Hokey Poke X UCOOK
When Hokey Poke opened its doors, I’m pretty sure I was first one through them. As you may have read from our vegetarian sushi post, raw fish has always been my greatest weakness when it comes to going fully vegetarian. My love for sushi got re-ignited by the concept of the poke bowl. The fresh ingredients and full, balanced flavours are just the tip of the iceberg when entering Hokey Poke on a bustling Friday evening. Throw in the retro, new-wave Tokyo/Miami decor style that is so intrinsic to founder Max Botha’s vision, and you can understand why Hokey Poke has become an institution in Cape Town.
Max’s passion for healthy street-style food clearly comes across in his vibrant flavour combinations. He caters to different dietary requirements giving each person who walks through his doors the full Poke experience. Each dish is fully rounded with just the right flair, deliciousness and finishing touches; which is why we were pretty excited when UCOOK announced they would be teaming up with Hokey Poke for a menu takeover. As the first in a series of guest restaurant partnerships in Cape Town, this collaboration introduces UCOOK customers to Poke as well as some incredibly unique flavour combinations. We recently sat down with Max to discuss everything from the origins of Poke to his recent collaboration with UCOOK, and you can order the dishes right here (and we’d suggest you hurry, because you only have until Wednesday at 10.oo am before the menu swaps over).
What gave you the inspiration to start Hokey Poke?
Hokey Poke came about through a passion for good food. I was in a completely different industry but I was spending all my free time cooking, exploring and experimenting with food. Poke started popping up everywhere and then I tasted it for the first time on a trip to Singapore. It was sushi gone wild but in a good, clean and healthy way. So vibrant, so colorful and full of flavours from all over the world – adopting, borrowing and morphing in so many ways. Although it’s Hawaiian, the biggest influence comes from Asian and Japanese cuisine, which I particularly love for all of its unique flavours and the real respect for each ingredient. I also try to keep my diet quite clean and poke spoke to that side of me.
Can you tell us a bit about the origins of Poke as a dish?
Poke is centuries old – apparently, locals have been eating it for as long as they’ve been on the island. It was originally eaten as a snack and consisted of scraps of reef fish, seaweed, sea salt and local nuts. It’s believed that around the 1960s, the name came about (poke means to ‘slice’ or ‘cut) and the dish was influenced by Japanese settlers on the island, with new ingredients like soy sauce and short grain rice added to the line-up. New fishing techniques were then discovered and the king of fish, tuna, became the protein of choice for poke.
If you’re whipping up a bowl for yourself, what usually goes into it?
I’m completely obsessed with tuna so I usually keep it simple – sticky rice, tuna, avo, ginger, spring onion, furikake seasoning (sesame seeds, nori, sugar and salt) and a little Hokey Poke House Sauce. If I want to mix it up I’ll have something like Tuna, Avo, Edamame Beans, Ginger, Spring Onion, Macadamia Nuts, Coriander, Furikake with some House Sauce and a touch of sriracha mayo. We run new Weekly Poke’s every two weeks so I’m trying new bowls and combinations all the time.
Tell us about the 3 dishes you created for UCOOK – what were some of the challenges?
I think the dishes are super simple, fresh and extremely tasty. They are complex in flavour without hours of effort and allow the customer to see and taste the style of food that we cook at Hokey Poke. Essentially it’s glorified street food in a bowl with extremely good ingredients. There were no real challenges – it was just a hell of a lot of fun collaborating with UCOOK on this project.
The Minh City Chicken Bowl draws influence from the Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich – but in a bowl. The Tuna Queen is a more traditional take of Hawaiian poke with marinated tuna, and allows the customer to experience what tuna in poke should taste like as opposed to the western style of dressing your tuna. The Telefunkin’ Tofu Bowl which is my favourite bowl of the series is a vegan’s delight. It’s a mash-up of interesting and wonderful flavours that bounce off each other beautifully. This bowl was born of No.1 Church Street and the crazy testing process in the Hokey Poke kitchen.
We hear you used to be in the fashion industry. What did you do, and how have you found the transition to food?
I was working as a stylist on series and television commercials. Your work ethic and attention to detail are the same. I believed in my concept and I believed in my food and besides that, I didn’t really have time to stop and think. The next minute Hokey Poke had opened its doors and fortunately for me, people took to it quickly. I love what I do and every day is a challenge.
You’ve created one of Cape Town’s most recognisable spaces. Did you have a clear idea in mind for what you wanted and how did the look and feel come about?
I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to create in terms of feel and identity. I knew that I wanted it to be slightly off the beaten track and slightly downtown with a little bit of Cape Town, Miami and Tokyo in it. I wanted it to be unlike anything else in Cape Town and for one to be transcended when in the space. I was very lucky to have gathered such an incredible team in Hoick Studios for brand and identity, and Christine Joubert who helped me with the spatial design and interiors. Everything was carried out with an air of tongue-in-cheek.
Any exciting plans for Hokey Poke in the upcoming months?
Very exciting – new concepts, new spaces, new collaborations – we’ll have to wait and see.
Your favourite restaurant in Cape Town?
South China Dim Sum Bar or Chef’s Warehouse.
Your best and worst ingredient?
Best ingredient is lime and worst ingredient is parsley.
Food trend you love?
All street food.
Tempted? You can place your order here.