrofoam, and then sent the containers down the counter towards the cash register and past the hot section.
Oh, the hot section... bentos of many descriptions, containing fried rice or fried chicken or fried fish patties or omelettes. Multiple rice balls, onigiri and musubi flavored with furikake and wrapped in nori, or topped with a fish patty, or with a pickled plum peeking out of the center. I could have sampled everything in here!
They even had bags of poi for sale! (And by the way, how hard am I kicking myself for not trying poi!?!?)
We immediately zeroed in on the left side of the case, with its "deluxe" two-layered spam musubis. I had to try one! And a poi mochi, of course, since I knew these guys had to do a better job with theirs than the one we'd picked up earlier in the day at the farmers' market. Ugh.
We got a shoyu ahi poke, flavored with shoyu and green onion, which was sublty salty; a hot alae ahi poke, flavored with Hawaiian red sea salt, which was lightly spicy, an onion and limu (seaweed) ahi poke, which was briny and only a little oniony; and a raw crab poke, which WOW. I've never had raw crab like this before! You pick it up with chopsticks and suck the meat right out of the legs and body. It was absolutely amazing, so nicely flavored with actual crab, and with an agreeably gooey yet dense texture that we both loved.
So good, all of them! And Tanioka's deluxe spam musubi totally ruined me for any musubi's I'd try later on. Their rice was perfect, flavored with furikake, and the ratio of salty processed meat to rice to seaweed was spot on. Perhaps the perfect snack.
And for dessert? Why, a kickass poi mochi, if you please! This one was great - sweet and fried with that toothy glutinous rice. Loved it.
Tanioka's is awesome, and a lot of fun, and cheap. It's a great step only a little ways off the beaten path, and the reward is worth it! If you find yourself on Oahu with a car, I'd tell you to go for it.
Tanioka's Seafoods and Catering. 94-903 Farrington Hwy. Waipahu, HI. 808.671.3779.