New food trends make their way into a city for many reasons, including expats longing for a taste of home and looking to reconnect with familiar dishes. In 2014, Hawaii’s favourite food, poké. (pronounced poh-kay), made its way to Hong Kong shores for that very reason, by way of 27-year-old entrepreneur, Steph Kudus.
A self-taught poké master, Steph is also a global traveller and food enthusiast. She completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of California and the University of Hawaii, and she spent her summers surfing while discovering a love for the raw fish salad we know as poké. After graduation, Steph spent six years as an investment banker in Asia-Pacific for the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch before she called it quits to open Pololi, Hong Kong’s first poké shop.
After years staring at a computer screen accompanied by a cornucopia of unhealthy desk lunches, Steph was driven to create a nutritious lunch that didn’t compromise on taste. In 2014, she opened Pololi, and the overnight success confirmed her hunch that locals would love poké just as much as she did.
Pololi embraces the concept of ‘ohana’ or family, meaning everyone who walks through the doors is greeted with the same endearing ‘aloha spirit’ – a set of ‘love and be loved’ values in Hawaiian lore. The shop itself is brightly decorated to resemble a surf shack, with vibrant blue and pink flowers, painted by Steph herself.
With its name meaning ‘hungry’ in Hawaiian, Pololi’s healthy and wholesome bowls are packed full of fresh ingredients to sustain and energise you all day long. The build-your-own-bowl routine is simple: choose from Japanese rice, brown rice or salad, and then choose up to two different poké toppings from the 30 or so varieties that are on rotation daily.
There’s the classic spicy ahi tuna marinated in shoyu and fresh chilli, the wasabi mayo for those who like a slight kick and the avocado mayo with creamy bits of avocado contrasting the meaty fish pieces. Not a fan of tuna? Try the yuzu salmon dressed in a fragrant ginger shoyu with pine nuts, or the creamy tofu with sesame mayo – a favourite with both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Steph has also introduced vegan options to the line-up, ensuring no one will go hungry, no what matter their dietary requirements are.
A final touch of furikake, shredded seaweed or edamame is added at the end to enhance the flavours of the bowl. For extras, you can add more poké or an order of spam musubi – another beloved Hawaiian snack with crispy spam and homemade teriyaki sauce sandwiched between rice and seaweed. Wash it all down with the delightful Hawaiian beers on offer.
With demand for poké on the rise, Pololi has expanded to a total of three stores on Hong Kong Island and one in Singapore, making it Asia’s first poké. chain. Despite plans for further expansion, Pololi’s mission remains humble at its roots: to honour the ‘mom-and-pop’ shops in Hawaii where poké first started and to introduce the aloha spirit to a growing global audience. So far, it has been a resounding success.