a Local's dream - imagine waking up and finding yourself in the middle
of a feast of more than sixty-five different kinds of poke, all just waiting
for you to taste!
Actually, it's not a dream - it's the Aloha Festivals Sam Choy
Poke Contest which will take place at the Hapuna Prince Hotel on
Sunday, September 21. On that day, finalists selected from both amateur
and professional chefs from all over Hawai'i, as well as the mainland
and the Pacific, will vie for the honor of being chosen "The Best" in
such variegated categories as "Best in Show," "Best Ogo," "Best traditional,"
"Best Cooked Poke," "Sam's Favorite," and many others. Prizes include
sizable amounts of cash plus mainland vacations at locations that, in
the past, have included Vancouver and Seattle. This is the sixth year
of the contest which began in Waimea in an army tent in the middle of
the town ball park. The contest is free to the more than four hundred
people who attend. It has come a long way from its humble beginnings.
Its story tells us much about poke - one of the last truly Hawaiian foods
and the people who have been involved in its evolution.
is the slicing or cutting of raw, fresh fish into cubes or bite-size
pieces. Today, it is loosely translated to mean a marinated Hawaiian
dish or either raw, seared or cooked seafood."
-SAM CHOY'S POKI CONTEST
too long ago, poke was a traditional Hawaiian food, prepared at home
for the family and also for lu'au and other celebrations. It was a practical
and simple way of preparing raw fish in a warm, semitropical climate
when refrigeration was unavailable. Hawaiians developed several ways
to cook or preserve fish, an important source of protein in their diet.
Fish not cooked in an imu, broiled over coals or boiled in gourds by
adding red-hot stones, was preserved by salting and drying, Another
favorite preparation, the origin of today's poke, involved salting and
seasoning of raw fish that had either been massaged (lomi) or, in the
case of larger fish, cut into bite-sized pieces. Traditional seasonings
for this form of poke included seaweed or limu, roasted ground kukui
nut or 'inamona, and seasalt or pa'akai. The green onions, chili peppers
and shoyu that have now become typical o f modern poke were not available
to Hawaiians before Western or Asian contact.
of the greatest changes in the modernization of poke has been the greater
variety of fish that is now available to the consumer and the distances
it travels to our markets. Traditionally, the majority of fish came
from the shoreline and reefs. It was supplemented by fish cultivated
in salt water and fresh water ponds. The availability of different fish
was insured by careful conservation. Grounds were protected from over
fishing and a kapu system prevented catching fish during their spawning
season. Fishes like the weke, kole, manini and palani were plentiful
and used more than the ahi, aku and marlin which we have become accustomed
to seeing in the markets today.
the preparation of traditional poke appears deceptively simple, great
skill was required, Salt was essential, both for preservation and taste.
Knowledge of salt gathering and preparation from locations along the
seashore was passed down in families from generation to generation.
Even today, different places in Hawaii are valued for the quality and
taste of the salt they produce; especially prized is the salt from Hanapepe,
Kaua'I, with it's rust color, and the salt from Ka'ena Point on 0'ahu
for its purity. Drying and cleaning of the salt are time-consuming and
were once an important part of the Hawaiian lifestyle.
valued as a condiment and a major part of the taste and nutritional
value of traditional poke was seaweed or limu. In pre-contact days,
Hawaiians depended greatly on seaweed for its nutritional value; they
had names for more than eighty different types, although in recent times,
no more than fourteen have been harvested. Limu kohu, the type of seaweed
most often used for poke, is still gathered by independent fishermen
who collect the seaweed at secret locations along the coastlines. A
soft, reddish-brown seaweed with a distinct marine or iodine scent flavor,
limu kohu is generally found only in roughwater areas and is dangerous
to collect when it is exposed at low tide. After gathering, limu is
carefully and painstakingly cleaned to remove the tiny rocks, sand and
pieces of coral that are lodged in its branches. Gatherers who brave
surf and coastline waves are the primary sources of supply for Hawai'i's
markets which anxiously await their periodic telephone calls with offers
of fresh limu kohu.
third and final ingredient for traditional poke is 'inamona roasted,
ground and salted kukui nut which adds balance and a nutty flavor to
the fish. The kukui nut (candle nut) tree was brought from the South
Pacific by early Polynesian settlers. Before the development of sugar
plantations, the forests along the wet, windward coast were covered
with trees which rose to heights of ninety feet. The nut has many uses
including fuel, light, oil, dye and medicine, as well as flavoring.
Although kukui nut trees have become less abundant, 'inamona is still
made commercially by a small number of companies such as Kukui Nut Products
poke has evolved from this traditional form. A wide variety of fish
and flavorings are now available for the consumer. In Waimea at KTA
and at Sure Save supermarkets, almost two dozen types of poke are marketed
every day, most based on ahi, aku and marlin with different flavor combinations.
In addition, imported blue crab, mussels and tako, or octopus, have
also become popular, Customers unaccustomed to traditional poke are
more apt to enjoy the varieties with the flavors of shoyu or kim chee.
Beer drinkers crave the saltier combinations. Occasionally, traditional
style poke made from 'opelu, tripe or beef liver poke (ake) is available
- a treat for the true poke aficionados.
1991, Gene Erger, a Waimea resident who has volunteered on countless
occasions to help promote local festivals, and Sam Choy, a Big Island
restaurateur whose name has become synonymous with local "Pac- Rim"
cuisine, came up with the idea of a competition to promote poke. Both
wanted to remind islanders of a food which is uniquely Hawaiian. They
also wanted to spread awareness of this delicacy among Hawai'i's many
visitors. The first contest, part of the Aloha Festivals Ho'olaulea,
was held in a borrowed, green army tent on a hot, dry summer day in
the middle of Waimea Park. Gene remembers the day was so windy that
dust blew all over the contestants and their entries. "When you put
down the flaps to save the food, you almost died of suffocation," he
recalled. Volunteers were found to fan the food, the participants and
the judges. Many people had said openly that the contest was a "foolish
idea", doomed to failure, and so it seemed in the midst of the stifling
heat. Though the contest was only publicized by a small newspaper announcement
and word of mouth, there were still almost five hundred entries in that
first year. Six local chefs participated. Sam Choy had agreed to sponsor
the contest because he believed that poke was an important traditional
Hawaiian food. He was "flabbergasted" by its unexpected success.
the second year, the contest was given a prize budget of $800-900 and
moved into the Waimea Community Center - definitely a step up from the
borrowed tent. By 1994, more than a thousand recipes were submitted,
creating an enormous logistical problem for its volunteer coordinators.
In 1995, the Hapuna Prince Resort agreed to become the event sponsor,
and the contest, with sixteen hundred and eighty entries, moved down
the hill from Waimea, This year, in order to handle the volume of entries,
preliminary qualifying events have been held, reducing the number of
finalists to sixty-five. According to Glorianne Akau, the manager of
the Aloha Festivals on the island of Hawai'i, the majority of entries
will continue to come from the Big Island. "The poke contest began as
a Hawai'i island event," she said in a recent interview, "and we want
it to remain that way. It 'is for local people to come out and enjoy."
has had its share of winners in the poke contest. In its first year,
Maha Kran of Maha's Cafe in the old Spencer House, won the International
Category for her "Ono Seviche with Mustard Dressing." In 1994, Thomas
Aiu, another Waimea resident who was then working at Paniolo Country
Inn, won first prize in the professional division for his entry, "Ahi
Poke on Butter Lettuce with Ginger and Lime." And in 1996, Trini Castillo
of nearby Kohala, won both the amateur and ogo categories.
1995, Kalei Bajo, co-owner with his wife Kalei, of the popular Kalei's
Kama'aina Kitchen, submitted
a recipe that emerged from his childhood days in Hale'iwa, 0'ahu. "Tutu
Wahine's Poke" was a mixture of reef and shellfish including humuhumu
'ele 'ele, uhu, wana, 'opihi and ha'uke'uke. Except for the limu kohu,
it took Kalei two days of solid work to gather the ingredients. Just
finding wana in the tidal pools near OTEC took five hours. After cleaning,
he had only enough eggs to fill one baby food jar. The 'inamona he collected,
roasted and prepared himself in order to achieve the finely ground consistency
which cannot be produced commercially. The Hawaiian salt, pa'akai, was
gathered by his mother at Ka'ena Point on 0'ahu.
developing his recipe, Kalei drew upon the memories of his childhood
spent in the company of his grandmother, gathering seaweed, reef fish
and other seafood along the shoreline. He remembers holding the bucket
while she caught 'opae and eating the tiny manini right from the sea
after she told him not to worry because the bones were so small. His
grandfather was an akule fisherman and the poke that Kalei creates has
its roots in the fish and lifestyle of the 0'ahu seashore.
has entered the contest for two years. He and his wife remember the
many contestants, judges and poke lovers they have met, as well as the
excitement of being able to taste so many different preparations of
raw fish. Even though he won't be competing this year, Kalei said he
really hoped that the traditional style poke - like the ones his family
made - will always be a part of the contest.
winner is a young professional chef who has been in Hawai'i only eighteen
months. Dave Dekker,
sous chef at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, came for its reopening, taking
over banquet and lu'au functions. Friendly and down-to- earth, Dekker
loves being in Hawai'i and has learned a great deal in a short time
in the islands. He first tasted poke at barbecues with his friends and
learned about fishing for the prawns in his prizewinning recipe from
other employees from the hotel who took him down to Waipi'o valley.
For the contest he caught twelve pounds of prawns - a large quantity
is needed for tasting by both judges and audience. Two other cooks from
the hotel went with him back in the valley. For eight hours they were
in the water collecting the elusive prawns. After cleaning and shelling,
they ended up with only six or seven pounds for the recipe. Dave won
in three divisions ~ Overall, Professional and Izuo brothers ~ for his
"Waipi'o Prawn Poke." This year he's entering again with a recipe featuring
ahi and nairagi. Summing up his experience as a poke creator and a relative
newcomer, Dekker has learned that if you can make a good poki, you'll
always make friends in Hawai'i.
- WHEN IT'S NOT CONTEST TIME
you're lucky enough to be at Sure Save on a day when Steve Enriques
has made his Black Bean Poke,
be sure to try his creation. This recipe was so good that Steve became
a finalist in the 1995 Poke Contest. He didn't win, but his poke was
so 'ono that the bowl was scraped clean. Since then, Steve has continued
to create new recipes, some of which appear in the fish counter at the
supermarket where he is now meat manager.
the street, KTA's meat manager, Scott Vierra, pumps out
a considerable amount a day of his poke, insuring that there will always
be an ample supply of Hawai'i's "numbah one" popular choice for pupu.
has evolved from the traditional style of food that was an essential
part of the Hawaiian diet. The availability of new ingredients, combined
with the extraordinary creativity of today's chefs has changed poke
forever, For those who have not learned to make poke at home, the instant
availability of so many different kinds in the supermarket has made
it the local favorite for parties and pupu. This month's Aloha Festivals
Sam Choy Poke Contest affords an excellent opportunity for both lovers
of poke and the adventurous, but uncommitted, to come out and give it
1996 Sam Choy Aloha Festivals
Poke Contest Winner Grand Prize,
Overall and Izuo Brothers
Waipi'o prawns, cut in chunks and frozen, then defrosted (see
3 firm Waimea yellow tomatoes, diced
2 Maui onions, diced small
5 limes, zest and juice
2 habeneros peppers, seeded and very finely chopped (see
sweet chili sauce
fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 cup shoyu
2 tablespoons sesame oil
all ingredients and chill.
Notes: Freezing the meat from the prawns is important in order
to destroy any bacteria.
Habeneros are very strong peppers and must be handled carefully.
Wash hands immediately after contact with the skin, seeds or meat
of the peppers.
1995 Sam Choy AIoha Festivals Poke Contest
Winner Grand Prize,
humuhumu 'ele 'ele (see note)
1/2 pound uhu or 'aweoweo (see note)
1/4 pound Kona crab meat
1/4 pound limu kohu (seaweed)
1/4 cup 'opihi (see note)
I/8 cup chopped green onion
1/2 teaspoon 'inamona (see note)
1/2 teaspoon wana eggs (see note)
1/2 teaspoon ha'uke'uke eggs (see note)
1/4 teaspoon blood from gills of uku, or to taste
Hawaiian salt, to taste
large bowl, combine all ingredients except blood and salt.
Squeeze blood from gills of uhu and add to seafood mixture. Add
Hawaiian salt to taste. Refrigerate for 3 hours. Serve with poi.
Notes: Humuhumu 'ele 'ele, uhu and 'aweoweo are reef fish available
only in Hawai'i.
'Opihi, limpets which taste similar to oysters, can be substituted
with small mollusks such as clams and mussels.
'Inamona, or kukui nuts, can be substituted with toasted, crushed
Hawaiian salt, also known as 'alae salt, can be substituted with
Yellowfin (big eye) tuna.
Bonito (skip jack tuna).
Roasted, pounded kukui nuts mixed with salt. An important condiment
in the Hawaiian diet.
Common Hawaiian term for seaweed. More than 350,000 pounds are consumed
annually in Hawai'i.
Small, red, spicy seaweed which grows on the edge of reefs. Rolled into
balls for storage after cleaning.
In Hawaiian, to rub, press, squeeze, mash fine, massage, rub out. The
process of preparing salt salmon or raw fish by working with fingers.
Japanese word for limu manauea, a mild and delicate red-green sea- weed
used in both Hawaiian and Japanese foods.
Hawaiian feast named for the taro tops always served at one, This is
not the ancient name but goes back at least until 1856 when so used
by the Pacific Commercial Advertiser. Formerly, a feast was called pa'ina
Sea salt. Important in Hawai'i as a means of preparing food and as a
condiment or relish. Traditionally gathered from the shoreline where
it crystallized naturally from sea water. Pa'akai from different parts
of Hawai'i is still greatly valued for its special characteristics of
taste, color or purity. TAKO
Japanese for small squid.