An insider’s look at how Raleigh Raw is single-handedly bringing poke to the American South & 10 things you should know about how/why they’re doing it.
If you have no idea what “poke” (typically pronounced poh-kee or poh-kay) is — not to be confused with PokémonGO — chances are you haven’t checked Instagram or read up on the latest food-news recently. It’s being pegged as the next fast casual trend and has captured the attention of American foodies everywhere.
Ever since Raleigh Raw’s Jake Wood first saw poke on TV (peaking the expert sushi chef’s interest & appetite for creativity — no pun intended), the local phenom cafe is blazing the trail in North Carolina by serving up rave-review-worthy poke bowls in the state’s capital city. We sat down with RR’s Co-Owner, Leslie Woods and Executive Chef, Jake Wood to get our facts straight & see what all the hype is about. Here’s what you need to know…
1. Get ready to experience a cultural fusion between Hawaiian + Japanese cuisine.
RR’s “Rosarita” Bowl w/ Raw Tuna (Source: Stealz, Inc.)
“You’re getting the rice bowl concept from Hawaii, and the sashimi fish from Japanese culture,” says Leslie. The word pokē actually means to slice/sectionin Hawaiian, and a traditional raw fish salad, affectionately called poke has been a staple in Hawaiian cuisine since the 70s.
2. The main cast of characters includes sticky rice, raw fish/shellfish, fresh vegetables, herbs + seasonings.
Raleigh Raw uses a 3-step process: “First, pick your base, it’s usually going to be rice or greens. Next, pick your toppings (veggies, herbs, seasonings). Then, pick a protein to go on top of that. We offer 3 sashimi-grade raw fish (tuna, salmon, amberjack) as well as cooked spicy blue crab, or golden beets if you want a vegetarian option.”
3. Think of poke bowls as the next generation of sushi… “Deconstructed” sushi, if you will.
RR’s “Rosarita” w/ Tuna & Faroe Monch w/ Salmon (Source: Stealz, Inc.)
RR takes a “modernized” approach to poke, by compartmentalizing their ingredients & building each bowl one fresh flavor at a time. Other poke spots in the US are doing the same, and Jake says that this sort of deconstructed-sushi-approach to poke bowls is not only allowing chefs to be more artistic & creative, but it’s making poke a little more intriguing (and less intimidating) to patrons too.
4. It actually fills you up; no post-meal nap required.
Leslie said it best: “Poke is filling, with real, whole food ingredients. Your body knows how to break down whole foods, it knows exactly where to put them and how to use them. It’s something that will completely fill you up and satiate you but it won’t leave you in a fog.”
5. The fresher, the better.
An aquaculture system similar to those used by RR (Source: Shutterstock)
Sourcing ingredients locally and resisting any temptation to smother things in sauce is key for RR. “We’re going to the market 3 times a week and breaking it all down fresh. We’re not using any preservatives. People get the fresh flavor and get to taste things they’ve never tasted before.” The Cafe gets most of their vegetables from North Carolina based farmers — supporting local is big for them — and sources their fish from some of the highest quality aquaculture systems in the world.
6. Poke very well may be the most “Insta-worthy” new kid on the foodie block.
Perhaps one of poke’s biggest claims to fame is just how photogenic the dish is. Some of the biggest names in food are getting in on the insta-action (e.g. Bon Appetit) and peaking poke interest. As for Chef Wood’s favorite? “Our Faroe Monch. It’s got green, bright yellows, bright pinks… you throw orange in there with the fresh salmon and it really stands out.”
7. Move over gin… poke + juice are a match made in heaven.
RR Poke Bowl & Cold Pressed Juice (Source: Instagram, @raleighrawjuice)
Not only do the bold flavors compliment each other and leave you feeling healthy AF, but Leslie says it’s a big reason for RR’s growing success: “If we were just a juice bar, we could stand alone. And if we were just a poke bar, we could stand alone. But to have the 2 concepts together is such a unique space to be in. We can offer a lot of things to a lot of different people.”
8. It’s the perfect mix of flavor, nutrition + convenience.
Poke (and all of RR’s offerings) really embody the concept of Real Food Fast. Leslie says “It leaves you full but lets you go about your day with nothing but energy afterwards.” And Jake echoes that: “The way we’re doing poke allows people to get a lot of flavor, but it’s packed full of more nutrition than they would ever get eating ‘fast food’ from somewhere else.”
9. You get a whole lotta bang for your buck.
Local heirloom tomatoes from Carmel Market in Chapel Hill, NC (Source: Instagram, @raleighrawjuice)
Sure, the price point may be a little higher than what most are used to spending on a quick lunch, but the benefits outweigh the cost out of pocket. RR’s poke is cheaper than most, and they plan to keep it that way: “Even though $12.75 seems expensive, you go to any other restaurant and this poke is going to cost $16 or $17. We work really hard by going to each supplier in-person to get the cheapest price so we can offer it back to the community at a reasonable cost.”
10. There’s a little somethin’ for everyone.
Not only is there a vegetarian alternative, but besides the protein type itself, different poke bowls boast very unique flavor profiles. At RR, you can opt for either a spicy/bold, mild/fresh, or summery/citrusy flair, depending on the supporting cast of ingredients you choose. You can switch it up every time or just stick with what ya know, ’cause if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Parting advice: When you go for the ’gram (and you will go for the ’gram), don’t forget your hashtags.
#PokeIsDope #GottaEatEmAll #FuelTheHustle