Hawaii-style I Love Poke fests come to California. Where to go + prize-winning poke recipes!

I Love Poke Festival

Californians who’ve had a taste of Hawaii-style poke love it as much as Hawaii residents do. And they’ve got two—count ‘em, two—upcoming festivals that prove that amore.

In April, San Diego and Huntington Beach are hosting I Love Poke Festivals, showcasing more than 15 different styles of the favorite Hawaii snack-appetizer-lunch-dinner-whatever mainstay.

Poke— pronounced “poh-KAY”—is the Hawaiian word describing the action of slicing, or cutting crosswise into pieces. And that pretty much describes the dish, most commonly made with raw ahi (tuna), cut into square cubes and seasoned with spices such as soy sauce, Hawaiian sea salt and sesame oil, and accented with limu (seaweed), crushed kukui nut, green onion and other ingredients. You can, literally, find poke everywhere in Hawaii—from small roadside grocery stores to large supermarkets to fish markets and upscale restaurants.


If you live in either San Diego or Huntington, we suggest you check out the fests.

The Huntington Beach I Love Poke Festival happens April 12, at 6 p.m., at Don the Beachcomber restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway. Hawaii-born actress and singer Tia Carrere will emcee the event. San Diego’s I Love Poke Festival (pictured, left)— the city’s second annual edition—happens a week later on April 20, at 6 p.m., at Bali Hai Restaurant on San Diego’s Shelter Island.

What will happen at both fests?

First off, chefs from area restaurants will compete in two categories — “Best Poke” and “Surprise Me Poke.” They’ll be judged. Then everyone gets to eat some great poke.

The fest is a great way for far-flung connoisseurs to get their poke fix, or introduce poke to first-timers.

i_love_poke_festival_2010“We’re stoked to be bringing the I Love Poke Festival to Orange County this year and keep California connected to Hawaii,” says Nino “Neens” Camilo, founder of Musubi Map, California’s guide to all things Hawaii. “Hawaii-lovers that live on the Mainland, like myself, can indulge in this essential Hawaiian dish as well as many other island favorites.”

Tickets to both events are $50 presale, $65 at the door, with $5 of each ticket sale benefiting a local nonprofit. Tickets can be purchased at www.ilovemusubi.com. (Yes, the website really is iloveMUSUBI.com.)

Want to whip up the winning poke from 2010’s I Love Poke Festival categories? We’ve got the recipes right here.


2010 I Love Poke Festival “best poke” category winner Kari Rich and “surprise me” category winner Mike Malicdem.


“Ahi Poke

2010 I Love Poke Festival “Best Poke” winning recipe
by Kari Rich, executive chef, Voyeur Restaurant, San  Diego, Calif.



5 lbs. of fresh ahi
1/2 c. white soy
2 tsp. sesame oil

1 Tbsp pickled onions
1 Tbsp pickled ginger
1 Tbsp pickled jalapenos


1.    Cut ahi into cubes.
2.    Mix ahi, white soy and sesame oil together.
3.    Add the pickled ingredients immediately before serving.
4.    Top with white sesame seeds and micro basil and serve.


“Island Fruit Poke

2010 I Love Poke Festival “Surprise Me” winning recipe
by Mike Malicdem, chef, Raw Mana Sushi Lounge, San Diego, Calif.

Notes from the chef: “Traditionally, poke is made with diced ahi, seaweed, sesame seeds, soy sauce and sesame seed oil. For my “Surprise Me” category (entry), I wanted to make something that had the look of traditional poke but with a whole new fusion of fruit and ingredients from the Hawaiian Islands.”


Dried coconut flakes
Crushed macadamia nuts
Li hing mui
Plum wine reduction syrup


1.    Dice the pineapple and mangoes in small cubes and place in large mixing bowl.
2.    Add macadamia nuts and some li hing mui powder to the mix and “massage” all the ingredients.
3.    Drizzle some of the plum wine reduction sauce into the mix to bind all the ingredients together. At this point, the pieces of fruit should be red in color to mimic the look of fresh ahi.
4.    Spoon the mix into a martini glass then top off with some dried coconut flakes to give the illusion of seaweed.

And here’s a HAWAII Magazine favorite recipe for traditional Hawaii-style ahi poke we think you’lll also really enjoy!

Categories: Culture, Food