Earlier this year, when the hot weather was just revving up, I ate a meal that qualified simultaneously as the healthiest and trendiest I’d had in a long time.
It was a poke bowl, chopped raw fish over sushi rice and under a quasar of colorful toppings. It was prepared before my eyes, assembly line style, faster than a fast food burger. It set me back a lot more. But it was quick, tasty, protein-packed and satisfying. Still, something about it made me just a little uneasy.
For a dish that’s cool and light, the poke bowl trend has been running hot and heavy, and now it’s barreling across New Orleans.
Any food trend turning up this fast always seems force fed. Poke is deeply traditional in its homeland of Hawaii, prepared simply and sold everywhere. But the current trend for poke bowls is different, and in its march across the mainland chefs and franchise developers have bent it to their business plans.
Innovation is always welcome at my table, but just imagine if gumbo somehow became the next fast-casual craze and chains started encouraging folks to mix and match.
Still, after eating my way across the growing New Orleans poke bowl scene this summer, my appetite has outpaced any umbrage. The truth is, raw fish, sour rice, cool crunchy vegetables and a bit of salty, spicy, tangy sauce speaks to me as this hot season slogs on.
Do I sound conflicted? A New Orleans summer will challenge us in many ways.
So I’ve tasted the stuff at mom and pop poke parlors, sleek concepts, walk-up poke stands at food halls and I’ve even spotted poke bowls at grocery store delis. New Orleans has already seen some shake out, with one Riverbend poke place opening and then promptly closing. Meanwhile, the national poke bowl chains are now rolling in.
Well, that’s what a trend looks like when it hits stride - whether it’s cutsie cupcakes or poke bowls.
Will it last? I can’t say. But as this unreasonably hot summer stretches on, when I’m thinking about a quick lunch sometimes the poke bowl is just so raw, it’s right.
Here are some places to try poke bowls around New Orleans
2809 St. Claude Ave.
3341 Magazine St.; 701 Metairie Road; 939 Girod St.
Auction House Market, 801 Magazine St.
Pythian Market, 234 Loyola Ave.
Place St. Charles, 201 St. Charles Ave.
2901 Magazine St. (note, slated to officially open July 26, 2018)