What’s Behind the Craze of Poke Bowls?

It was just another Tuesday afternoon, me in my all-black weekday outfit, a poke bowl in my hands. The format of the bowl was perfect—taste and convenience all in one dish.

As a staple dish of Native Hawaiian cuisine, the Poke bowl existed long before the invention of some well-known health food merchants such as Freshii, Tractor Foods, and Chopped Leaf. If you type Poke Restaurant into Google, you will find more than 15 of them on Google maps, and that’s just in downtown Vancouver.

Poke bowls satisfy three common obsessions: Pretty (i.e. perfect for Instagram), Reachable (a welcoming eatery style & accessible locations), and Healthy (health benefits), both on an individual as well as an organizational level. The poke bowl is appealing to consumers who are health-conscious and time-trapped.

More than just a pretty face.

I was passing people while they were getting lunch, when I came to realize that the poke bowl has almost usurped sushi’s popularity. It has an appeal that evolves from sushi, where a typical bowl would combine a variety of fresh, customized ingredients that looks like a rainbow.

Poke translates to “cut into pieces.” It is a bowl of aesthetic, delicious, and healthy ingredients cut into small pieces. It is a middle ground between a natural salad bowl (which usually has only two vegetables and one protein) and a filling burrito. If you get a poke bowl, it is neither ‘rabbit diet,’ nor ‘guilty craving.’ Alongside packing the protein, it is flavourful as much as ‘Insta-worthy.’

Also, there is much room for creativity when it comes to the food assortment, although the poke bowl was initially meant to consist only of fish or chicken. Now, it can contain any lean meat protein or even crispy tofu, which can contribute to the decorative expression of the poke bowl.

The rise of food bowls trend

We may not be able to dine at a fancy restaurant with Queen Elizabeth, but bowls have a lavish appeal. A poke bowl does not only look desirable to eat, but it also embraces multiculturalism. It has lush, earthy ingredients such as raw tuna, octopus, salmon, and tofu served on a bed of rice with furikake (a Japanese seasoning equivalent to salt and pepper in Western culture).

Food bowls are trendy because they are customizable. This customizability is especially appealing to meal preppers, healthy eating people, and food franchisers.

Poke restaurants are profitable. A poke restaurant requires small footage of dining space, limited labour, less equipment than other restaurants, and almost no cooking. Because of all this, it’s a more modest financial risk than some other restaurants.

Furthermore…

For centuries, plates dominated North America’s dining landscape. Now, people are eating more food than ever out of bowls that come with layers of grains, vegetables and protein. The poke business is booming, but it faces competition.

Balancing branding and profits can be tricky for poke restaurant owners. Poke bowls have attracted their fair share of naysayers, to the point of being deemed ‘overrated.’ And overrated aside, poke is pricey; a typical bowl can cost between $11 and $20.

Well-known restaurants like Cactus Club and Earl’s Kitchen have added healthier dishes into their menus, such as the ‘Zen bowl’ (wild rice with salmon), or the ‘Wholegrain Salad.’ Some restaurants have also dabbled with healthy eating concepts—offering dishes with a healthier taste in a more traditional dining environment. As the weather getting colder, a poke bowl does not seem so desirable, sometimes.

So, what’s behind the craze of Poke bowls? Decades ago, the common ingredients in the poke bowls would have people raise eyebrows. We live in an era that people appreciate authenticity and healthier alternatives, which results in a prosperous outcome; at least, for a while.