Poke, a Hawaiian seafood tradition, offered in West Loop

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A Hawaiian tradition has made its way to Chicago's French Market. Not luaus and mai tais, but rather, poke.

It is both an ingredient, as well as a method of eating, and demand has been off the charts at Aloha Poke Company in the West Loop.

Sushi-grade ahi tuna is nothing new to Chicago, but serving it in tiny cubes, sometimes marinated, with an assortment of garnishes as vast as a salad bar is certainly unique.

Poke is seen all over Hawaii - in grocery stores and shopping malls - and now Chicago has its first poke outpost, in a re-launched market.

"Poke is traditionally the Hawaiian word for 'chunks,'" said Zach Friedlander, the owner of the Aloha Poke Company.

But traditionally, that meant seafood or meat cubes, soaked in a marinade, cooked with onions and macadamia nuts. In the Chicago French Market, Friedlander's new business offers just two options - salmon, either raw or marinated, and ahi tuna, same choices - raw or marinated - plus a host of ingredients for garnish.

"We source our fish from Japan and Hawaii and then we get our salmon from Chile," he said. "Here, we offer sort of a build-your-own option, where you can choose white rice, brown rice or mixed greens and then you can add as many toppings as you want all included with the same price."

You could make ordering easy, from one of their pre-designed bowls, like a Volcano, featuring seaweed, scallions, pickled ginger, macadamia nuts and tobiko, or tiny fish eggs, plus a sauce that is both fiery from sambal chiles but also rich, due to the mayo.

Remember, if you choose the marinated poke, there is already a decent amount of seasoning.

"It's a sesame shoyu-based marinade; it really sticks to the fish nicely. It doesn't sort of soak into the fish too much, it glazes the outside and it's tasty," said Friedlander.

The options are vast and delicious. Spicy, crunchy, creamy, bitter and sweet, all at your disposal and all included in the price of your bowl. Friedlander wanted to offer Chicagoans something he'd only seen on the West Coast.

"Nobody's really focused on poke bowls, so we brought it to the Third Coast," he said.

Aloha Poke Company
Chicago French Market
131 N. Clinton St., Chicago

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