Canada’s first eatery to serve pokē is located right here in the heart of Hamilton, the Farmers’ Market. Sometimes it can be a maze down there: enter through the doors on Wilson Street, turn right to go to the lower level by using the ramp, continue going straight all the way down the hallway to the ‘Real Food Court’. Turn left and you’ll see Eat Industry‘s wall mural for their ramen bar and across the aisle you’ll find Pokeh! Salar and Jeannie of Meat Ventures have extended their passion and love of food from their successful food truck adventure to this creative and tasty concept of pokē.
First of all, what is Pokē? It’s a dish originating from the beautiful islands of Hawaii. Cubed pieces of raw fish (tuna, salmon, or octopus) are marinated in a blend of vegetables, sauces, and seasoning. This raw fish salad is usually served as a appetizer but you can also find it served on rice as a meal. There is no set recipe for making pokē, so you can throw in anything you want to make it your own. You’ll find that the flavour combinations are heavily influenced by Japanese cuisine – probably because they’re connoisseurs in the fish world.
It’s the best to go as early as possible because the fish will be at its freshest and they usually sell-out before they close! Ok, once you’ve found the adorable eatery, you’re going to have to take 5-10 minutes to decide on 1. the protein 2. the base 3. the toppings and 4. the sauces. There are also 5 combos to choose from if you’re a bit impatient.
For my bowl, I went with a small, classic tuna, white rice base, topped with jicama, wakame (seaweed salad), taro chips, and nori strips, then tossed in a yuzu kosho sauce ($10). If you have a bigger belly than me, I suggest upgrading to a large for $3 more. I went with simple toppings because I wanted to taste the fresh tuna as this was my first pokē bowl. The fish was tender and soft, seasoned lightly and balanced beautifully with everything in the bowl. You can literally taste Japan in every bite (well, Hawaii if you’ve been there). The warm sticky rice was also the perfect pillowy-base for the fish. The jicama and taro chips broke up the softness of all the ingredients and added some crunchy textures.
In my mind, there are 2 ways of digging into this: 1. Mix everything together or 2. If you have mad chopstick skills, make a little parcel of goodness with each ingredient and pop it in your mouth. It tastes like sushi but on flavour-steroids. One bowl of pokē can cure my sushi craving without having to spend a week’s worth of lunch money 😀 It left me so satisfied, my tongue was tingling for more of the salty yuzu kosho sauce and seasoned rice. There’s something about sushi rice that makes it so tasty, you know that I’m talking about, right? The warm and sweet aroma with the sugar and vingear mixture. So simple, yet so unbelievably addicting.
Eating this bowl just made me crave for more. Although my bowl looked small, the protein and rice really filled me up. I’m already looking forward to my next visit because there’s a lot to explore. I’ve heard the cucumber noodles rock, plus I gotta get the spicy tuna or at least taste the salmon bowl. If you’re on a gluten-free or vegan diet, no worries, they’ve got your back.
It’s been more than 10 years since my last visit to the Farmers’ Market. I’ve always wanted to check it out since their renovation but somehow I just never found the time. I’m so happy that small businesses like Pokeh, Eat Industries, and Henry Brown’s Ice Cream are pumping out exciting food and generating buzz. Can’t wait to check out what the other vendors have for me.