Is This Malaysia’s Next Superfood?

Paperfish Poke Bowl TTDI Kuala Lumpur

It’s called Poke, pronounce as Po-keh, (not to be confused with other famous Poke on the market) and I had long been reading about this new food trend that was taking over the States. There were stories of lines stretching around the block  and I even read that Hawaiian restaurants and google searches for Hawaiian cuisine were skyrocketing as a result of Poke’s growth in popularity.

 

Go search for it on Google you’ll get an idea of why its so appealing. Just looks great doesn’t it? Plus, it ticks all the boxes: Fresh fish. Raw. Vibrant and colourful. Looks healthy. Easy to eat on the go. Also it’s in a bowl (it’s a rice bowl!). Seems like all the food trends of the past 10 years just got smashed into one super trend, ready to take over the world. No wonder its driving people mad.

 

So, when I heard that my friend Dennis was opening a Poke shop of his own in TTDI, I just had to go check it out. And, although I was nervous that reality wouldn’t match up to expectations I was not disappointed at all. The fish was fresh, and when paired with rice and the special shoyu sauce I chose, really burst in my mouth. For the record, you can build your own bowl from a variety of different bases (like salad, white rice or brown rice), fish (salmon, tuna, shrimp etc) and sauces (too many to name, but all either Japanese or Hawaiian influenced and delicious), controlling the nutritional content of your meal and the calories you consume too. No matter what combination you choose, the resulting bowl always ends up looking like a ray of sunshine just waiting to be gobbled up.

Paperfish at TTDI with friends

So this must be the next big thing in Malaysia right? Well, its been 2 months since Paperfish opened and the excitement hasn’t really built up yet. Will Poke fulfil its potential in Malaysia or will it be another failed trend? I thought I would break it down a bit and provide my own verdict….

 

PROS:

ITS JAPANESE (SORTA)

It’s Hawaiian actually, but did you know that many Hawaiians are part Japanese? That explains the shared obsession with raw fish and soy sauce.

The fact that Poke has heavy Japanese influence means that Malaysians should surely take kindly to it. After all, we die for anything that is Japanese, or Korean, or Taiwanese (or anything really that isn’t local, for that matter…).

 ITS IN A BOWL

That’s gotta count for something, right? After all, its been proven that serving food in bowls increases the sense of satisfaction and fulfilment that it gives the person eating the food.

It’s all psychology, I accept, but somehow it does feel better to eat something out of a bowl (more “homecooked” or “hearty” perhaps). Especially if the recipe is traditional and has deep roots in a particular cuisine. Which brings us to…

IT HAS A COOL STORY

Who here has never dreamt of visiting Hawaii? That’s right, no one. Even though we live in a tropical paradise ourselves, we all yearn to spend over RM5,000 (at current exchange rate, don’t hold me responsible for further increases) to visit these legendary islands. But while we can’t all go to the 50th state, we can all get a taste of paradise through Poke, the islands’ most famous food export. For imagination’s sake, just pretend you’re in that cafe featured in 50 First Dates, and the big daddy at the back brings in some freshly caught Tuna, slices and dices it in front of your eyes and then beds it on a perfectly moist layer of Japanese Pearl Rice. Thank me later!

IT’S HEALTHY (OR IT CAN BE)

 The beauty of Poke is that it is flexible to your dietary requirements. If you have the discipline, opt against the white rice (many in Hawaii do as well) and go for Brown Rice or Salad as a base. Alternately, just eat Poke on its own. Also, it’s raw fish we’re talking about here, and raw fish contains some seriously good nutritional benefits (such as Omega 3, the so-called “good fat”). For a strategy on how to maximise the benefits of eating Poke, check this article out.

IT LOOKS AMAZING

Seriously….have you ever seen anything as inviting to your taste buds? Enough said.

 

Cons:

OK, its going to be hard to top all the pros listed above, but I’ll give it a go.

A BIT TOO LATE?

I’m just saying, but maybe the bowl movement has already had its day? It was kinda big in 2015, bigger in 2016 and now it might be on the way down. Let’s hope not.

TOO MANY TRENDS?

This could well be true. Just search for “food trends” and you’ll see that predicting trends in food has become a billion dollar industry in itself (exaggerating a bit but you get the point). There are too many to count, but let’s try.

  • Farm-to-table
  • Hydroponics
  • Food trucks
  • Molecular
  • Sharing plates
  • Speakeasies

With that amount of competition in the”innovative” niche of cuisine alone, how does Poke stand out How does any restaurant stand out, for that matter?

IS FISH TOO PRICEY?

 See, the whole success of Poke in the USA is reliant on the fact that fresh, tasty fish is readily available and affordable, meaning that a bowl of Poke would set you back no more than 10 or 12 Dollars (not a lot if you’re earning USD). It means that Poke can be served casually in a takeaway bowl and that its a filling, healthy lunch anyone can afford.

But what about in Malaysia? The kinds of Japanese style fish used for Poke aren’t found in our waters so it has to be imported at greater cost. This means that for Poke to be affordable (i.e. in the RM10 – RM19 bracket) the customer gets less fish and smaller bowls, reducing the wow factor and the ability of the meal to fill your tummy.

The big question therefore is….what is Poke to Malaysians (or what should it be marketed as) – a slightly pricey but filling meal, or a mid-range nice-to-eat snack? I think right now its the second of those two and that’s not good, because then its got to compete against our beloved local hawker food for attention. And nothing can ever defeat Rojak in my humble opinion.

 

Conclusion:

60% LIKELY TO SUCCEED

I only say this because I love Poke and I want everyone to try it, but operators in Malaysia need to up their game if they want to stay profitable after the whole fad dies down overseas. To do so, think about some nifty ways to cut through the marketing clutter and make Poke stand out. Perhaps office deliveries are the way to go? Or how about Poke parties? That could have a good effect!

No matter what that gimmick is, operators first need to figure out whether Poke is a full meal or a snack. Without that, the fish ain’t ever gonna make it out of the chiller.

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