Not to knock the restaurants serving poké bowls in Montreal, but the incoming pop-up that will be run out of NDG's Baba Thai restaurant will get about as close to a true Hawaiian experience as the city's ever been. It's called the Kama'āina Experience, and it's been picking up speed—they sold out on their first run, and they're back with even more dishes, but have already got 20 pounds of poke sold.
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They're serving six flavours of poke, all sold as it would be in Hawaii:
- Kanaka Style Ahi Poke, inspired by the original Native-Hawaiian way of making poke with limu (Hawaiian seaweed), Hawaiian Alaea rock salt, toasted macadamia nuts, and chilli flakes
- Kama'āina Style Ahi Poke (soy based with a kick of heat)
- 'Broke Da Mouth' Ahi Poke (spicy mayo based with tobiko, cucumber and avocado)
- Tobi-Wasabi (soy-based with ginger, wasabi and tobiko)
- Island Style Tako Poke (tender cooked Octopus, prepared with limu, onions and chilli flakes)
- Kim Chi Tako Poke (spicy tender cooked Octopus with a soy and sesame based sauce, bonito flakes, kim chi and kewpie mayo)
They'll also be selling grilled Spam Musubi, side of potato mac salad and furikake rice, a Huli-Huli chicken plate (a rotisserie style Hawaiian BBQ chicken with a tropical BBQ sauce with potato mac salad, rice and salad)—there's also supposed to be a "secret limited menu of some native Hawaiian dishes for people who come into the restaurant", but you didn't hear it from us.
"Hawaiian food is connected to ethnic Hawaiians. Local Food is connected to the people who immigrated and now live in Hawaii who are not Hawaiian. Kama'āina is fusing both of those people together - all of the people of the land, like they represent it in Hawai'i."
"Hawai'i has become my second home, I miss the food and local culture so much," explains the pop-up's creator Jennifer 'Jey' Flores. Coming from a family of cooks, chefs and foodies, Flores is no stranger to pop-ups, having done a small pop-up event introducing some Hawaii, Filipino and Latin American flavours to Montrealers in 2014 under the name of Shaka (a Hawaiian greeting).
"My favourite food in Hawai'i is poke, and I haven't found a place (in Montreal) who does it like they do over there."
According to Flores, poke is commonly found in small markets and grocery stores selling trays of different flavours to choose from, and it can be bought by the pound. Locals take note: Ahi (tuna) is readily available in Hawaii, and salmon isn't really a thing. North American poke bowls, Flores explains, that are served with tons of salad and too much rice is not a Hawai'i style of preparing poke.
"I feel like people here need to be educated about the food culture of Hawaii," says Flores. "There is a difference between "local food in Hawaii" and "Hawaiian food". "Local food" is influenced by the immigrants who came to Hawaii, like many Asian flavours, Puerto Rican, Portuguese and American. Hawaiian food is from native Hawaiians - dishes like Poi, Lau-Lau, Pipikaula, Kalua Pig, Squid Lu'au, Kulolo and more are Hawaiian dishes. Differentiating both in Hawaii is important."
"For example, when you come over to North America and see 'Hawaiian pizza' because there' pineapple on it—it's a cultural misinterpretation. Pineapples aren't native to Hawaii. Hawaiians especially feel that awareness of their culture needs to be represented properly."
The Kama'āina Experience, then, aims to set the record straight for Montrealers.
"Hawaiian food is connected to ethnic Hawaiians. Local Food is connected to the people who immigrated and now live in Hawaii who are not Hawaiian. Kama'āina is fusing both of those people together - all of the people of the land, like they represent it in Hawai'i. Just because you have fish in a bowl with salad and rice, doesn't mean it is Hawaiian—that style is California style," Flores adds.
"Just because you put Coconuts and Pineapples in your dishes, it doesn't mean it's Hawaiian. I think mainstream marketing of Hawaii is very much connected to the American take-over, and does not represent the real Hawai'i you see today."
Kama'āina Experience will be serving its food out of Baba Thai (5508 Monkland Avenue) in NDG this week, July 24 and 25, and pre-orders can be placed right now via the pop-up's Instagram.
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