Gotta Taste ‘Em All: Poke Bowls in Kuala Lumpur

Paperfish | Tiffin Throwdown | Food For Thought

One of the latest cuisines that has achieved international attention is the very delicate and light poké. This raw fish dish is normally served on its own, but is more commonly seen in its modern interpretation form, the poké bowl. This very light and healthy dish has its origins within Hawaiian cuisine, with culinary influences from the significant Japanese and Asian diaspora of Hawaii. We speak to some of the arguably best poké bowl eateries to learn more about poké culture in Kuala Lumpur.

Salmon Poke Bowl | The Fin | Tiffin Throwdown | Food For Thought

Poké comes from the Hawaiian word ‘to cut’, and is traditionally made from reef fish in the past, but more commonly use ahi tuna these days. The fish is cut into cubes, and mixed with sea salt, limu seaweed, sesame oil, chilli peppers, soy sauce and served with inamona, a type of Hawaiian condiment made from the kukui nut, which is also known more commonly as candlenut. This dish can be served as an appetiser, but is now more commonly served as a rice bowl dish. Modern interpretations of this dish is served with rice, somewhat similar to a chirashi don, but is also starting to take on a nutritional cuisine flavour, with the use of quinoa and brown rice as its base.

Paperfish Poke Bowls | Tiffin Throwdown | Food For Thought

In conjunction with the Tiffin Throwdown: Best of the Poké Bowls, we speak to some of the contender to find out what these experts think about this healthy, yet light and tasty dishes. Here, we will see what sets them apart, from how each restaurant interprets their own version. We will see whether these poké bowls will stay purists or surprise with a Malaysian touch. We speak to Joel Foong of Fin, Nick Alec and Daniel Nazreen of Paperfish, Aaron Lim of The Fish Bowl, Lee Wei Pin of Kurin, Tang Ching Huei of The Bowls and Adi Irawan of Sushi+ Rotary Sushi Bar about their poké bowls and their thoughts on poké culture in Malaysia.

Umami Shoyu Salmon Poke Bowl | Paperfish | Tiffin Throwdown | Food For ThoughtShoyu Salmon Poké by Paperfish

What is unique about your entry for the Tiffin Throwdown Poké Bowl?

Fin: It’s a fun play on two different cuisines, Nyonya and Hawaiian, and their unexpected combination that makes a surprisingly delicious poké. The highlight of our Throwdownpoké bowl would be our Laksa sauce and herbed rice. We chose these ingredients we felt would complement each other, where the Laksa sauce is creamy and fragrant, and the herbed rice gives a refreshing surprise. We wanted ingredients that were home grown and familiar, while maintaining the highlight ofpoké, that is, the freshness of the raw fish and produce.  

Paperfish: Our aim is to highlight the origins of poké, to show locality in our produce chosen, and to combine the natural flavours of our food into a work of art. What makes the difference is our marinade. We use a blend of Japanese shoyu and sesame oil as one of the ingredients in our secret marinade. We’ve gone to the extent of analysing the nutritional values in our marinade to ensure that we deliver food that is healthy and tasty too.

The Fish Bowl: What it is unique about our poké bowl is that it is all in house creation as it is created to suit the Asian taste bud. It is all one of the kind that you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. Our main ingredient is Salmon. Actually, tuna is normally used as the main ingredient for poké. But because we are Malaysian, we find that Salmon is more acceptable.

Kurin: We always try to infuse different type of ingredients that are beneficial to our health, this can add value to our daily nutrients intake but not forgoing the flavour and the taste of it. We do not only focus on the local flavouring because we Malaysians miss our food easily, we also try to introduce Malaysians to a wide variety of flavour, from Mexico to Arabic and place that is nearer to home like Thailand. We believe that Malaysians are crazy of food, because we are Malaysians. The theme of this festival is Rediscover Kuala Lumpur and key to local flavour will be spicy with a hint of herbs and freshness. Our protein will be marinated with our own made Oriental Spicy Dressing. As the word Spicy is there, its going to spice up your tongue a little bit with a bit of sourness and gingery and garlic taste. You will also notice the scent of torch ginger also known as laksa flower or bunga kantan as our toppings together with spring onions and edamame. The proteins will be laying on a bed of natural coloured vegetables.

The Bowls: The Bowls had started by introducing the Asian fusion meal series to the market and we had been serving noodles and rice all this while. Poké bowls will be something new to us and we would like to take up this challenge and opportunity to introduce something new to the market. Our poké bowl will not just be an ordinary poké bowl as the team will be working towards localised the dish this round.

Sushi+ Rotary Sushi Bar: Our bowl is the Golden Maui Poke Bowl. We use a pineapple to serve as a plate for presentation, as well a combination of flavours, in terms of texture and taste with the tunas.

Laksa Poke Bowl | The Fin | Tiffin Throwdown | Food For ThoughtLaksa Poké by Fin

Poké is a traditional Hawaiian dish. How do you feel about a rising poké bowl craze that has received international attention?

Fin: I don’t think it’s so much of a craze. This insinuates that this is a trend that will die out. Poké is actually from Hawaiian cuisine that’s been around for years. We think the recent influx of poké is part of people moving towards a healthier lifestyle, without having to fork out too much, or sacrificing taste.

Paperfish: Well, we believe that it is a positive craze. We’ve been hit with numerous food hypes that ranged from bubble tea to ice-cream. However, this is considered the first recent craze that is actually good for you.

The Fish Bowl: I believe everything starts from a craze, it all started with the coffee craze, and then cake craze, and then the fine dessert craze, and then the big breakfast and so on. I believe all these crazes bring so much more fun into everyone’s life.

KurinFrom the options of having complex carbohydrates such as brown rice or quinoa, to freshly diced protein-packed salmon, tuna, and to those who do not eat raw fish, the equally healthy oven baked teriyaki chicken breast, and for the vegans, torched tofu. With decent amount of greens and fibrous topping, we are confident to say a bowl with wholesome ingredients like that combined, is too good to only be a trend or short term hype. It is, after all, a traditional cuisine in Hawaii. With high similarity of grains consumed in our Malaysian diet, I believe that it will soon turn into a staple food here if done right.

The Bowls: As a food and beverage brand, we believe that there is always a room to create better food and flavours in the market. Since Malaysia is a multi-cultural country, poké bowl will not be just a Hawaiian-Japanese cuisine and we always looking at creating the taste with local flavours.

Sushi+ Rotary Sushi Bar: I think this craze will bring people who don’t like the taste of raw fish to taste it in this other way, the poké way.

Poke Bowl | The Bowl | Tiffin Throwdown | Food For Thought

Even the simplest dishes can have a lot of subtlety that can transform a dish. What inspired your Tiffin Throwdown bowl?

Fin: We were at a local Nyonya joint having a rich, aromatic and spicy bowl of comforting laksa noodles, and we thought it’d be a fun challenge to try and incorporate these flavours into a poké bowl.

Paperfish: We chose to remind ourselves and to help educate the public of where poké comes from and how it is viewed with its intricate cultural differences.

The Fish Bowl: To deliver and to bring a bowl of “quality, hearty and healthy” poké to all. We aim to introduce another cuisine to the locals in Malaysia.

Kurin: Our diverse ethnicity. A multiracial country with beautiful flavours that ranges from the the aroma of herbs and spices, tongue tingling chillies and citrus scent. We are inspired by the diversity of this country and would love to incorporate into our poké bowl together with the freshness of the greens and sashimi grade proteins. Hopefully the crowd will accept it.

The Bowls: Poké comes from a fusion of Hawaiian and Japanese cuisine, however, this round, we would like to bring in the taste of Malaysia into our first ever poké bowl as Malaysian food had been always the top 10 food in the world! This is in conjunction with the Urbanscapes Rediscover KL theme this year too!

Sushi+ Rotary Sushi Bar: I want everyone to be able to enjoy the poké bowl, and not only in a poké bowl shop but in a Japanese restaurant as well.

Kurin Poke Bowl | Kurin | Tiffin Throwdown | Food For Thought

There are many poké restaurants starting to emerge in Kuala Lumpur. Why do you think your poké bowl is the best available?

Fin: I don’t want to use superlatives like “best”, and this is referring to our retail bowl, but we personally love what we do and we put our heart into sourcing all the produce, chopping ingredients and homemaking the sauces (note to self: squeezing lime is torture!). I think people care a lot about that nowadays. Knowing exactly what’s in your food, and that care and thought goes into it. I also like how our bowls aren’t too contrived, what you see is what you get – and it comes with heaps of fun. Some crowd favourites would be the “Moana” bowl, as well as ingredients such as the spicy Sriracha mayo, roasted buttered almonds, and the ever popular oozing togarashi egg.

Paperfish: We spent the most of our efforts in aiming to pair flavours instead of heavy seasoning. We believe that poké is simple and should never be complicated.

The Fish Bowl: We believe we have the best poké bowl because of our hand-crafted recipes.

KurinWe used the most natural flavours we could find, flirtatious with the refreshing ascent of herbs and flowers, the way how traditional poké is supposed to be, nutritious, refreshingly light and healthy!

The Bowls: We believe that real food is good food. We will be sticking towards our brand promise to serve our customers with wholesome food with the best available ingredients in the market. It is going to be our first ever poké bowl to be introduced to the market, and hence we are here to share and learn from the big players in the market as we believe that sharing equates happiness and caring.

Sushi+ Rotary Sushi Bar: We create poke bowl with homemade sauce and serve it in a Japanese Restaurant.

Salmon Poke Bowl | Sushi+ Rotatry Sushi Bar | Tiffin Throwdown | Food For Thought

Tiffin Throwdown: Battle Of The Poké Bowls

It is not hard to see why this Hawaiian dish has made its way into international fame as people start to gear towards a healthier way of eating. The ingredients are generally light, fresh and flavourful, and it all boils down to taste, something we hope to see more of in the near future. If this has piqued your interest, don’t forget to catch ‘em all at the Tiffin Throwdown.

Tiffin Throwdown Event | Food For Thought

Tiffin Throwdown: The Results

Want to know who won the title of the Best Poké Bowl in Kuala Lumpur? Head on over to Food For Thought’s Instagram to see our Instagram Review on each of the bowls and who we felt had the best poké bowl.

Best Pokebowl In KL Results | Tiffin Throwdown | Food For Thought

Tiffin Throwdown
Urbanscapes House
2, Jalan Hang Kasturi,
50050 Kuala Lumpur.
+603 5481 5077
20th May 2017
12.00 pm to 3.oo pm

Lot 54, The Art Row,
Publika Shopping Gallery,
Jalan Dutamas 1,
Solaris Dutamas,
50480 Kuala Lumpur.
+6012 780 0270
Directions to Fin
The Bowls
46G, Plaza Usahawan Genting Klang,
Jalan Danau Niaga 1,
Taman Danau Kota, Setapak,
53300 Kuala Lumpur.
+6016 518 8308
Directions to The Bowls
Pacific Place,
Jalan PJU 1A/4,
Ara Damansara,
Petaling Jaya,
47301 Selangor.
+6019 390 7381
Directions to Kurin

The Fish Bowl
77, Jalan PJS 11/9,
Bandar Sunway,
Petaling Jaya,
46150 Selangor.
+603 5612 9992
Directions to The Fish Bowl
26, Jalan Datuk Sulaiman,
Taman Tun Dr Ismail,
Wilayah Persekutuan,
60000 Kuala Lumpur.
+603 2385 0007
Directions to Paperfish
Sushi+ Rotary Sushi Bar
1F-01, Kompleks Kenari,
Jalan Kenari 19,
Bandar Puchong Jaya,
47100 Selangor.
+6012 289 2777
Directions to Sushi+


Nicholas Ng

Nicholas Ng is a restaurant critic and drinks writer and is the editor of independent publication Food For Thought. He has been a freelance journalist for the 15 years and has previously worked as a lawyer and in digital marketing. He currently is the Principal Consultant of A Thought Full Consultancy, a food and beverage marketing consultancy.


    • Hi Keiko,
      It’s quite similar I guess since there is a lot of Japanese influence in Hawaii. すごいね!

    • Hi Wendy,
      You should really come visit some time! 🙂 Hope you’re well.

  1. What a good way to try all the different bowls. Do you sell the ticket? This one really got to catch them all. Haha

    • Hi Kenneth,
      I do not sell them unfortunately, but they’re available at the door. Its only RM65 and you get to sample 8 bowl I think. It’s worth it though.

    • Hi Yanni,
      You can come visit anytime. 🙂 I’ll even throw in a free local tour guide. 😉

    • Hi Hairi,
      I don’t know if they are halal per se, but there is no pork in poke bowls as it usually consists of seafood and vegetables.

    • Hi Sameer,
      I won’t say you’re too far off. But the soy dressing makes it very distinctive.

  2. Wah so near my petaling street. Will try to check it out this weekend. 😀

  3. Eh cam so many choice how to choose. Nanti try dulu. Nice review Nic!!!

    • Hi Kak Yanti,
      Thank you so much! That’s why you need to go try for yourself! 😀

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