Hawaii is known for several food traditions and one that's high on the novelty list (because no one on the mainland would want to eat it) is the Spam musubi.
Hawaiians love the canned meat product, and they often eat it in a musubi, a Japanese traditional rice ball eaten by plantation workers who could easily pack a rice ball for lunch. But the Spam musubi isn't the only way to go when it comes to rice balls and the Mana Bu shop demonstrates that with its variety of specialty musubi.
Mana Bu promotes itself as "Hawaii's Musubi Headquarters" and it's hard to dispute that when you walk in and see shelves upon shelves of musubi. The place is so popular that the hand-made musubi often sells out by lunch. When I dropped by one afternoon after closing, I was totally confused by the sign out front on its hours. Instead of noting when the store opens, it notes when they begin selling certain popular musubi, such as 6:30 a.m. for white rice musubi, and 7:30 a.m. for all the rest, and so on. It was a bit confusing.
I returned on Saturday, when the store opens at exactly 9 a.m. I arrived early and waited for the doors to open and by 8:59 a.m. a crowd of people suddenly appear, filling the tiny store when it opened a minute later.
The flavors of the musubi varied, and they were either wrapped in nori (dried seaweed used in sushi) or naked with just a rice form. The flavors ranged from the traditional, such as a Spam lite version, to the exotic, like a Veggie Curry Pilaf. I bought about a dozen musubi for my family since that night we were going to my niece's graduation and I figured we might want a snack while waiting as they called out the names. The musubi range in price from $1.40 to $1.70 for each one.
Mana Bu also has a refrigerated section selling desserts like custard and gelatin, but probably one of its unique items is this whole strawberry mochi, which is basically a chocolate-covered strawberry wrapped in mochi, the sweet Japanese rice flour.
I didn't try the strawberry mochi, but I did eat several of the musubi. My family didn't seem to like the baked musubi because they tended to be dry, but the white rice musubi were perfectly cooked, fluffy but not sticky or dry (I had an unagi version), and the brown rice versions were also interesting. Some of the ingredients were refreshing, like shiso, while others didn't deliver, like spicy takuan. Still, Mana Bu is a tiny bit of rice heaven on Earth if you're looking for a nice snack to take to the beach or picnic. Just remember to go early.
Mana Bu's, 1618 S. King St. (at Punahou), Honolulu. PH: 808.358.0287. www.hawaiimusubi.com
Thursday, June 09, 2011