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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Smoked Salmon Poke Bowl

It's been nearly two years since Pokemon Go launched, and now there's finally a Pokemon-themed seafood and salad bowl available at TJ's. Go Team Instinct! Wait. What? You say this has nothing to do with the wildly popular augmented reality game that 39-year-olds should totally not be ashamed that they play on the regular?

Apparently, poke (POH-keh) bowls are pronounced similar to the first part of "Pokemon," but actually pre-date the whole Japanese pocket monster craze by a few centuries. Also, they're native to Hawaii. I'll admit I have no previous poke bowl experience. I've heard the term and been vaguely aware of poke bowl joints here in the Philly area, but haven't made it into one yet. I do, however, enjoy salads as well as sushi, so...I should love this product, right? Let's dive in.

I'll save you my usual spiel about Trader Joe's and salmon and simply state that there's no way this product would have worked with nasty salmon. Fortunately, this smoked salmon sushi was awesome. I learned from Anthony Bourdain that sushi isn't necessarily supposed to taste "fresh," but that in most cases it has been frozen at some point, and should boast an umami flavor that fish straight from the sea will never have...or something like that. I'm no expert. But this salmon was delicious. It was smoky, flavorful, and fresh not overly funky. In fact, it was the best part of the bowl.
The pickled veggies worked well here, blending with the fish, dressing, and rice seamlessly. They added tang and zip, but did not overpower any of the other elements in the bowl. The dressing was nice, too. It was very thin, with a texture similar to traditional soy sauce—but it had a delicate ginger flavor with just a hint of citrus.

The worst part of the bowl? The rice, simply because there was too much of it. I like brown rice just fine, but it was the least interesting element in the bowl. Sonia thought the rice may have even been a bit undercooked. For $5.99, you'd think they could throw a bit more fish our way, along with more exotic veggies and dressing. But the bowl was filled with rice. Before I mixed the ingredients, there was a large "brick" of rice all wadded together at the bottom of the bowl. Just out of curiosity, I checked out a nearby poke place's menu to compare prices. Looks like you won't find anything under $9 there, and most products are more like $10-$13. Couldn't tell you if the serving sizes are comparable or not.
Another negative: the packaging is a little clunky and overdone. It's difficult to open up the lid without jerking the salad quickly, sending vegetables and fish flying across the table. Likewise, the dressing comes in its own cup covered with a plastic film and desperately wants to be spilled as it's unsealed. And there's yet another little baggie full of miniature seaweed strips, which, to be fair, was quite simple to open, but still seemed somewhat unnecessary. I guess we don't want soggy seaweed.

In summary, we were both pleasantly surprised with the overall flavor of the bowl, but we have a few reservations. I'm certain someone with more poke-experience (no, not Pokemon Go XP) will chime in and give us their opinion in the comments below. If poke bowls weren't a thing, and this were just some random unique salad that Trader Joe's offered, I think I'd throw out four stars for creativity and pleasant taste. Knowing this is a centuries-old tradition with hundreds of restaurants popping up all over the country and offering their take on the dish, I feel tragically underqualified to give an accurate score. But in the end, I'm gonna go with my gut. Four out of five stars from me. Three and a half from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.


  1. Cold brown rice is maybe the worst thing ever. It always tastes undercooked. This is hardly an authentic poke bowl (smoked salmon?blood orange? No pickled ginger or daikon?) so they could have just used a grain blend of some sort- or better yet just swapped in greens.
    The price is kind of nuts considering you can buy a 4oz packet of smoked salmon at TJs for $5.
    I do wish TJs would sell japanese style pickled veggies (aka oshinko) and furikake, then it would be super easy to DIY with fresh rice

  2. Just returned from honoHono. Poke there can be purchased in any grocery. It is just the fish with seasonings and goes for $9 - $17 a pound. Yummy good. Can't imagine this would be as good.

  3. Sorry spell check meant honolulu.

  4. I was raised in Hawaii and there is no way that this qualifies as poke. Poke is always made with raw fish, not smoked. It's marinated, not drizzled with any type of dressing, and certainly you won't find blood oranges in the islands. They should really just call this a smoked salmon bowl and leave the word poke out.

  5. I was really hoping this item would be good cuz I love love poke but don't like paying $12-15 for it each time I want it. Unfortunately, this is nowhere near as good as real Poke to me. The cold clumpy rice is gritty, there aren't enough vegetables, no imitation crab, and the smoked Salmon leaves you wanting more. Also it's about maybe 1/2 to 2/3 the size of poke bowls from restaurants. So I'd rather just pay more and get more of the product and have it fresh. Some things should just be left to be made fresh, and poke is one of them.


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