Courtesy of Merriman's Hawaii
Courtesy of Merriman's Hawaii
Ahi Ginger Poke with Molokai Chips from Merriman’s
Culinary pioneer Peter Merriman talks the traditional—and slightly controversial—food trend that began on the islands and took the world by storm.
Even for the seasoned food lover, the term “Hawaii Regional Cuisine” might not immediately ring any bells, but the movement’s staple dishes—like the wildly popular poke bowl that’s taken the fast-casual culinary world by storm—most likely will. And it’s not just the flavors that have reached international acclaim; the backbone of this culinary movement is a true farm-to-table approach to dining—a concept now at the forefront of the foodie frontier, on the islands, on the mainland, and around the world.
Hawaii Regional Cuisine was founded over two decades ago by 12 Hawaii-based chefs from a range of cultural backgrounds. The style celebrates the fusion of Hawaii’s native ingredients and culinary traditions with a blend of foreign influences, from Polynesia to Japan, Portugal, and beyond.
“I like to say that in Hawaii, we were doing farm-to-table cooking before there was even such a thing,” says chef Peter Merriman, one of the pioneers of Hawaii Regional Cuisine. “The premise of this kind of cuisine has always been to use locally sourced products and make handcrafted food.”
Merriman has spent the past 30 years working closely with the local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen who provide the fresh ingredients used in the fusion-style dishes he serves at his four restaurants across Hawaii. He stresses the importance of the connection between locavorism (the practice of eating locally grown, caught, or raised food) and the history of the traditional Hawaiian dishes that are now recognized internationally.
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“When you think about something like the current poke craze, you have to realize that the real poke craze started in Hawaii about 1,200 years ago,” Merriman states. “Hawaiians have been eating these dishes all along.” While it has since evolved into the “bowl of the moment,” the pre-colonial, raw fish dish is rooted in sustainability, having originated as a simple way to efficiently consume the “catch of the day.” In other words, the concept of farm to table (or sea to plate) is not a trend in Hawaii—it’s an authentic staple of traditional cuisine.
“When I think of the original Hawaiian poke dish, I think of ahi tuna with seaweed, sea salt, and inamona, a traditional condiment made from roasted kukui nut,” Merriman says. “The idea of adding soy, green onions, ginger, and sesame [is new, but] those extra ingredients have really become a part of the poke bowl that’s well-known.” While those additional ingredients—namely Asian flavors—might not reflect Hawaii’s regional resources, they do reflect the islands’ ever-changing multicultural influences.
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