The Raw Goodness of Fish and Veggies at Honu Poke

The unique interior room makes this restaurant a place for visitors to make some a selfie. (photo: IO/Aldo)

IO, Jakarta – Concern for health nowadays turns people back to the basics: raw food or food prepared with as little intervention as possible, to maintain its nutrients. This aesthetic also lies behind the preparation of the bitter Japanese green tea, or matcha.

Matcha is processed even from the time of planting: three weeks before harvest, the plants are shaded with cloth to minimize the rays of the sun and generate more caffeine and tannin (and higher anti-oxidant content). The harvested leaves are laid out to dry in the shade, turning into crumbly green tencha, which is then de-veined and de-stemmed before it is ground slowly in stone mills into the emerald green powder that we all know and love (well, some do anyway).

A new fusion restaurant in Kemang, Honu Poke and Matcha Bar, serves matcha and poke (pow-kay), the Hawaiian raw seafood salad. Traditional poke is made of freshly caught fish, such as aku (salmon) and tuna mixed with raw onions, salad leaves, cucumber, seaweed, etc. Owners Jenda Bandilangoe, Sashia Rosari and Kevin Rumantir captured the new culinary trend at Honu Poké and Matcha Bar. ‘We’re coffee drinkers who look for healthier caffeine alternatives. Overseas, matcha bars are replacing coffee shops,’ Sashia said.

Honu Poke & Matcha Bar is tiny, with a simple green sign adorning its front. The kitchen is located right next to the entrance, so that all visitors can observe food preparation. The dining area is divided into both smoking and non-smoking areas, the latter containing a row of wooden tables and chairs, a bar and a large sharing table at the back. Separated by a glass door, the smoking area is even smaller: only one long bench and two individual chairs. Make no mistake, though – this little place is definitely ‘instagrammable’!

There are but a few items on the Honu Poke & Matcha Bar menu, as it is a specialty restaurant serving mainly poke bowls and rice bowls. The poke bowl is actually just a Hawaiian fish salad with imported Japanese rice, either white or brown, topped with fresh, raw salmon or tuna with a selection of dressings. The star of the place is the ‘Two & Two’, a poke bowl with both salmon and tuna, topped with creamy dressing, fresh lettuce, carrots, and crispy tempura.

The best way to eat this lovely mix of chewy and generous portion of fish, contrasting with the crunchy veggies and creamy dressing, is to mix them all up and take bite after bite of multiple textures and flavors. The dish is light yet filling, and one small serving is just enough.

Raw fish and veggies may not appeal to some, but there is also a Grilled Chicken Bowl at the Honu. The rice bowl is topped with plump, juicy chicken fillet that is fried before being lightly grilled, to get that special smoky flavor and aroma. The bowl is also filled with fresh vegetable toppings, including green onions and edamame. It is a nice alternative if you don’t like sashimi (raw fish). For all rice bowl dishes, you can have an egg as additional topping – naturally at an additional charge.

What is food without good drink to wash it down? Try matcha latte, brewed using real matcha imported directly from Kagoshima, Japan. You can have it mixed with honey, milk, or soy milk, as you prefer. It’s quite good – the fragrant matcha aroma fills your nose as you take a sip. The sweetness is just right – it’s just that personally, I want my matcha latte to be less milky.

All in all, the food at Honu is a pleasure on my tongue as a Japanese food enthusiast, especially the sashimi. It’s rather a novel experience. Word of warning, though: it’s tiny, so you might want to avoid dining hours to avoid a long queue on an empty stomach. It is crowded during both lunch and dinner.

Honu closes every Monday and opens from Tuesday to Sunday.

If you want to live a healthier life and you like healthy fresh food, or if you want to taste something exotic and different, Honu Poke & Matcha Bar is a good reference for your ‘dining library’.

(Muhammad Akbar)