In a sea of Capitol Hill poke joints, Aloha Cup Bap’s Hawaiian approach stands out

(Image: Aloha Cup Bap)

Its founders hope Aloha Cup Bap’s traditional Hawaiian poke will separate the shop from the sea of poke joints around Capitol Hill. The poke spot now has two locations around the Hill after it opened its second shop on Broadway this spring.

“Opening our first location a year and a half ago was a difficult job because customers didn’t really know what poke was. Now we have returning customers and wanted to open a second location,” said Tony O, one of Aloha Cup Bap’s owners along with Madelene Phung and Yuree Chong.

With locations on 12th Ave and now Broadway, Aloha Cup Bap is creating an island chain of fresh fish spots through the neighborhood.

Poke, a Hawaiian dish of cubes of fish marinated in sauce, has received a hearty welcome from mainlanders in recent years in the form of the poke bowl. While poke in Hawaii has stayed true to its original form, Aloha Cup Bap’s owners say, poke bowls include diced fish with additional toppings and sides, all mixed together in a bowl.

According to O, customers’ hesitation to welcome the dish that inspired the poke bowl was rooted in unfamiliarity with traditional poke, along with the fact traditional poke takes longer to make. Aloha Cup Bap flies in its tuna in from Hawaii rather than opting for the frozen, pre-cubed, and packaged alternative sold at many poke places.

“We need a little bit more labor time because we cut the fish as we go. It doesn’t come in a package pre-cubed, we cut the fish into cubes. To keep the fish fresh, we only cut a few pounds at a time,” said O. “It’s a little bit of a longer wait for people than having everything cut up the night before and just mixed in.”

Poke at Aloha Cup Bap is also less about customization as it is about marination. While customers choose which sauce they want on their poke at most poke joints, traditional poke involves a marination process. “It’s more of a dry rub with a little oil, and it’s really hard to have a sauce like that premade so fish can be thrown in,” said O.

With increased expenses from flying in fish, more time and effort spent preparing ingredients, and asking customers to wait longer for their poke, O believes that the patience will be rewarded.

O’s past experience experimenting with trends and fusion dishes makes him perfectly suited to bridge the gap between old school poke and its trendy spinoffs. Wanting to be closer to family, O relocated to Seattle a year and a half ago from Honolulu, where he had resided his entire life. O still owns two bar and grill type establishments in Honolulu, both of which serve local Hawaiian dishes, Asian fusion, Hawaiian fusion, and of course, poke. O notes poke’s ingredients, presentation, and flavor remains consistent throughout the islands.

“Poke is a very common item in Hawaii. If you have a restaurant in Hawaii, any kind of restaurant, it doesn’t have to be Hawaiian or Hawaiian related, they’ll probably have some sort of poke.”

Although O strives to keep Aloha Cup Bap’s poke as traditional as possible, he recognizes he serves spin-offs of various Hawaiian and Asian dishes at his restaurants in Hawaii, so he understands how any popular cuisine is subject to change.

“Personally, I never think change is bad. I’m sure how residents of Hawaii feel, but with any other popular type of food- Mexican, Italian, Japanese- there’s always going to be some changes to it later,” said O.

While O welcomes change, serves fusion dishes, and is unbothered by poke’s evolution into a convenient, mass produced, and customizable phenomenon, he continues to carve a space for traditional poke among Seattle’s myriad of poke spots. O plans to serve the same poke recipe he has served for 10 years out of personal preference and his belief there’s no need to change a recipe surviving the test of time.

“We’ve been making poke there, and now we’re making it here. It’s a long process to make traditional poke, and customers aren’t used to traditional, but that’s the only style we know in Hawaii.”

Aloha Cup Bap is located at 722 12th Ave while you can find Aloha Cup Bap II at 212 Broadway E next to the post office. Learn more at facebook.com/alohacupbap.


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One thought on “In a sea of Capitol Hill poke joints, Aloha Cup Bap’s Hawaiian approach stands out

  1. Tony O can’t say it, but I will. Anyone who cares about sustainability or decent food should be horrified at mass produced poke. We were already destroying fish populations, and turning a traditional, slow-prepared food from the tropics into Chipotle is going to dramatically speed that up. It’s also turning Hawaii culture into a crude stereotype, like sombreros and Bucca did to Mexican and Italian food.

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