Posts Tagged ‘salmon’

The Rice is Right – Mana Bu’s Has the Best Musubis in Hawaii

June 1, 2010

Growing up as a second generation Japanese American, my taste buds have not always lined up with what was being offered here in Hawaii. Sure, I can pound a plate lunch as good as the next fella, but I contend that it is only because of the presence of “two scoops rice”! LOL!

I remember when mama used to pack us little home lunches that featured rice as the staple. Whether it was as a starch to go along with the other items, or as the star of the show in the form of onigiris (musubis/rice balls), you could bet your bottom dollar that we were well fed rice (rice) babies.

In the middle of the onigiris, we would often find a treat when she slid in oshake (salmon), chirimenjako (small anchovies), or any variety of kombu (kelp), and then she would wrap it all up with a tasty slice or two of nori (seaweed). As I grew up and eventually flew the coup, I realized just how spoiled I was when I suddenly had difficulty finding onigiris of the same caliber.

Enter one Mana Bu’s on South King Street.

Mana Bu's on South King Street
Mana Bu’s on South King Street

Self proclaimed as Hawaii’s Musubi Headquarters, Mana Bu’s serves up healthy onigiri – like mama used to make – at very reasonable prices. Here’s an interview I recently had with company president Manabu Asaoka.

[Edward Sugimoto] Please give us a little history about yourself.

[Manabu Asaoka] After graduating from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, I worked at The Tokio Marine & Fire Insurance as a marine (hull) insurance underwriter for 16 years. At the age of 38, I decided to change my life to be more enthusiastic, independent and happier, so I quit my job. (Since The Tokio Marine is one of the most highest-waging companies in Japan, this decision may’ve sounded reckless or ridiculous to my co-workers and bosses.)

Prior to starting my own business, I believed that I had to “study” at the target place to grasp not only the market size but also its culture and the people’s sense of value. I got into HPU in September 2005 and obtained a Master’s degree in Communication (MA-COM). Throughout the Master’s program, I focused on the intercultural communication and the customer satisfaction models. At the end of 2007, I finished the MA-COM program with “Distinction” and started establishing my own business. Finally, I opened the musubi deli “Mana bu’s” on May 14, 2008.

A Look Inside Mana Bu's
A Look Inside Mana Bu’s

[Edward Sugimoto] Why did you decide to open a musubi place here in Hawaii?

[Manabu Asaoka] Hawaii was the most attractive market to try my own sense of business, because of its diversity of culture. Especially, as a Japanese national, Hawaii’s food culture was quite intriguing. It is clearly affected by Japanese dishes; most of the locals love shoyu and miso. On the other hand, I noticed that the local Japanese food had been somewhat skewed; the Japanese people in Japan would NOT eat tempura, sushi, mochiko-chicken, butterfish, etc. so often. Rather, they are more familiar with variety of veggie foods, even in the drinking situations at Izakaya. When it comes to some foods for “snack”, now in Japan, musubi is very popular. Here in Hawaii, musubi mostly refers to SPAM musubi and some super-dried bland musubi at the okazu shops, despite that the locals’ love of rice dishes. I just wondered why nobody had tried to focus on musubi. So I decided to do this by myself.

Mana Bu's Partial Selection of Musubis
Mana Bu’s Partial Selection of Musubis

[Edward Sugimoto] How important is it to you to keep your prices low?

[Manabu Asaoka] Before recognizing myself as a business owner, I am always a consumer in this local community. As a consumer, under this tough economy, if I can easily buy tasty and healthy foods, that will be fine. I will try to keep the price as cheep as possible using good quality ingredients. At the same time, I must say sorry to some customers who would like to use their check-cards / credit-cards. The “Cash Only” system is very very important for us to save the cost.

The popular Teri SPAM Lite Musubi from Mana Bu's - $1.30
The popular Teri SPAM Lite Musubi from Mana Bu’s – $1.30

[Edward Sugimoto] Did you expect the popularity that you’ve been enjoying thus far?

[Manabu Asaoka] No. But I strongly believed that as far as we make tasty foods and sell them with affordable price, the local customers would, sooner or later, notice our shop and be regular customers. In reality, it was pretty short time, though…

[Edward Sugimoto] Serving healthy food and using only the highest quality ingredients seems to be a focal point for you. Why?

[Manabu Asaoka] One of the core missions of this musubi business is “To provide the locals EASY ACCESS to Japanese healthy foods”. For this mission, we stick to using only familiar ingredients which are available at the local supermarkets. We would like to suggest to the local customers that the healthy Japanese dishes, such as musubi and some veggie kinds, are NOT difficult to make by themselves.

Sign at Mana Bu's
Sign at Mana Bu’s

[Edward Sugimoto] How many different varieties of rice do you use? Which is the most popular?

[Manabu Asaoka] We use:

  • White-rice: TAMANISHIKI
  • Organic White-rice: KOSHIHIKARI
  • Brown-rice: TAMANISHIKI
  • 10-Grain-rice: Our original blend which includes TAMANISHIKI white/brown rice.
  • Mochi-rice: HAKUBAI

Still, White-rice musubi is the most popular kind.

Close up of the Kombu Musubi using 10-Grain Rice - $1.50
Close up of the Kombu Musubi using 10-Grain Rice – $1.50

[Edward Sugimoto] How many different varieties of musubi do you offer? Which are the most popular?

[Manabu Asaoka] 32 varieties on weekdays. 33 on Saturday. Best sellers are…

  1. White-rice Salmon
  2. White-rice Teri SPAM-Lite
  3. White-rice Tuna & Mayo

Tuna & Mayo Musubi from Mana Bu's - $1.30
Tuna & Mayo Musubi from Mana Bu’s – $1.30

[Edward Sugimoto] Any new ones in the works?

[Manabu Asaoka] Another 10-Grain version is under consideration. Also, we would like to try some more fillings with organic white rice. However, it depends on the market’s expectation based on the local economy.

10-Grain Sign at Mana Bu's
10-Grain Sign at Mana Bu’s

[Edward Sugimoto] You just celebrated your 2nd anniversary right? Anything special planned?

[Manabu Asaoka] Precisely, it is on May 14. Although we are thinking to show our appreciation to the customers, we haven’t decided it yet.

[Edward Sugimoto] Anything else to add to your current or future customers?

[Manabu Asaoka] We just want to say utmost Mahalo to the local customers. Their smile always encourages me and my wife Fumiyo. We are very very proud of this business strongly supported by the local customers and the local employees.

Manabu Asaoka Poses In Front of his Musubi Selection at Mana Bu's
Manabu Asaoka Poses In Front of his Musubi Selection at Mana Bu’s

Ed’s Tips for Mana Bu’s:

  • Go early! – Manabu, along with his nutritionist wife Fumiyo, starts at 12AM-1AM every morning to prepare for the day. Mana Bu’s (which, incidentally, is a play on the Hawaiian term Mana, which means strength/energy) opens their doors at 7AM with 8 different kinds of musubis (and organic coffee). At 8AM, they have 16 musubis available and at 9AM, they have 32. They close at 1:30PM but are usually wiped out well before then.
  • They also offer healthy okazu and dessert options after 9AM.
  • If you have any questions at all, feel free to ask Manabu. He is a wealth of knowledge and can explain each ingredient to you.

I think my mama has finally found some competition, as, the Rice is definitely Right here at Mana Bu’s. Cue Bob Barker…

Mana Bu’s
1618 S.King St.
Honolulu, HI 96826 (map)
Phone (808) 358-0287
Mon-Fri: 7AM-1:30PM
Sat: 9:30AM-1:30PM
Sun: Closed

The Best Thing I Ever Ate
UPDATE!
Manabu just informed me that their shop is going to be featured in the nationally televised “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” show (on the “Regional Favorites” episode) on Food Network TV this month on June 14th! Oceanic Cable customers, support Mana Bu’s and tune in to channel 321 or HD channel 1321 on the 14th! Omedetou Manabu-san!
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Eating Your Way Through Japan – Part II

January 19, 2009
Part I |  Part II 

And… we’re… back. I know, I know, it’s been a while since part one, but no get all habuts. Takes long time fo put this together you know. 🙂

We last left off sipping tea at Ito-Ya, waiting for the pops-recommended, kushikatsu joint to open up (opens at 5PM). When the clock hit 5, it was time to head over to Isomura’s in Ginza.

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Isomura’s in Ginza

The general concept of kushikatsu is that you get a variety of food items, battered up, deep fried, and served to you on a stick (kushi). The secret, according to pops, is to go right when they open, as they have a happy hour special: 12 courses (items), beer, soup, rice, tea and dessert all for X Yen. Hehe, sorry, I don’t remember how much it was, but I believe it was around $20 U.S.

The jubilee of choices came in the following sequence:

  1. Beef
  2. Shi-wrapped Shrimp
  3. Shiitake Mushroom
  4. Scallop
  5. Snow Peas
  6. Corn
  7. Asparagus
  8. Shrimp/Prawn
  9. Pork
  10. Bacon-wrapped Potato
  11. Tofu
  12. Fish Eggs

Here’s a lil’ preview:

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Snow peas and corn kushikatsu

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Biggest, deep fried asparagus you’ve ever seen!

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Prawn kushikatsu

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Tofu and fish eggs kushikatsu

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
You put your stick in the fishy’s mouth after your done. We did some work son!

The next morning, we tried the other breakfast buffet option in our hotel, Taronga.

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Inside Taronga Grill and Wine

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
My plate full o’ goodies

The atmosphere and food choices seemed a little higher scaled, but the options weren’t as plentiful. If I were to choose one, I’d stick with Ocean Dining.

With our fill of the Tokyo/Odaiba areas, it was off to adventure the rest of this beautiful country. We headed to Nagano, whose specialty is soba.

Since we were in the mood for rahmen yet again, we combined our hunger with Nagano’s finest and found a little shop that served soba, rahmen style.

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
I wish I could read kanji better so I could tell you the name of this place. 😛

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Char siu rahmen soba

Some city browsing/touring followed and, on the way back to our hotel, we came across this neat little restaurant called Mountain Q Hawaiian Diner. Yep, that’s right, “Hawaiian” food in the middle of Japan.

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Mountain Q Hawaiian Diner

Inside Mountain Q was real kitchie (sp?), with your typical hula girl and grass skirt-type decorations, but the most interesting thing was eating “SPAM nigiri” (instead of SPAM musubi) while listening to KSSK on the radio.

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
SPAM Onigiri

The next morning, we woke up early to go check out what Nagano is also famous for: Oyaki, a baked, almost mochi type shell, stuffed with veggies. On the way to Zenkoji temple, you will find this town’s popular oyaki shop on the right hand side.

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Popular Oyaki Shop in Nagano

Inside, there is an omiyage area, where you can buy your oyaki to go. In the back however, is where the magic happens… the area where they actually make the oyaki over an open fire. This is where we had to be.

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Where the oyaki are made

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Flames for two cooking spots, one to cook the flat sides, and one to cook the edges

The family seemed to take a liking to us, as they fed us a complete meal (soup and tea) with our oyaki, and they also offered to teach us how to make them ourselves (a class usually reserved for special days).

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Our oyaki meal

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Us gettin’ our oyaki on

Then it was off to another town in Yudanaka for more adventures. We stayed at Ryokan Biyunoyado (Yudanaka View Hotel), an excellent Western style Ryokan (onsen hotel) in the middle of a town known for onsens (hot springs).

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Yudanaka View Hotel

That evening, we were treated to the hotel’s inclusive dinner, which included soup, sashimi, soba, saba, buttered beef, mushroom (straight from the bark!), fresh fruits (Nagano is also known for their apples), sake, and the local beer Shiga Kogen Pale Ale.

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Our Spread

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Mushrooms, as fresh as you can get. Nuts yeah?

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Shiga Kogen Pale Ale

The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel as well, which included miso soup, salad, ham, eggs, salmon, udon, and fresh apple juice.

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Our morning spread

To leave enough for part 3, I think we’ll end it here… But before we go, here’s a parting shot from Yudanaka’s famous monkey park. Yep, sending you off with a little monkey bidness. 🙂

Eating Your Way Through Japan - Part II - World Wide Ed
Monkeys from Yudanaka Monkey Park

Have a fun day Monday y’all!

Part I |  Part II 

Osake to Me! Honolulu’s Newest Hotspot for Meets and Eats: Osake Sushi Bar and Lounge

October 1, 2006

[Editor’s Note: Osake Sushi Bar and Lounge closed its doors in April, 2007]

OK, so I lied.

We were supposed to still be in Kauai right about now, eating more of the mouth-watering treats that the Garden Isle had to offer. Instead, here we are, back on Oahu, consuming treats of a different kind: Sake and Sushi. But trust… whether you’re a Japanese fusion food fan or a nightlife neophyte, this’ll definitely be worth your while.

Osake Sushi Bar and Lounge sign outside
Osake Sushi Bar and Lounge sign outside

My initial exposure to Osake Sushi Bar and Lounge was actually at a work function. I got invited to the Oxygen Network’s VIP Launch Party, which was hosted here at one of today’s swankiest hotspots. I couldn’t stay long that night, but during that time, I quickly sensed a sexy, ultra cool, loungy vibe goin’ on that I just had to get more of.

Living room style lounge areas with pool tables in the background
Living room style lounge areas with pool tables in the background

Osake Sushi Bar and Lounge (formerly known as KOI) opened their doors in January of 2006, taking the place and space of the old Blue Tropix Nightclub (remember ‘dem wild monkeys in the news?). Recollecting what this once desolate space on Kapiolani Boulevard used to look like and seeing what they’ve done to it today, one would never think that it was the same place. It was almost as if Ty and his jolly gang came to town to work their magic for an episode of Extreme Home Makeover. And in speaking with Osake’s General Manager Grant Yonehiro, this was done intentionally.

“We wanted to enlighten the atmosphere and create a sort of Japanese elegance,” said Yonehiro.

An elegance that led all the way down to the details of the Koi filter system, which was intentionally made audible to create a soothing ambience while enjoying your meal.

Osake’s is the brainchild of a group of young and ambitious 20-30-somethings: Justin Henson, Keoni Chan, Shane Tsubaki and Brian Hasegawa, who “oh-by-the-way” already own and operate the hip and successful sports bar above called Skybox Sports Lounge. No matter how old you are or where you are in your professional life, you gotta admire and respect these young entrepreneurs for having the vision and seeing it through. Mad props guys… Mad props!

But um, back to lecture at hand…

So why this, why now? What can one expect to find when coming down for dining pleasures? Grant is glad you asked.

“We offer something different. A gourmet sushi experience in a lively, lounge atmosphere. Why sit in traffic?”

(! – Osake offers a unique, happy hour on handrolls from 5-8PM every night, except Tuesdays when they are closed. You can order these select sushi handrolls during this time: spicy tuna, California roll, tuna salad, shrimp, and veggie for just a buck. Hmm… Yummy $1 handrolls or battling through stressful rush hour traffic? What do you think?)

17 handrolls for two people? Don't hate!
17 handrolls for two people? Don’t hate! 🙂

During this interview session, I was also fortunate enough to chat with Osake’s Master Sushi Chef Norlan Horita (of Sushi Supreme fame), who proceeded to present dish after delectable dish.

First up was a special, not-yet-on-the-menu sushi sampler, which is to be consumed in a specific sequence. Since it is not yet on Osake’s menu, I’ll have bruddah Norlan explain the dish in his own words:

“From left to right we have a maguro nigiri, a traditional sushi item with a little twist. It features thinly sliced myoga and a drizzle of unagi glaze. Next we have another traditional menu item, salmon or ‘sake’ nigiri, that has been given even more of a twist. I have given the salmon nigiri a generous amount of O-sake’s (soon to be) world famous soy vinaigrette, and then piled on some katsuo bushi. Next is what I like to call my ‘sweet snapper surprise.’ I took a simple shiromi nigiri, gave it a squeeze of lime, a slice of jalapeno, piled high with chiffonade of fresh chiso, and finished off with a colorful topping of citrus tobiko. Last but not least, we have our ahi tataki nigiri with our world famous firecracker sauce. In this dish, the conversion from left to right is a transition from old to new, and also from mild to spicy. On the left we have a very traditional nigiri with traditional toppings and sauce. As the dish progresses to the right, it evolves with more new wave sauces and dressings and increases in spice.”

Left to right: Maguro Nigiri with a drizzle of unagi glaze; Sake (salmon) Nigiri with O-sake's soy vinaigrette, topped with katsuo bushi; Sweet Snapper Surprise with a squeeze of lime, a slice of jalapeno, piled high with chiffonade of fresh chiso, and finished off with a colorful topping of citrus tobiko; and Ahi Tataki Nigiri with firecracker sauce
Left to right: Maguro Nigiri with a drizzle of unagi glaze; “Sake” (salmon) Nigiri with O-sake’s soy vinaigrette, topped with katsuo bushi; “Sweet Snapper Surprise” with a squeeze of lime, a slice of jalapeno, piled high with chiffonade of fresh chiso, and finished off with a colorful topping of citrus tobiko; and Ahi Tataki Nigiri with firecracker sauce.

They were all lusciously lip-smacking, but if I had to pick my favorites, I’d go with the oshake (salmon) and ahi tataki nigiris.

One of their more popular items (and self-proclaimed prized dish) on the menu is the Filet Mignon Beef Sashimi with Soy Vinaigrette. It’s not actually raw, just cut sashimi style. This is one you gotta try!

Filet Mignon Beef Sashimi with Garlic & Soy Vinaigrette, $16 - This is the prized dish of Osake. Quickly seared with herbs and spices, then cut sashimi style. Drizzled with their famous soy vinaigrette and garlic. Served with organic greens
Filet Mignon Beef Sashimi with Garlic & Soy Vinaigrette, $16 – This is the prized dish of Osake. Quickly seared with herbs and spices, then cut sashimi style. Drizzled with their famous soy vinaigrette and garlic. Served with organic greens.

Another popular dish is their Portabella and Fire Roasted Red Bell Pepper Quesadilla with Feta and Mozzarella (and choice of meat). CPK ain’t got nothin’ on ’em!

Portabella and Fire Roasted Red Bell Pepper Quesadilla with Feta and Mozzarella - Served with their spicy hoisin vinaigrette and organic greens. This crowd pleaser is available with your choice of any one item: Original ($8), Chicken ($10), Pork ($10), Steak ($12), Shrimp ($12)
Portabella and Fire Roasted Red Bell Pepper Quesadilla with Feta and Mozzarella – Served with their spicy hoisin vinaigrette and organic greens. This crowd pleaser is available with your choice of any one item: Original ($8), Chicken ($10), Pork ($10), Steak ($12), Shrimp ($12).

Next we have the Sweet and Spicy Szechwan Chicken. If you’re worried about spiciness, no worries, I can’t handle spicy food for beans, but this one I could handle. Chance um!

And yes, that is an empty space in the bottom left corner. Chef Norlan couldn’t wait to dig in before I took the photo! That should tell you how good this dish is! *grin*

Sweet and Spicy Szechwan Chicken, $10 - An adaptation of a northern Chinese dish. In this recipe, they stir-fry bell peppers, carrots, and onions with their own Szechwan glaze
Sweet and Spicy Szechwan Chicken, $10 – An adaptation of a northern Chinese dish. In this recipe, they stir-fry bell peppers, carrots, and onions with their own Szechwan glaze.

On a previous trip to Osake’s, I ordered their famous Dynamite Chicken. Here’s a snap of the dish and associated caption/description. Yeah gang, it IS as good as it looks!

O-sake's Famous Dynamite Chicken, $10 - An ancient secret recipe passed down through many generations. Tastefully redesigned to appease the modern palette. Instantly addicting!
O-sake’s Famous Dynamite Chicken, $10 – An ancient secret recipe passed down through many generations. Tastefully redesigned to appease the modern palette. Instantly addicting!

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I didn’t even get a chance to try this next dish: the Ahi Tartare Martini. I was so intent on getting the interview and all the photos right, that it slipped my mind. According to the menu, it is Chef Norlan’s all star pick, so I guess we’re just going to have to make a return visit and give it a whirl!

Ahi Tartare Tataki Martini, $10 - Chef Norlan's all star pick, a must try! Ponzu lime ceviche jous, myogo, tobiko and chiso. Served in a martini glass
Ahi Tartare Tataki Martini, $10 – Chef Norlan’s all star pick, a must try! Ponzu lime ceviche jous, myogo, tobiko and chiso. Served in a martini glass.

Lastly, we had the “Bomb”-ucha Roll. You don’t really get a good appreciation of the engineering that goes into creating this bridge-like masterpiece at first glance, but when you realize what it is and what it contains, you’re floored. Mystified? OK, I’ll animate it for you to show you what lurks inside: crispy shrimp tempura, unagi, crab, kaiwara and cucumber!

The Bomb-ucha (Bumbucha) Roll, $16 - Crispy shrimp tempura, unagi, crab, kaiware, and cucumber with 3 special sauces
The “Bomb”-ucha (Bumbucha) Roll, $16 – Crispy shrimp tempura, unagi, crab, kaiware, and cucumber with 3 special sauces.

(! – They recently started offering teishoku, or set menu items, so if you’ve been here before and missed it, go on back.)

Convinced yet my pretties?

Well, if the food above isn’t enough to get your mouth watering, how about the prospect of tasting one of 34 different brands of sake (and counting) they carry. It’s their namesake after all.

“We have customers in the know who buy bottles and bottles at a time from us,” proclaims Yonehiro.

Even if you’re a sake beginner, you’ll find a warm home here, as well as in your tummy.

“We make it a point to train and educate our staff with all of our sake products, so if you have any questions or just want to try, come on down and see us,” says Yonehiro.

If you’re more of a beer fan, Osake carries all of the imports you expect to find, and even a rarely seen Japanese import beer called Echigo. Kanpai!

If you’re throwing a special get-together or just want to ack PIMP for one night, Osake’s even has a VIP room that is available for rent.

A bit of a night owl are we? Well, bring your dancing shoes to dinner because we haven’t even mentioned the “it” hotspot that this quaint restaurant metamorphosizes into when the clock strikes 10PM.

That’s right, every night from 10PM-2AM, Osake’s goes from chic eatery to bumpin’ hotspot in a flash. Friday nights – promoted by local radio station Hot 93.9 – is their busiest night, bringing in 1,000+ of Hawaii’s most modish peeps. Saturday nights are just as hot. Wednesday nights offer live music from 7-10PM and is also known as martini night.

No matter what craving it is you may have, Osake Sushi Bar & Lounge is sure to satisfy. Good eats, a wide assortment of refreshing beverages, live music, scratching your dancing itch, people watching, whatever. Osake is where you’ll find it. Support your local businesses and go check um out won’tcha?

Aren’t you glad we flew back from Kauai for this?

Master Sushi Chef Norlan Horita (left) and General Manager Grant Yonehiro welcome you to the sushi bar at Osake Sushi Bar and Lounge
Master Sushi Chef Norlan Horita (left) and General Manager Grant Yonehiro welcome you to the sushi bar at Osake Sushi Bar and Lounge

Osake Sushi Bar & Lounge
1700 Kapiolani Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96814 (map)
(808) 956-1600
Wednesday through Monday from 5-10PM for dinner and 10PM-2AM for after hours. Closed on Tuesdays.