Why you should care
Because this ain’t no fish story.
Let’s not make this about being afraid of raw fish. Is anyone, anywhere, still afraid of raw fish? Sushi changed all that, and anyway, this is a story about Paris, where a giant pile of raw beef with an egg yolk nestled on top is considered standard fare. So perhaps it is geography that kept poké, the raw-fish-and-rice bowls that are one of Hawaii’s greatest culinary contributions, out of the European mainstream for so long — Hawaii is a very long way away, and rather inconvenient for continentals who could much more easily swim at Majorca.
However long it took, poké is here. And as with all things that land in Paris, poké is French now. And goddamn is it delicious.
Before this year, before poké bowls became the new avocado toast in Paris’ chicest holes-in-the-wall, those of us who loved poké had to make it ourselves. Which is the easiest thing in the world: Fishmongers who expect you to use tuna for tartare wouldn’t sell you anything you couldn’t eat raw, and the rest of it is a matter of chopping, arranging and eating with gusto. It was almost obnoxious to see actual poké restaurants, since it’s such a pleasant and easy meal to make at home — until I looked a little closer at the menu.
I would jump into the Seine for this duck poké; I would punch a stranger in the face for this duck poké.
Most Parisian poké joints go with the standard raw-fish-and-rice you see in every small California town — but not Ono Poké, the brainchild of Margot Amzallag. Native to France but a graduate student in Los Angeles, Amzallag first tasted poké in California and thought it’d tap into Paris’ tendency to snag California food trends for itself. “We knew that the trend was going to be huge,” she says, and it does seem to be. Ono Poké has two locations, and it’s far from the only game in town. Beyond the raw fish available everywhere, the menu includes poké bowls (€9.50-€12.50) topped with chicken, dry beef (inspired by a meal Amzallag had in Maui) and — this one’s important — duck.
OK, duck isn’t poké and this isn’t anything, like … authentic. But duck is French, and this duck — shredded and crisp, tossed with bright orange citrus fruit and parsley — proves that even perfection can actually be improved upon. While eating duck poké, so ravenously that I have never even managed to take an Instagram of it before it was entirely gone, my brain always pops with superlatives: I would jump into the Seine for this duck poké; I would punch a stranger in the face for this duck poké. Would I really do those things? Probably not, but it always seems important, at the time, to prove my deep and everlasting love for my lunch.
But I would punch a stranger in the face for the salted caramel dessert poké. This is France: We take fusion food seriously.
Recipe: Make Your Own Poké
This is just regular old tuna poké, the kind you make for yourself when you have the time, or with friends when everyone is happy to sit and chop something. Serves two hungry people, three pals or four as a snack.
- Half a cucumber
- 1/3 cup white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 lemon
- 1 lime
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 scallions
- 1/2 teaspoon hot chili sauce
- 200 grams tuna
- 1 avocado
- Short-grain rice
- Flaked seaweed
- Sesame seeds
Slice the cucumber into circles, then cut each circle in half. Put it in a bowl, and sprinkle a big pinch of salt.
Mix the vinegar with 1/8 cup water, the sugar and 2 tsp. of salt. Stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. Press gently on the cucumber slices to let them release some moisture, then drop them into the vinegar mixture. They should sit for at least 20 minutes. You may want to start making your rice now, but follow your heart (and the package instructions).
While they’re sitting, mix your ponzu: Juice the lemon and the lime, and add soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil.
Slice scallions into rings. Mix a large dollop of mayonnaise (or two) with chili sauce.
Chop the tuna into half-inch squares. Admire it. Instagram it. Put it in a bowl. Drain your cucumbers and add them to the bowl, then add the ponzu. Stir together.
Halve the avocado, remove the pit and chop into neat squares — the easiest way is to cut the squares without skinning the avocado, then scoop the green flesh from the skin right into the bowl with your tuna. It’ll fall into pieces.
Scoop warm rice into serving bowls and divide the tuna-avocado mixture among them equally. Are they equal? Take the biggest one. Sprinkle the scallions, flaked seaweed and sesame seeds on top, and bring the chili mayonnaise to the table to mix in as you like.