Malaysia is finally catching on to the food trend that has been taking American cuisine by storm, the Hawaiian poké revolution. Pronounced ‘poh-keh’, this traditional Hawaiian dish consists of a rice bowl topped with marinated, raw seafood and various garnishes. The first poké shop in Malaysia, The Fish Bowl, opened in Petaling Jaya outside Kuala Lumpur last year, providing Malaysians with healthy alternatives to fast food. Since then, there have been seven restaurants in the Klang Valley dedicated to serving this Hawaiian dish. With poké making a mark on Malaysia’s food scene, locals are being introduced to Hawai’i’s cultural heritage through the variety of influences that inspired this dish.
Hawai’i is one of the most ethnically diverse states of the United States, and this melting pot characteristic has contributed to the flavors and vibrancy of poké. Enjoying raw reef fish and rice, whether cured in citrus juices or not, has been a staple of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander cultures for centuries. Honolulu-based Da Hawaiian Poke Company even claims that the dish existed before Captain Cook’s arrival. The use of deep sea fish marinated in soy sauce was influenced by the Japanese, who began immigrating to Hawai’i as early as the 1800s. Poké bowl toppings such as sriracha, chili flakes, green onions, mangoes, avocados and others can be attributed to the influences of the Hawaiian diaspora across the United States. Each bite is a taste of all the years of Hawaiian history that made poké what it is today. Malaysian restaurants, like Kuala Lumpur-based Paperfish, are even making poké their own by catering to local taste buds.
US-Malaysia relations date back to the 1800s when US merchants traded at several Malaysia ports. However, the United States officially established diplomatic relations with the country in 1957, following its independence from the United Kingdom. According to the latest available data, Malaysia ranks in the top 10 sources of imports for the state of Hawai’i. Consequently, the appeal of Hawaiian cuisine is not limited to Malaysia but has also attracted the culinary sphere of Japan.
Karen Amethyst Mascariñas is Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, DC and is a graduate student at American University.