Poke Me! Our (Very Justified) Obsession with Bowl Culture

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While it’s not entirely accurate to say there’s a universal “obsession” with eating meals out of  bowls, we can solemnly swear that we love the poke trend. Let’s look more into these yummy meals.

Our Attraction to Poke

Why, oh why, do we love poke bowls? Is it because of their simplicity? There’s very little prep other than opening cans and chopping, and cleanup is basically washing a bowl and fork. But there has to be more than that to why we’re obsessed with poke bowls. (Aching to make one of my favorite poke bowls? Check out this recipe for my Spicy Chickpea Poke Bowl with Sriracha Kick!) the early 2000s, American foodies opened their eyes to Italian slow eating, and this transitioned over time into what we now call “mindful eating.” Then charcuterie boards came back in style, where cooks draw on their artistic skills to arrange foods on platters. Poke bowls were a natural next move, intertwining the desire to build a beautiful meal of fresh foods. 

Let’s not forget, too, our need to film our food, and share our photos and videos with the world. Think about how pretty the pictures of poke bowls come out. The visually appealing arrangement of colorful ingredients in a bowl, often layered and topped with various sauces and textures, makes for great photos and social media sharing. Anyone can appreciate how these dishes present beautifully and garner online engagement.

Poke bowls are also incredibly easy to customize and control. We build our bowls to cater to our individual preferences and dietary needs. “I basically grab what’s in the fridge and put it on my bowl,” a woman named Krissy told me over brunch last Saturday. She said she made a fruit poke one day, when she only had pineapple, strawberries, and oranges in the fridge. 

People can choose their own base (grains like rice or couscous, salad greens, or even a thick soup), proteins, vegetables, toppings, and dressings to create a personalized meal that aligns with their tastes and dietary restrictions. 

Because of all this customization and choice, bowls fit well with popular dietary trends like vegetarianism, veganism, keto, and gluten-free eating. My pescetarian boyfriend loves to top his with salmon. 

And there’s no judgements with poke bowl ingredients. If I were to invite boomer friends over, I’d probably have sliced hot dogs or browned ground beef to suit their flavor preferences. 

Poke bowls are also likely to be popular because of their portability and convenience. Bowls are typically single-serving, easy to eat on the go, and less messy than a plate with multiple components. Food doesn’t tend to slide out of a bowl — unlike food on a plate. You can easily eat a poke bowl from your car.

Bowls offer a wide range of flavor combinations and textures. The mix of warm and cold, crunchy and soft, sweet and savory creates a dynamic eating experience that can be more exciting than a traditional meat-and-potatoes plate.

Bowls often highlight fresh, high-quality ingredients, which aligns with modern values of sustainability and local sourcing.

It’s true that poke ingredients tend to be Asian inspired, but you can draw inspiration from diverse cuisines, allowing for exploration of flavors from around the world.

Ultimately, the appeal of building bowls lies in their combination of aesthetics, customization, convenience, and health-conscious options, factors that resonate with foodies today.

Basics of Building the PErfect Poke Bowl

Building a poke bowl is an art form, a symphony of flavors and textures, and an ode to your personal preferences. Let’s break it down step-by-step.

Basically, a poke bowl is a grain base, a protein, a few toppings, a dressing, and a garnish.

The foundation of a poke bowl is usually a grain or salad green that is spread evenly in the bowl. This is the anchor of the bowl, providing sustenance and textural contrast. The most common bases are sushi rice, quinoa, brown rice, mixed greens, spiral-cut veggies, riced cauliflower, or steamed potatoes.

Atop the base is a primary protein, along with all the toppings.

A poke bowl usually has one main protein, the star of the show. Traditional poke features raw, sushi-grade fish like tuna, salmon, or ahi. However, mainstream pokes will vegetarian and vegan options are becoming increasingly popular, with tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, or marinated veggies taking center stage.

Proteins might be naked or marinated for umami and depth of flavor. Soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and chili flakes are popular ingredients. Some restaurants offer a variety of marinades to cater to different palates. 

Toppings are everything from veggies to fruits. Vegetables like seaweed salad, cucumbers, edamame, avocado, pickled ginger, and carrots are common choices and add color and crunch. Don’t hesitate to explore other options like mango, bell peppers, or radishes for a unique twist.

The toppings are positioned around the bowl in little piles. Poke dishes are served with the toppings arranged next to each other in an aesthetically pleasing way, usually based on colors and shapes.

Dressings tie everything together with a final punch of flavor. Soy sauce-based dressings, creamy wasabi mayo, spicy sriracha aioli, or a sweet and tangy ponzu sauce, or that chutney you’ve been meaning to try will do. Choose one that complements the other ingredients of your bowl.

Garnishes like crispy onions, toasted sesame seeds, furikake, crumbled nori seaweed, and chili flakes add textural and flavor bursts. Pickled ginger, kimchi, and sauerkraut bring sour and tartness. Get creative with fresh herbs, citrus zest, and olives for extra zing. 

It’s easy to grab the salt shaker, but I like to keep my poke bowls low-sodium to fully enjoy the flavor of the other ingredients.

Building a poke bowl is all about personalization. Experiment with different bases, proteins, veggies, and toppings to find your perfect combination. Many restaurants offer pre-made bowls, but building your own can be a fun and rewarding experience. 

And there you have it! From the base to the final drizzle, a poke bowl is a culinary adventure waiting to be explored.

Possible Ingredients

Throw out all the rules, and throw in whatever you want. Here are just a few of the ingredients you could use.


  • beans
  • broccoli (riced)
  • cauliflower (riced)
  • chickpeas
  • corn grits
  • couscous
  • kale
  • quinoa
  • rice
  • spinach
  • spiral-cut veggies
  • sweet potato (mashed)


  • ahi tuna
  • beans
  • beef
  • chicken
  • chickpeas
  • crab
  • furikake
  • hummus
  • lobster
  • salmon
  • sausage
  • shrimp
  • tempeh
  • tofu
  • turkey


  • avocado
  • beans
  • bell peppers
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • chickpeas
  • corn
  • cucumbers
  • edamame
  • kale
  • kimchi
  • mango
  • mushrooms
  • onions
  • peas
  • pineapple
  • radish
  • sauerkraut
  • seaweed / nori
  • shredded carrots
  • spinach
  • squash
  • strawberries
  • sweet potato (cubed)
  • tomatoes
  • watermelon chunks
  • zucchini


  • balsamic vinaigrette
  • chili paste
  • citrus zest
  • hummus
  • sesame oil
  • sriracha


  • crushed nuts
  • citrus zest
  • furikake
  • pickled ginger
  • roe
  • seaweed / nori
  • sesame seeds
  • wonton strips


  • Use a small bowl for a light lunch, a regular bowl for a satisfying meal, or a giant soup bowl for a feast. 
  • Go for a rainbow effect and choose veggies with vibrant colors.
  • Pick a theme or flavor palate, and use ingredients that fit.
  • Serve ingredients in chunks or slices so they are easy to pick up and eat in one bite without additional cutting.

Q & A

Q: Isn’t a modern-day “poke bowl” just a bowl of food?

A: While it’s true that a modern-day bowl of food is ultimately just a container holding an assortment of ingredients, the term “poke bowl” has taken on more than just a literal meaning in recent years. Bowls are associated with clean, healthy eating that focuses on fish and plant-based ingredients.

Q: What is a traditional Hawaiian poke bowl?

A: A traditional poke bowl is a Hawaiian dish featuring marinated raw fish (typically tuna, salmon, or ahi) served on a bed of rice with assorted toppings and sauces. It’s a vibrant and customizable meal bursting with flavors and textures. Poke bowls are small and usually only consist of about 150-200 calories.

Q: Is it poke, po-kay, poh-kee, poke-ee, or…?

A: You might be tempted to poke your friend with a finger and call these meals “poke” bowls, or even call them “poh-kay” like the pronunciation of the Japanese fermented rice drink, sake, but nope. The pronunciation “poh-kee” is more acceptable and closer to the original Hawaiian, though “poke-ee” is also acceptable. 

Q: What kind of fish goes in a poke bowl?

A: While tuna, salmon, and ahi are the classic choices, poke bowls can be made with various seafood like shrimp, scallops, and octopus. You don’t have to use seafood, though — tofu, tempeh, and chickpeas are excellent proteins for vegetarian bowls. 

Q: Are there any toppings you have to put on a poke bowl?

A: Not at all. You can top your poke bowl with almost anything in the kitchen, and the possibilities are endless! Popular toppings include seaweed salad, edamame, cucumber, avocado, carrots, chickpeas, and corn. Feel free to get creative and add your favorites, especially if they’re in season.

Q: What kind of sauces, dressings, and seasonings are used to top a poke bowl?

A: Poke bowls offer a playground for flavor exploration, and that extends to the wonderful world of sauces and dressings! Aioli sauces, traditional salad dressings, siracha, soy sauce, Korean chili sauce, bbq sauce…it’s all good. (We’re putting together a list of simple dressing recipes…) 

Q: Does soup or cereal fall into the category of “bowl culture”?

A: No, they don’t. Just because a meal comes in a bowl doesn’t mean it fits into the “bowl culture” category. Bowl meals aren’t just a mash of ingredients piled on top of each other, like you might encounter at a breakfast diner. Each ingredient of a bowl is carefully chosen and prepared, and then placed atop a base in an aesthetically pleasing way. It’s a symbol of mindful eating and dedication to clean eating.  

Q: Do I eat poke bowl with chopsticks or a fork?

A: Both are perfectly acceptable. Use chopsticks for a more authentic Hawaiian experience, especially if the ingredients have an Asian flair. Use a fork (or a spoon) if you’re more comfortable and if the ingredients are wet or very small. You shouldn’t need a knife, since ingredients should be prepared and served in small, bite-sized pieces.

Q: Do poke bowls contain cheese and dairy?

A: No, not usually. Since poke bowls have their roots in Asian cooking, they rarely contain cheese or dairy. However, you are welcome to include these ingredients as toppings or in sauces if that suits your flavor profile. 

Q: Are poke bowls criticized for cultural appropriation?

A: Yes, poke bowls have been criticized for cultural appropriation because they are a culturally significant dish to Hawaiian people. I talk about this more in another article that you might find interesting.

Tools & Prep

To prep building a poke bowl, your tasks include cleaning, cutting, and seasoning ingredients. Some ingredients need to be cooked, like grains and seafood, but most toppings can be served raw unless you want to heat them up. If you’re making your own sauces and dressings, your to-do list expands to whisking and mixing. 

You’ll need simple tools like a sharp knife, peeler, zester and grater. Pots,  pans, casserole dishes, pressure cookers and air fryers can be used to bake, grill, or fry ingredients. Dressings and sauces can be mixed by hand with a whisk or with a bullet-style mixer or food processor.

I like to make poke bowls as on-the-go meals, so I’ll chop and steam a pound or two of carrots at a time. I’ll use what I want for now, and then toss the rest in the fridge for the next bowl. Dressings get put into mason jars and keep for awhile.

After You Eat / Storing Poke Bowls

Poke bowls are single-serving and meant to be eaten in one sitting, but if you find yourself full before the bowl is empty, you can simply cover and store in the fridge. Generally, a bowl will stay fresh for up to two days, but how long you can store it depends on what ingredients you chose for your bowl. If your bowl contains raw fish, it’s best to consume the fish within a day. I like to take a sniff and “poke” the ingredients. If there’s an odor or if the protein is slimy, eh…better to toss than potentially get sick.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to check out my latest video on YouTube


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