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Hawaii’s native raw fish dish, which rose in popularity worldwide in 2016 as a savoury summer sensation, has finally made its way to the hearts and stomachs of the kingdom’s food lovers and poke, pronounced poh-kay, is definitely more than okay!
Poke, which means ‘to slice or to cut’ in Hawaiian, is made up of chunks of raw, marinated fish, mostly ahi tuna or salmon, tossed over sushi rice and topped with fresh veggies and seaweed as well as a selection of sauces.
The beautiful bowls aren’t just chalked up with nutritional goodness such as protein power and omega-3 fatty acids, but the pretty plates also photograph well for social media…which is what grabbed the attention of 17-year-old Danah Jannoun.
The French School student came across the trending treats on her social media feeds and shared the delightful dish idea with her father Mahmoud. He was looking for a career change at the time after 35 years in the jewellery making and designing business.
The 51-year-old creative loved the concept, especially as he wanted to leave something behind for Danah who enjoys baking patisseries in the kitchen. Within eight months, Meemoz Poke Cuisine, named after Mahmoud, was born.
“We wanted to introduce something new to the market…something healthy, fresh and homey,” said Mahmoud. “I wanted to give businessmen and women that are stuck in offices all day and barely have time to sit and grab a bite to eat, a place where they could go to unwind or be able to grab healthier meals while on the go. I want to take them on that tropical journey to Hawaii but instead here in Bahrain.
“Recently, a first time diner made me smile when he told me that he was in the Caribbean two months ago and he felt as though he was back there while sitting at Meemoz. That made me happy and I want people to feel at home here.”
It’s truly a family affair as his wife Rita Bassil, a mosaic maker, helped design the corner eatery located on the second floor of the Almoayyed Tower and Danah assists Daniel Lepsha, the restaurant manager. His other daughter Chloe, 20, is currently studying medicine in university abroad.
Their Poke team, supported by three cooks in the kitchen, have been slicing and dicing up the best quality fish alongside the freshest veggies and are attempting to put together a magically healthy bowl in five minutes right before diners’ eyes.
“Most people working in offices don’t get a lot of time for lunch and we don’t want them to spend most of that time waiting to eat,” said Mahmoud. “We prepare all the ingredients that need to be placed in the poke bowl on the same day and we have special chillers’ to maintain the quality and freshness of the food. Food is important to me. It’s not just about filling up your stomach. It’s about feeding your soul.”
While poke is customisable and people can pick and choose their toppings, Mahmoud has created a set menu of poke bowls to get customers started on their culinary course with a few tweaks here and there to better cater to the Middle Eastern market.
“We made some changes for those that don’t like raw fish so we created bowls with chicken and we also have vegetarian options,” he said. “We also have poke pizza where uncooked, fresh ingredients sit on saucy pizza dough.” Meemoz also carries maki rolls, appetisers, breakfast bowls and a selection of tartini sour bread starters featuring savoury and sweet ingredients.
The menu is quite plentiful for the cosy restaurant that’s tucked away in one of the busiest business towers on the island…and my husband Sam and I couldn’t wait to put this gem of a find to the test.
As we approached the venue, I couldn’t help but sway to the sounds of Hawaiian music. The restaurant oozed a beach-lifestyle vibe from the brightly coloured surf boards on the wall to the coconut tree and greenery growing around the seating area.
The white and blue hues, as well as the mosaics and decorative centre pieces, also reflect the tropical theme. Diners can choose to sit at a table or perch themselves on high stools found around the restaurant’s clean white counters to watch the team dressed in palm leaf printed shirts as they create poke bowls in minutes.
After a chat with the family, Mahmoud recommended Sam sample the spicy Meemoz special which includes a flavourful tuna mixture, sushi rice, a green mix, seaweed, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of sesame seeds with a special apple sauce. Danah suggested that I try her favourite which is the Lohi. That is made up of marinated raw salmon, sushi rice, edamame, avocado, crispy garlic, a green mix, carrots, cilantro and sesame. It was accompanied by a spicy ponzu.
It didn’t take long for the big bowls to appear at our table. The bowls were joined by a plate of California maki rolls, which includes Meemoz crab mix, avocado, cucumber and sesame, and Apollo Poke Pizza. The Apollo is made up of Meemoz pesto sauce, rocca, feta cheese, cherry tomato, black and green olives and thyme.
As we dove into our dishes, we actually felt healthy and unlike most food that is good for you- it didn’t taste bland or boring. Every dish had its own pizzazz and explosive taste. The salmon melted like butter with every bite and the tuna had a great kick and proved to be our favourite. The sushi was delightful and the pizza was a pleasant surprise that I could nibble on throughout the day. It had a refreshing Mediterranean feel.
Overall, I could happily sit there for hours, reminiscing of Lilo and Stitch, as I graze from one light seafood medley to the next. The problem won’t be getting the food out on time; it’s getting your customers to leave as this could be the next holiday hotspot.
Find out more about by following @Meemopoke on Instagram.
Pictures and video credited to Sam Camille.