Abunai Is Throwing Some Serious Shade at “Fake” Mainland Poke

Abunai doesn't want your "fake poke." Photo by Jessica Sidman.

At the rate poke shops are popping up around DC, they could very well outnumber Pret A Manger storefronts. Just in the past few months, we’ve seen the debut of Pokéworks, Abunai Poke, Poké Papa, and Poki DistrictHoneyfish Poke arrives in the next few weeks, and don’t be surprised to find even more spinoffs down the line.

But one of these poke spots—run by an actual Hawaiian native—isn’t happy about being grouped in with the rest. Abunai owner Akina Harada has taken to Twitter with messages like “‘Mainland poke’ ruining our culture” to let people know that the “trendy” poke coming out of California is not the same as that originating in Hawaii. Most recently, Harada posted a blackboard outside her downtown restaurant that reads, “Friends don’t let friends eat FAKE poke!”

Traditional poke has minimal ingredients—the classic recipe consists of cubes of raw tuna, slivered onions, and a soy-sesame sauce. “Fake” or mainland poke, Harada explains, is more like a salad bowl muddled by extraneous toppings and too many sauces.

“Customers ask me, ‘Why don’t you have this or why don’t you have that?,’ comparing us to Poké Papa,” Harada says. Unlike her mainland poke competitor, which claims to be “Hawaiian inspired,” she doesn’t have Thai larb chicken, pineapple, or Korean gochujang sauce on the menu.

“I think he’s just trying to tap into the poke market because it’s trendy right now,” Harada says. (Poké Papa owner Kerry Chao, for his part, previously told Washingtonian that he didn’t realize the extent of the poke craze until he took some research trips to Los Angeles to prepare for the opening.)

Don’t get her wrong, Harada isn’t trying to start a war with Poké Papa—or any other poke shops. Her rants are “half-joking,” and she even wants to try out their food. “I’m sure it’s good,” she says.

Rather, Harada just wants people to stop making comparisons. And she wants customers to embrace the simplicity of poke.

“They just want a lot of choices, a lot of toppings, a lot of different sauces. Just a lot of things,” Harada says. “But I’m not going to do that.”

Let the poke shade continue:


Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.