Poke vs Poke: everything you need to know before the Urbanscapes Tiffin Throwdown

Photographer: Mike Saechang
Photographer: Mike Saechang

This Saturday, the Urbanscapes House at 2 Hang Kasturi will bear witness to another Tiffin Throwdown: Poke Bowls. It’s dish versus dish, fish versus fish,  where they will get lined up next to each other to be told by qualified judges (have taste buds, will travel) that they are SEDAAAAP before a morsel hits their mouth.

If you’ve never watched a pack of hipsters fight each other, then here is your chance to watch their food proxies go at it.

In a year filled with unicorn-colored Frappuccinos, rainbow bagels and smoothie bowls, it’s enough to make anyone run far, far away from trends, into the arms of your nearest Subway to order a footlong with ALL the sauces just to spite everyone.

Stop yourself. Poke bowls are kinda delicious. I take that back, they are very delicious, and also actually good for you. Food trends are easy targets for their predictable surge of popularity, to ubiquity, to waning charm, to tragic banishment to the annals food history. They sit on the shelf with other fallen stars like fondue, the bread maker your auntie never used, pasta salads from the ’80s, wilting bunches of kale, and that co-dependent trio of roasted beetroot, goats cheese and walnut, never quite able to break up with each other, but inseparable nonetheless.

Poke isn’t a gimmick; it’s better than that. These babies have history man, and the modern poke bowl as we know it owes a lot to Sam Choy. A family friend decided to throw together fish they had caught earlier that day, and mix it with limu manauea, a type of seaweed that grew along the river mouth. They added some candlenuts, you know buah keras, that had been roasting near the fire. They sliced the fish crosswise, ie “poke” cuts, and added salt. Mixing together the seaweed, the crushed candlenut, and salt with the fish, they let it sit. After the flavors melded someone took a bite: it was a revelation. This s*** was GOOD.

Today, Choy is a bit of a Godfather-like figure to poke. He made a career out of it, adding things like avocado, tofu, onions and even fried fish. The fried fish poke was a bit of a star in the late ’90s, like Julia Stiles. It was a food trend before Instagram could tell us something was pretty.

We live in a world where, thankfully for the most part, nothing is sacred. Dishes are meant to evolve, and poke is a perfect example of something that can take on a million different meanings and variations. And everyone is cool with that.

This Saturday, bear witness to the poke evolution. Watch it venture into Malaysia with sambol, limau, bawang and all the flavors we bring. Remember it’s not “bowl vs bowl,” it’s “you get to eat lots of bowls.”

Oh, winners do walk away with RM3,000 … so that’s something.

Date: Saturday, 20 May, 12pm till 3pm (ticketed)*
Ticket: RM65 (includes taster-sized portions from all participating vendors)
Venue: Ground Floor, Urbanscapes House, 2 Hang Kasturi
Ticket link: pokebowlthrowdown.peatix.com


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