5 of Our Favorite Shanghai Poke Bowls

By Sophie Steiner, February 1, 2024

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Behold the beloved poke bowl!

A traditional Hawaiian dish that took off in global popularity in the early aughts, making its way into newly opened poke bowl shops from South America to Asia, from the Middle East to the United States. 

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Image courtesy of Little Catch

With deep roots in and culinary influence from Japanese cuisine, poke first began as a food for the common-folk in Hawaii – made from the cut-off scraps of shallow water fish leftover after the choicest pieces were reserved for chiefs.

Most commonly eaten as a snack, the raw fish was seasoned with salt, inamona (a Hawaiian condiment made from candlenuts and sea salt), seaweed, and octopus ink or fish liver. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Yet, what most today think of as poke – sashimi grade salmon, tuna or octopus mixed with an inamona relish, soy sauce, sesame oil, and a variety of toppings – actually came to be in the 1970s, according to food historian Rachel Laudan. 

Then, in 1992, a group of Hawaiian chefs aiming to increase the dish’s popularity launched a poke festival, which propelled the dish forward, scoring it a spot on menus from casual eateries to fine dining establishments around the world. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Meaning “cut into pieces,” the name 'poke' refers to the roughly chopped slices or cubes of raw fish that are the focal point of the dish, conventionally served over a bowl of rice, and topped with anything from seaweed salad, nori flakes, crab salad and pickled ginger to sweet corn, tobiko roe, avocado, cucumber and mango. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

As winter sees the freshest quality fish, there’s no better time to tuck into a poke bowl, so we've compiled our top five spots in the city to savor Hawaii’s signature dish. 


L'Azur Fish Market

Recently opened L'Azur Fish Market is one of the stalls in the new Foodie Social hub – part of the Hong Shou Fang (鸿寿坊) complex located along Xinhui Lu near the intersection of Xikang Lu.

This foodie haunt began opening in stages this past October, and currently boasts more than 70 restaurants, bakeries, food shops, and stalls, with even more set to open in the coming months.

L'Azur Fish Market is exactly as the name describes; a high-end fish vendor, with a handful of prepared dishes to order – namely poke bowls, sashimi cuts, paella, Korean-style soy sauce raw crab and prawns, seafood ramen, tom yum soup, and seafood rice donburi bowl. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Of the poke offerings there are two: the Signature Salmon Poke (RMB68) with fluffy scrambled eggs, half an avocado, cubed mango, sliced cucumber, and pickled ginger; and the Shrimp Poke (RMB68) with shrimp balls, cherry tomatoes, guacamole, corn kernels, cucumbers, and cashews.

We opted for the former – the more standard showing of the duo. 

Our first reaction is how flawlessly fresh all of the ingredients are – the supple salmon being the highest quality on this list.

The tart mango is perfectly juicy, while the avocado sits at that sweet spot of superlatively buttery, undeniably sliced open at the exact moment of ripeness. 

Albeit an atypical poke accoutrement as opposed to a poached egg, the scrambled eggs surprisingly work, (as does the dribble of sriracha across all ingredients).

Finally, the sushi rice itself is stellar, of notably high quality and expertly cooked – with a touch of mirin and sugar. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Our only gripe (if we're really splitting hairs) is that it's more of a rice bowl with various toppings than a poke bowl – maybe due to the lack of furikake, the Japanese sesame dressing on which the salmon rests, the unorthodox mashup of toppings, or the overall flavor profile that is predominantly sweet and spicy (from the mango and sriracha).

Regardless of semantics, we will be back. 

Poke Score: 7.5/10

L'Azur Fish Market, #3, 1/F, 236 Xinhui Lu, by Xikang Lu, 新会路236弄1号鸿寿坊3号楼1层, 近西康路.


Little Catch 

Co-owners Wenyi Huang and Jiayi Huang opened Shanghai’s very first poke bowl shop, Little Catch, back in 2014 as the poke bowl popularity wave was sweeping the globe. 

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Image courtesy of Little Catch

While a handful of the OG offerings – namely the Dynamite Salmon Bowl (RMB72), the most ordered poke since opening – are still available, this past year saw the menu double in size, with more poke selections, plus small plates, appetizers, and Japanese-inspired snacks. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Aside from the customary poke choices, the Torched Belly Salmon (RMB122) is the way to go.

Delivered fresh every morning, the salmon is selected based on firmness and a lower fat content than other Nordic counterparts, resulting in a guaranteed delicate texture, regardless of the season.

This translates to a cleaner flavor, one that is amplified by a “kiss of fire” char on the edges, while still maintaining an oily center that melts on the tongue.

Glistening beads of salmon roe, homemade pickled carrots and daikon, a marinated jammy ramen egg, almonds, and furikake seasoning make every bite a new experience, while a zippy orange zest and white soy dressing laces all of the aforementioned ingredients together.

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Hokkaido Mini Bowl (RMB98):
 uni, salmon roe, scallop sashimi, rice, furikake, cured egg yolk. Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s

All poke bowls can sit on a base of white rice, mixed grains, salad, or 50/50 of any permutation of those three choices.

Any of the basic bowls can also be upgraded to include a Soft-Boiled Egg (RMB12) or Half Avocado (RMB15)

Poke Score: 10/10

Little Catch, 2C, 98 Yanping Lu, by Wuding Lu, 静安寺延平路98号2C, 近武定路.


Miss Poke 

Having been around almost as long as Little Catch, Miss Poke on Dagu Lu is another go-to spot for archetypal Hawaiian poke, cooked poke, rice bowls, and soba.

Focusing on the classics, there are seven options to choose from, spanning everything from Salmon & Sweet Shrimps Super Bowl (RMB54) to Spicy Mayo Salmon Poke (RMB50) to Korean Kimchi Salmon Poke (RMB52)

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

Curiously, all of the raw poke bowls only include salmon, but diners can add on tuna for additional RMB30 and/or upgrade from white sushi rice to quinoa oats pistachio rice for RMB8. 

All of the cold poke bowls come with wakame salad, sweet corn, diced cucumbers, a poached egg, and pickled chayote (also known as Buddha's hand gourd), with a few additional add-ons that vary by bowl – like mashed avocado, cashews, tamagoyaki egg, nori, and more.

Essentially, Miss Poke doesn’t skimp on the toppings.

Bonus: Every poke bowl also comes with an aromatic pho-like broth, accompanied by two springy beef meatballs. That's a full on lunch set for around RMB50 – a kuai-to-calorie conversion we can't fault.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

The tipping point on this bowl isn't the excessive toppings (more doesn't always translate to better), nor the fish quality (it's fairly average here), but instead the simple fact that furikake (a must for a complete poke bowl) is mixed in evenly throughout the rice so that every bite is guaranteed to be seasoned just right.

The addition of brown quinoa kernels and a light drizzle of Kewpie sweet mayo also helps us overlook the commonplace white rice quality.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's 

While this bowl is the cheapest of the lot, the ingredient quality doesn't necessarily reflect that; it's surely not our "do-or-die must-try" poke bowl in the city, but if we're in the area, we wouldn't scoff at a revisit.

Poke Score: 7/10

Miss Poke, 511 Dagu Lu, by Ruijin Er Lu, 大沽路511号近瑞金二路.


PokeX

With two mall food court locations, PokeX is less of a destination and more of an easy lunch time delivery option, the majority of its business coming through Elema.

The Salmon Poke (RMB68) is the most popular on the menu – including 60 grams of salmon – where diners can choose either volcano (in a spicy mayo), citrus, or “sea breeze.” 

The next choice comes in the form of base grain – sushi rice, quinoa, or lime-infused brown rice. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

All bowls are presented with crab salad, roe, a dense dusting of furikake, seaweed salad, corn kernels, cucumbers, nori flakes, smelt roe – or masago –  and, of course, soy sauce and wasabi.

Bonus: Add avocado for an extra RMB9.

Our favorite part of PokeX is that each bowl on the menu includes a soft-poached egg with a gooey yolk that oozes over the rice, soaking into each grain.

Aside from the salmon bowls, the Tuna Poke (RMB68) comes in the same flavor options as well as the Orchid Clam (RMB58), or diners can double down on that protein with a Salmon Tuna Combo Bowl (RMB88) – that includes 60 grams of each fish.

The menu also showcases some cooked rice bowls, like Chicken Thigh (RMB48), Chicken Breast (RMB48), Rump Steak (RMB68), or the curiously named American Shrimp (RMB58).

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The rice is ordinary, not the polished Japanese long grain kernels laced with mirin that we see at Little Catch – our poke gold standard  which does put a damper on the overall consumption experience.

That said, the added layer of sweetness from corn kernels and the mayo-forward crab salad pairs well with the seafood and contrasting wasabi. 

This isn’t the most conventional poke, and it’s a bit delivery-ified (like those random salad shops on Elema that put the entire kitchen sink into a cardboard bowl and call it a salad), but, for a filling and healthy lunch that sets us back under RMB70, we’ll take it. 

Poke Score: 7.5/10

PokeX, #22, B/1, 1788 Nanjing Xi Lu by Huashan Lu, 南京西路1788号B1层22号,近华山路.


Xouk

Last year, the Azul Group expanded their casual, international cuisine empire with another branch of Xouk in Pudong. The menu sees a vibrant mix of both Western and Asian dishes, classics and fun fusion.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Case in point, the Poke Nachos (RMB88) – a twist on the usual Mexican nachos, pulling from the flavors of a spicy tuna sushi roll.

While this is a far cry from traditional Hawaiian poke bowls, it’s delectableness earns it a warranted spot on our poke roundup.

Crispy tortilla chips are smothered in an addictingly spicy tuna mayo poke, interspersed with dots of avocado cream, popping roe beads of bright orange tobiko and wakame seaweed salad.

As the rice is swapped for crisps, we have no comparison comment there, but the contrasting crunch definitely elevates the mouthful to new heights.

We recommend ordering a second one just for yourself – you're not going to want to share. 

Poke Score: 8/10

Xouk, 82 Weifang Xi Lu, by Pucheng Lu, 潍坊西路82号, 近浦城路.


[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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