Having just spent time with family in California, I realized that (especially in the heat) we often found ourselves “going out for poké.” Imagine my surprise when I returned to Sitka and discovered that a new mobile food cart was advertising “poké bowls.”
What, you may ask, are poké bowls? Food cart operator, cook and bottle washer Barbara Palacios would be happy to tell you.
Palacios started “The Fresh Fish” in 2019. She first came to Sitka in 2014 to cook for Ludvig’s Bistro. “I came to Sitka to work at Ludvig’s because of an ad I found on Craig’s List. I was also intrigued by the outdoor opportunities, since I had backpacked a lot in Chile.”
Palacios was born in Chile; her parents left when she was three, moved to Costa Rica and ultimately immigrated to the U.S. As an adult, she has re-visited her birthplace and has explored Alaska – backpacking and working as a cook – in Talkeetna, for example.
But what, the reader may persist, is poké? The word poké is Hawaiian for to “slice” or “cut crosswise into pieces.” That is exactly what Palacios does – she takes fresh raw fish, cuts it into little chunks and serves it in a bowl with rice and veggies (cucumber, jalapenos, green onions, mushrooms, radishes and edamame). Palacios sources her veggies “from local grocery stores” and her bowls are centered around “locally caught, sushi-grade raw salmon and ahi tuna.” She offers siracha and other sauces to put on top.
“Fluffing the rice is my favorite part of the prep,” she admits.
Long a Native Hawaiian staple, poké became popular in North America about 10 years ago.
Why poké? I quizzed Palacios.
“I actually came to poké through ceviche. We (Sitka) are so associated with fish, have so much fresh fish. I did poké because I love fish; I knew the limitations I had with my food cart and I knew how to make really good ceviche and poké, so I wanted to bring these dishes to Sitka. And from all my customers’ responses, they’re happy I did.”
Ceviche – said to have originated in Peru (possibly as far back as the Inca) – is made from raw seafood that is “cooked” or cured in lemon or lime juice, and combined with chili peppers, chopped onions, salt and coriander. In Chile, the dish often made with halibut or Patagonian toothfish (AKA Chilean Sea Bass), marinated in lime and grapefruit juice and seasoned with minced garlic, red chilis, mint and cilantro.
In addition to poké bowls and ceviche, The Fresh Fish serves chowder, gazpacho (a cold soup made of raw, blended vegetables that is eaten in Spain and Portugal), other soups and curry.
Summing up, Palacios says, “I just wanted to provide Sitka with some other fresh, healthy fish alternatives.”
The Fresh Fish take-away food cart has been found Thursday-Friday at 1210 Beardslee Way and Saturday-Sunday in front of AC Lakeside Grocery. Beginning in July, the cart will be at 104 Cathedral Way (across from ACS) “at least five days a week, probably from 11:30am-3pm – the schedule may vary. Or if I sell out,” she adds as an afterthought. The Fresh Fish will also be at the Fourth of July booths.
Current menu items and locations can be found on Palacios’ Facebook page: facebook.com/thefreshfish.ak/.