Musubi Mania at Mana Bu's

Mana Bu’s 10-Grain Rice Hijiki Musubi (front) and Shiso & Wakame Brown Rice Musubi

Oahu has been fortunate over the years to enjoy a number of fantastic Japanese specialty shops and restaurants, each putting their own fine touch on such delicacies as sushi, ramen, soba, tonkatsu, cream puffs and mochi.

Enter Mana Bu’s. After reading some very positive online reviews recently on the place, I just had to try it!

With their slogan being “Hawaii’s Musubi Headquarters”, this new specialty shop shines the spotlight on a diverse selection of hand-made, finely-crafted musubi. Yes, musubi – something we often overlook or take for granted – is taken to new levels of quality and sophistication by owner/operator Manabu Asaoka and his wife Fumiyo.

This explains how the business got its name. Manabu san (his first name) explained that he wanted “Mana Bu’s” to be a loose play off his name and the Hawaiian word “Mana”, which means spiritual or sacred power. This being in relation to the focus on health and wellbeing that they encourage through everything that comes out of their kitchen. I couldn’t agree more.

It’s obvious by first impression that plenty of tender-loving-care and attention-to-detail are put into each and every item presented.

But how sophisticated can a musubi be, you might ask.

Well for one, looking at the sign cards for each one, you see they use only the highest quality ingredients possible (all costs considered, of course), also noting their place of origin, which is a nice touch.

I found this wooden Onigiri block on display atop one of the shelves interesting. I didn’t get a chance to ask, but I’m wondering if this is modeled after the same one they use.

While they all share a common triangular “omusubi” shape and use Tamanishiki “super premium” California rice as their foundation, from there, it takes all kinds of interesting new twists and turns.

If you look at Mana Bu’s Musubi Order Form (<–download PDF!), that gives you a good idea how their selection is structured.

First there’s the rice, which there are four types: White Rice (Tamanishiki Super Premium), Brown Rice (Tamanishiki Super Premium), Ten Grains Rice (originally blended by Mana Bu’s) and Sweet Rice & Pilaf.

For the Sweet Rice & Pilaf, there are four sub-categories: Sekihan (Boiled with Red Beans), Green Peas Okowa (Boiled with Green Beans), Low-fat Curry Pilaf and Low-fat Chicken Pilaf.

Finally there are the fillings: Ume, Kombu, Shiso & Wakame, Baked Salmon, Tuna-Mayo, Teri-SPAM and Hijiki.

Manabu’s signature item is their 10-Grain Rice Musubi, which is one of four that I chose on my first visit…

This is the only one with a special sign encouraging patrons to try it…

As you see, there’s a few spelling errors on their signs, but that’s pretty good for a couple who are originally from Shizuoka prefecture. In fact, Manabu san’s eigo (English language) speaking ability is darned good!

What you do notice at Mana Bu’s is their emphasis on eating healthy, and this is something Manabu san reinforced in our conversation on my first visit here.

Back to the musubi, next time I’d like to order this one…

this one too…

I did choose one of these…

and hey, I had to honor the Hawaii classic and sample Manabu’s take on this one too!…

My final choice of four was the Baked Salmon Musubi, which looks just like this, except it has salmon instead of SPAM.

This one’s quite unorthodox…

As you walk in, there are two shelf displays to the left of the customer sales area, where all the wrapped musubi are…

On the second shelf from the bottom are a selection of muffins that are touted to have no eggs, butter or milk in them, with a note stating to “Enjoy the miracle texture”. Gotta’ love them funky translated sentences! lol

Left to right: Okinawan Potato, Sweet Potato and Green Tea non-oil Steamed Muffins

Tucked in the corner on the front-side of the merchandise area is an open refrigerator case with Mana Bu’s special healthy salads, which also were all just about sold out when I arrived. Boo!

Next to that at the center are the cold drinks, along with cold sweets by Mana Bu’s below that. This includes fresh fruit Mochi…

Here is blueberry, and off to the left of this was an Apple Banana version. A women who arrived in the shop the same time as myself quickly snapped one of these up, so it must be good!

Below that are Mana Bu’s custards and gelatins…

I added one of the two remaining Mana bu’s Custards (which I’ll show you in a bit) to my selection of four musubi and went to check out.

Here’s the store front…

Being a take-out only shop, I brought the goods home for an early dinnertime sampling session. Here’s what I got…

Left to right: 10-Grain Ume Musubi, Miso Yaki Musubi, Baked Salmon Musubi, Teri SPAM Musubi and Mana Bu’s Custard, total $7.75.

Let’s take a closer look at each one!

Here’s the 10-Grain Ume-flavored Musubi…

Specifications (as listed on sign card):
Musubi Ume (10-Grain Rice)
Rice: TAMANASHIKI Super Premium (CA)
Grains: U.S.A., Mexico, etc. (as displayed)
Salt: Sea Salt (HI)
Umeboshi: WAKAYAMA (Japan)
Price (each): $1.50

So where’s the ume? Here!…

What’s interesting is how well the lentils, barley, brown rice and other grains adhere to one another. I thought this would fall apart as I bit into it, but it held together like a champ. Those grains also lent to it having a distinct woodsy, fibrous personality. As is always the case, the tang and salt from the Ume really helped bring out the flavors. I think this could have used a wrap of Nori as well. While I can’t say this one’s for everyone, if you’re into the type of ingredients this is made of, you’d be quite intrigued by the way their applied here.

Next, the Miso Yaki Musubi…

Specifications (as listed on sign card):
Miso Yaki Musubi (Brown Rice)
Rice: TAMANISHIKI Super Premium (CA)
Salt: Sea Salt (HI)
Miso Paste: MARUFUKU
Sugar: Maui Cane Sugar (HI)
Salmon: Canada
Price (each): $1.50

This musubi is baked to get a caramelized brown crust on the two sides. I forgot to ask, but I’m guessing they bake it to avoid unnecessary fat and calories by fry method.

There’s shredded pieces of salmon and goma (black sesame seeds) throughout the inside of it…

I thought the caramelized Miso Yaki crust was a bit overpowering. Perhaps if they did that only on on side, it would have a little better balance. Other than that, the flavor of the salmon and goma seeds, along with the nuttiness of the brown rice and robust Miso Yaki was delicious.

Next up we have the baked salmon…


Specifications (as listed on sign card):
Miso Yaki Musubi (Brown Rice)
Rice: TAMANISHIKI Super Premium (CA)
Salt: Sea Salt (HI)
Salmon: Canada
Price (each): $1.10

While it looks ordinary on the outside, when you bite into it…

A-ha! There’s the “meat”! Or, um, fish! Unlike the Miso Yaki version which had the salmon scattered in bits & pieces throughout, this one was all concentrated in the center, providing a central point for you to aim and bite for. I’d say, of the four, this was my favorite. It was simple, yet the balance of that moist, sticky, quality white rice, slightly salty, earthy nori, along with the distinctive salmon flavor was a winner. Everything was harmonious. I’d definitely order this again. Especially at just $1.10 each. What a bargain!

Last but not least of the choices for the day was the Teri SPAM Musubi…

Specifications (as listed on sign card):
Teri SPAM Musubi
Rice: TAMANISHIKI Super Premium (CA)
Salt: Sea Salt (HI)
Sugar: MAUI Cane Sugar (HI)
Price (each): $1.10

Obviously not the conventional local-style brick shape, with this triangle version, the fairly generous, thick-cut piece of SPAM – just like some of the other offerings – is tucked in the center, revealing itself only when you bite into it…

It had a perfectly-balanced sweet-salty-savory teri glaze coating the SPAM, without having too much as to over-seep into the surrounding rice. Again, what sets this SPAM Musubi apart from most others is that high quality, moist, small grain TAMANISHIKI Rice. Factor that it, along with a Seven-Eleven busting price of just $1.10 each, and – regardless of its shape – this is a formidable contender in any upcoming “best SPAM Musubi” contest.

In line with Mana Bu’s encouragement of a healthy lifestyle, there was also a lighter version of the Teri SPAM Musubi, which was made using brown rice and SPAM lite.

After sampling all four of these, I was “gohan’d” (riced) out, feeling like a Sumo Wrestler in training. lol

Time for dessert!….

Specifications (as listed on sign card):
Custard Pudding
Egg: (CA)
Milk: (CA)
Evaporated Milk: NESTLE
Sugar: MAUI Cane Sugar (HI
Gelatin Powder: KNOX
Pure Vanilla Extract: KIRKLAND
Price (each): $2.00

Notice there’s a deep-brown caramelized sugar “sauce” sitting on the bottom layer, which is typical in Japanese-style custards. It taste sort of like a super-concentrated, thin caramel, which you sort of evenly spoon along with the rich, gelatinous, creamy custard, then have it…

Sugoi oishii desu! Oh yeah, I’d certainly buy this again as well.

As mentioned earlier, on my first visit as outlined above, I arrived towards the end of the day when many items were sold out already. So I returned for a hana hou visit the next day at the same time to see what else I could try. Nice to have Mana Bu’s on my beaten path home from work! Turned out Manabu san still had a few musubi on-hand that I missed from the last visit!. So I picked these up for a second-day sampling!…

Mana Bu’s 10-Grain Rice Hijiki Musubi (front) and Shiso & Wakame Brown Rice Musubi

Here’s a look inside the 10-Grain Hijiki…

Hijiki Seaweed 10-Grain Rice Musubi, $1.50 each

Sorry I don’t have the specifications for this, but it’s quite similar to the 10-grain musubi I first tried, except with the addition of Hijiki seaweed (that dark green/black stuff) and carrots. It also tasted like there was a piece of salted ika in there, but I’m not sure. What I do know is that this is absolutely my FAVORITE one yet! I’d buy this again and again and again!

Here’s a look inside the Shiso & Wakame Brown Rice Musubi…

Shiso & Wakame Brown Rice Musubi, $1.50 each

This one, while a bit less flavorful than the Hijiki 10-grain musubi, was still delicious. If this were the only type remaining on the shelf, I’d still buy it! The specs for it are pictures in one of the photos above.

Finally, along with those two quite exotic musubi, I picked up a Coffee Gelatin to cap it off…

(Hawaiian Isles) Coffee Gelatin, $1.50

This is much lighter than the custard, being basically a coffee flavored “Jello”. They offer either French Vanilla or Half & Half coffee cream (shown poured on top) to accompany the gelatin, which needs no explanation on how it enhances it.

I understand they also offer a fantastic grilled Teriyaki Corn-on-the-Cob, which I think would be a fantastic accompaniment with any of these musubi. I’ll have to go early one day during lunch and try and get one of those while it’s hot!

Manabu san recommends arriving when they open at 11am for best selection. IIRC, he mentioned still working out some details, including their daily inventory and hours of operation.

As for the establishment itself, it’s very clean and contemporary, reinforcing the impression that you’re at a place that focuses on quality and sophistication.

While they didn’t have a take-out menu (or any “menu” for that matter), they do have a special order form (<–download PDF!), which you can fill out to place in advance. This would be perfect for small business functions where a lighter meal is desired

Just as there’s good, and then there’s GREAT sushi, ramen and tonkatsu, now there’s also GREAT musubi to discover at Mana Bu’s!

Mana Bu’s is located in a small strip mall on the Mauka (left) side of S. King street as you’re heading east, across from Washington Intermediate school, just as you pass Checker Auto Parts (formerly Cinerama Theaters) and Punahou street. Look for the Baskin Robbins sign on the front corner and turn in there. Slow down as you approach or you’ll miss it!

Mana Bu’s Homemade Japanese Musubi’s & Sweets
“Hawaii’s Musubi Headquarters”
1618 S. King Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
TEL 808-945-2323
ALT 356-0287
FAX 945-2323

Business Hours:
Mon-Fri: 11am – 2pm, 4pm – 5:30pm
Saturday: 11am – 2pm
Sunday: closed

The Tasty Island Rating:

(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)

Related Links:
Mana Bu’s – Yelp user reviews
Mana Bu’s – forum discussion
Mana Bu’s – For the Best Musubi Ever – Photos by Jalna

Final note – Big mahalo to Manabu san for being so gracious, friendly and for allowing me to take photos of the shop. Arigato Gozaimasu!


26 thoughts on “Musubi Mania at Mana Bu's

  1. I noticed Mana Bu the last time I went to I-naba (they share the same parking lot) and I kind of wanted to check it out. I definitely will now that I’ve read your review!

  2. Pomai, Pomai, Pomai…why you like tease a girl who’s on a LOW-CARB diet for a couple of weeks!? I was practically salivating all over my laptop!! You took some great close-up photos and I was tasting each and every one of those musubis. I think their idea is great and right in the area of town I grew up in. I cannot wait to go there when I come home and I have to tell my girlfriend who lives like a block from there!!

    I have to say that I can forgive their small spelling mistake because I was REALLY impressed that they labeled EACH ingredient in their musubi and where they came from. That kind of information is very important to me and not to mention is becoming the law in many countries such as in the UK.

    Thanks for the post! 🙂

  3. There not many places in San Francisco carry musubis and not many people who know about it. They mostly know sushis what in stores or restaurants types. Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame no problem served in San Francisco of course Paris. Wonder Sheraton Surfrider in Waikiki still serve it? Love musubi hardly wait to be back in the islands to get some.

  4. Erin, it’s funny you say that, because I was sort of on the flip-side of you, wondering about Inaba when I took notice to their sign as I got into my car. Sounds like THE place for good soba. I’ve read a reviewer on Yelp say that Matsugen can’t even compare to how good Inaba is, so I’m certainly putting them on my to-do list!

    Michelle, I noticed on your low-carb write-up you mentioned taking a liking to Quinoa (pronounced “keen’wah”), which as you see in the close-ups of the 10-grain musubi are very generously mixed in. Nice light texture, which goes great with the brown and white rice. I actually like that better than the pearl barley.

    Betty, indeed those unfamiliar with it will quickly look at a musubi and call it sushi, which is different in several ways.

    First of all sushi uses rice vinegar, salt and sugar (sushi-su) to flavor and preserve it, while Musubi, aka Omusubi, aka Onigiri – for the most part – uses just salt. Usually pickled items like ume or tsukemono are added to Musubi to help preserve and flavor it. Also, musubi are usually formed using a special mold; in olden days made out of a special wooden block; but modern times often plastic. This, versus sushi, which are always formed by hand, or for maki, with a bamboo mat. Unless you’re talking “Robot Sushi”.

  5. I have to, have to go, now that you’ve shown us all those beautiful musubi! Putting it on our list of places to go.

    I like that they use Wakayama ume. But really, are there any other kind?

  6. Such details in their labels even what brand of seasonings they use on it. I made some musubis for some friends from the states visiting , they never saw one or heard of it . Now they love it. I shop Tanaka Superette for their musubis also, now I will try Mana Bu. Now to check out Sheraton Surfrider for that croque monsieur and madame. I saw it on Food Network it look yummy and chic.

  7. I guess Vickie mean Tanabe yeah they got good ones also. Now I have two places to get great musubis. I saw on Food Network Croque Monsieur and Madame they look really good going try to make some .

  8. Ooh, you’re killing me! There’s going to be more places than I can fit in for a week’s visit, but I’m going to have to throw this in the mix.

    One of my favorite parts of visiting Japan (note: there are many favorite parts), is the easy availability of onigiri. My favorite though, is sake (salmon), which is, as you note, harmonious perfection.

    The miso yaki also made me salivate. The hijiki 10-grain with carrots looks a lot like Okinawan jushee (seasoned rice).

    Wow, great report!

  9. Awesome, awesome review. I work near Mana Bu’s and have gone there nearly everyday for lunch ever since discovering it. I hope you get to try the teriyaki corn and the Okinawan sweet potato salad too someday. Along with the musubis, they are my favorites. Well, okay, I got lots of favorites there.

  10. After reading this review today, I HAD to go there and check it out! I was worried it’d be sold out! Got there at 4, the “2nd opening of the day” and of course a lot of stuff was gone, no mochi or custards, but still had a bunch of musubis to try, and that’s mainly what I was there for so no problem! Spoke to Manabu-san and told him I had just read about him earlier today and had to come by, told him on Tasty Island, and he said ohhhhh Pomai-san? YAH that’s right!

    He’s so sweet, he apologized and said come early next time, explaining that got soo much more to choose from and gave us free 10 grain musubis to try! Hehe, I already bought a dozen! Told him I would definitely be back,… early next time! Thank you for this review about Mana Bu’s!!

  11. Cree, glad you dropped by to sample some! Wow you bought a dozen! Which ones were they, and which ones did you like the best? So far my fave’ is the baked salmon with white rice and nori wrapped around it and the 10-Grain Hijiki.

    I told him about this blog, writing down my name and the URL, and he has a sharp memory, as on my second visit, he immediately greeted me by my first name, which is a very nice touch. He’s really a great guy, with strong “Ichinen”.

    Everyone, you really need to check out Jalna’s photo blog, which I linked at the end of the write-up. She got some FANTASTIC photos of everything, from in the shop, to Manabu and his wife Fumiyo, to the salads and that Teriyaki Corn. Not only on Mana Bu’s, but on many other subjects around Oahu. Jalna is a superb photographer!

    Vickie and Jo Jo, Tanabe Superette! I used to go there almost every day after school, buying up some of their mini-bento items and musubi. Excellent local-style musubi, which, while not as sophisticated as Mana Bu’s, are still ono in their own right! Reid over at Ono Kine Grinds did a great write-up with plenty of pictures on them a while back. Google and you’ll find it.

  12. Nice discovery. When I got there only a few selections left, but the price is right and the quality was top notch. Next I’ll try the little salads and pickled treats they have. The custard was excellent but a little sweet for my taste, next time I’ll try the coffee gelatin. Thanks for finding this place.

  13. I bought a dozen, plus we had the free ones he gave us, but hehe not sampling all, bought for my parents too. I had the spam ones, Tamanishiki and brown rice, one with sticky rice and soybeans n ume , YUM, and a 10 grain-ume one, oh wait and a miso yaki one, not all eaten in one sitting of course hehe… luckily still pretty good the next day, with the micro’s help heehee….
    no seafood ones for me, so that limits my choices uhhh well, kinda…. it does make it easier to choose, less choices yah? I had a hard enough time trying to pick ones from “what was left” that day. bhahaha…I can’t even imagine when I go early and got all the other stuff too! Mmmmmm mochi, custards…. okazu stuff…..

  14. A friend from CA sent me this review on the weekend. Finally drove into town to give it a try today. Even at 11am on a Thursday, there was a line at the register, and a constant stream of customers for the brief time we were there. At the last minute, we took a wide swing to Magic Island and enjoyed them with a view. How do they get the brown rice to stick together without being mushy, and the red beans in the sekihan so soft you barely notice they are there?!? Next time we’re not even going to try heading home, and add a drink and dessert to our orders.

  15. girlfriend in Lancaster sent me this email and oh gosh! all the different kinds of musubi made me sooo hungry and wanna make me fly to honolulu to eat some. I am from maui originally and never go to oahu when i go to maui but my next trip, i must go to try the musubis..they look soooo yummy! i love any kind of musubi and you have some that i have never saw or heard of before..very interesting and ono looking..and i am sure it is there a mold to make the musubis?? like the one for spam musubi? I wish we had a restraurant like this here in LA…
    Mahalo.for sharing!

  16. Pingback: The Weekend in Pics - Baby Emporium, Mana Bu’s, Whole Foods — Pulpconnection

  17. Pingback: Mana Bu’s Musubi (Honolulu) | House of Annie

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