A Marukai Musubi Fest

Last Friday I took Diner C and E to the Marukai Wholesale Mart on Kamehameha highway (end of Dillingham blvd.), as they were both interested in becoming members, but wanted to check it out first. Being that I usually shop at Marukai’s Ward Farmers Market location, this is actually the first time I’ve been to their Dillingham warehouse club store in YEARS, and I must say, it’s VERY impressive! Primarily because it’s way, way, way, WAY bigger than the Ward Farmers Market location.

As far as Japanese food is concerned, Marukai’s main warehouse-sized store is probably the closest you can get next to a plane ticket to Tokyo, making Shirokiya look like a 7 Eleven. Well, that’s exaggerating quite a bit, but this gives you an idea just how big it is.

Actually I LOVE Shirokiya too, and I hope they stick around for generations to come. It’s definitely my number one go-to store whenever I’m at Ala Moana.

Like Shirokiya, along with a variety of imported Japanese housewares and groceries, Marukai has a HUGE selection of takeout bento boxes and ala carte prepared Japanese and local foods to choose. I’d say Shirokiya has a few more made-to-order specialty items, but Dillingham Marukai has their share too, depending when you go.

On our visit this past Friday, the ladies behind the counter were preparing fresh ‘n HOT! Omusubi like I’m featuring here, and also Okonomiya Shrimp Tempura Nigiri Sushi. Well, it wasn’t named exactly that, but that’s essentially what it was, and it looked mighty oishii!

Actually, there’s so many types of bento to choose, it got kinda’ frustrating, as it kept me in an indecisive state. Don’t you hate that? “Ooh! Salmon! No, no wait, ooh! Mochiko Chicken! No, no, look at this one, get Saba, Teriyaki Beef and Shrimp Tempura, but ah, no more Sekihan Rice in this one. Ooh, but look this one, get Salmon on top Sekihan Rice, but ah, I no like da’ Tsukemono selection in ‘dis one. But wow, check this one out, get Musubi, hot dog, fried chicken and edamame, but ah, too heavy.”. You know da’ kine? lol Frustrating I tell you, when get so many ono looking bento boxes for choose!

Then Diner C came walking up to me with an Omusubi in her hand and I was like “where did you find that?!” She pointed out where they were, where one look at the freshly-made and hot Omusubi selections and I was SOLD!  Today it’s gonna’ be an Omusubi Fest! Yay!

So we got back to the office with the following grinds, starting with Diner E’s “Fry Fest”…

That would be a fried chicken drumstick, Kabocha (Pumpkin) tempura and vegetable tempura.

For starch, Diner E went with one of his (and my) favorites, Sekihan (red bean) Sticky Rice…

For the main course, Diner C decided on getting a grilled Saba fillet, which is one of my faves too…

For starch, she went with California Roll Maki Sushi…

Marukai had a 20% off all Tsukemono sale during this visit, so Diner C also picked up this pack of seasoned Iriko…

And what I must say is probably the best Tsukemono I’ve tasted yet, this container of Kyuri Kim Chee Prepared Cucumber…

Let me tell you, if you’re looking for one onolicious pupu of the vegetable variety, THIS IS IT! Why they name it Kim Chee I don’t know, as it doesn’t taste like that at all, save for the pepper flakes. But there’s no Kouchujang sauce in it. According to the label, its ingredients are: Cucumber Radish, Garlic, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Salt, Distilled Vinegar, Spice, MSG, Citric Acid, Sorbic Acid and Food Coloring. It’s also made in Japan.

To explain it, it’s crunchy and tender, yet slightly chewy too. Flavorwise, it’s kinda’ like a pickle, but not as acidic, or in other cases not that sweet. It’s almost meaty in a cucumber way, definitely having that “Umami” factor.

You just gotta’ try it to understand. Go to Marukai and look this one up. I can almost gaurantee you’ll think it’s “da’ bomb”. I think it’s freekin’ AWESOME! Thank goodness Marukai had samples of each Tsukemono, or I probably would have passed this one up without knowing it. Check    it    out!

Moving along, Diner C also picked up some Omusubi to take home for the kids, including Inaka Musubi Spam, Sukiyaki Beef Musubi, Butterfish Musubi and Inaka Musubi Furikake/Ume…

What does “Inaka” mean? Not that it matters, as whatever it is, it sounds good! lol

Which brings us to my selection, which were five, yes FIVE Omusubi!…

That would be Inaka Musubi Salmon, Inaka Musubi Konbu (Seasoned Seaweed), Butter Fish Musubi, Inaka Musubi Yukari/Takuan and Inaka Musubi Furikake/Ume.  Check out the prices! Yasui desu yo (cheap)!

Part of what makes Japanese products so great and high quality is their consistent attention to detail. Especially when it comes to presentation and packaging, and these Omsubi are no exception. Check out how each one is wrapped either in a type of breathable paper, or these individually heat-sealed, tamper-proof clear wrappers…

The heat from the freshly-cooked rice steamed up the bag, so when it arrived at the table, it was supple and moist, like it came straight from the maker’s hands. Love that.

OK, let’s bus’ ’em out and check it out, starting with the Salmon Omusubi…

As always in Tasty Island fashion, a cross-cut view…

How is it? Delicious! The rice was perfectly cooked with just the right “stick” and not falling apart. It was also seasoned perfect, with only a mild hint of salt, yet enough to bring out the flavor of the very moist and distinctively-flavored salmon. While the nori was soft, which is how I like it to be on Omusubi. 4 SPAM (o)Musubi for this one.

Next we have the Butter Fish Omusubi…

Cross-cut view…

At first glance, I thought it was made with Sekihan rice, but then after Diner E pointed it out, I realized it was actually a small-grain rice mixed with barley and wheat grains. Or something like that. It reminded me of one of the macrobiotic Omusubi from Manabu’s.

But WOW! This one is, as J.J. from the 70’s sitcom ‘Good Times’ used to exclaim, “DAH-AI-NO-MITE!” The slightly crunchy texture of the grains, along with the delicate small grain rice, savory element of the Butter Fish on top, along with the earthiness of the Nori is one fantastic combo’! Oishii to da’ max! 5 SPAM (o)Musubi for sure!

Damned, that Butter Fish Omusubi was good.

Next we have the Furikake Ume Omusubi…

I don’t know what it is, but something about the combination of colors between the dark green nori, white rice and red ume always makes my mouth salivate. Just like looking at Pickled Mango. Does it do that for you? Sure does for me.

I think because I know how supah’ ONO those three things taste when eaten together like this!

Cutting it in half, there’s no hidden surprises inside…

The large, flatted seedless ume is the “meat” here, and a mighty oishii one at that. I love how that acidic twang of the ume tastes in contrast to the neutral white rice, while again that earthiness of the Nori rounds it out beautifully. I really don’t think it needs the Furikake, as the Nori does the enough, with the Furikake turning a little more “complex” than I prefer. Still delicious though. I’ll give this one 4 SPAM (o)Musubi too. Can’t go wrong with Ume, nori and rice!

Then we have the Konbu Omusubi…

Cut in half, we find there’s a generous serving of seasoned Konbu Tsukemono packed under that Nori…

How is it? The seasoned Konbu (seaweed) has an intense, almost savory flavor, tasting similar to Korean Taegu, which is seasoned dried cod. That flavor in combination with the nori is a little too intense, yet the neutral white rice does help somewhat to buffer that intensity.  I’ll give this 2 SPAM (o) Musubi.

Rounding out this Omusubi Fest, we have a Yukari Takuan Omusubi…

I didn’t cut this one in half, as like the others for the most part, there’s not much else to see.

How is it? Oishii of course! I love the pungent, aromatic flavor Takuan, and this brand was a good one, having a good balance of sweet and acidic going on. The purple-colored Yukari seasoning added an extra salty kick to the rice, punching out the whole deal as I ate through it. Very solid 4 SPAM (o)Musubi for this one. In fact, when I go back to Marukai, I”d probably get this Yukari Takuan Omusubi, the Ume Omusubi and the Butter Fish Omusubi and I’d be set.

Diner E also really enjoyed his Marukai “Fry Fest”, noting the fried chicken had a tasty and crispy batter, while being moist, tender and flavorful inside…

Diner E is Okinawan, but I dunno’ now. I think he’s going “Yobo” on us, as check out his Korean Stainless Steel Chopsticks! He even said he’s getting hooked on Korean TV Soaps! Ha ha ha ha! lol

Here he shows off his perfectly cooked and very tasty Kabocha Tempura from the “inside”…

Diner C also gave a thumbs-up to her Grilled Saba, Cali’ Rolls and of course that AWESOME Kim Chee Cucumber Tsukemeno!

The Tsukemono also went extremely well with my omusubi spread, like here where I put some Iriko on my Ume Omusubi…

Whoah, bully, whack da’ buggah’ laddat, broke da’ mout’ winnahz, cuz! Oh sorry, I momentarily went “moke” on you. It was so good, I lost my mind. lol

Marukai has two locations on Oahu. Their main Warehouse Mart store is located on the far Ewa end of Dillingham Boulevard where it then becomes Kamehameha highway, with a smaller store in Ward Farmers Market on Auahi street in Kaka’ako (near Ala Moana).

The Ward location now occupies the entire space in Farmers Market, right up to the Diamond Head end where Tropic Fish and Vegetable Market used to be. That whole side space where Tropics and Haili’s used to be is now Marukai’s ‘Zakka Avenue’ store, which was formerly called the ’99 Cent Store’.

While everything in the Zakka store are still considered “value priced”, most items are higher than 99 cents now. You also need a Marukai membership now to shop at the Zakka Avenue (formerly 99 Cents) store.

Membership at Marukai on Oahu is $15, which includes a card for you and one other member of your household. Renewals thereafter are just $10 anually, so it’ s a pretty good deal.

If you’re looking for a great selection of imported Japanese groceries, housewares products, and prepared Japanese foods to go, all at great prices for their members, head on over to Marukai!

Marukai Warehouse Mart
2310 Kamehameha Hwy
Honolulu, HI 96819

Tel. (808) 845-5051

Business Hours:
Monday through Friday: 8:30am – 8pm
Saturday: 8am – 8pm
Sunday: 8am – 6pm

The Tasty Island rating:

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


11 thoughts on “A Marukai Musubi Fest

  1. Pomai, all this time I have never been to Marukai to shopped. Now after reading your entry I will go there and try their takeout food. The price is so reasonable shocking. For butterfish musubi and salmon one also. Thank you for sharing info. for all to know.

  2. Inaka means “county,” as in out in the sticks.

    That “California” roll looks unorthodox. I see what appears to be takuan and some kind of leafy green in place of the usual avocado and cucumber.

  3. Norio, arigato for the translation! So these omusubi are “country style”? Is that how it’s being used in context here?
    Now that you point it out, that “California” roll is indeed unorthodox. But that’s not Takuan, it’s Tamago. Personally I only like Calofornia Rolls that are made Temaki (hand roll) style. And it’s gotta’ have all the right stuff: imitation crab, cucumber, avocado, mayo (preferably Kewpie brand) and just a dab of wasabi. Nothing else.  Especially no goma in or on it!
    Patty, keep in mind that you need a Marukai membership card to buy their takeout food as well. It’s a really good deal at $15 for the first year, and just $10 annually thereafter.

  4. Since you like natto, you GOTTA try the tray sushi – barazushi style – at the far end of bento section. At the Dillingham location, it’s on the Diamond Head end where you’ll see sushi chefs making rolls – it’s usually in the small chill case. Consists of cubed raw ahi, natto and chopped Tokyo-style zuke spread over the rice – sometimes white, sometimes brown. With bottle of Yuka no Boshi or Mizbasho sake… winnah, winnah, ahi-natto-sushi-sake dinnah!

  5. Yay for musubi! I totally get the mouthwatering effect everytime I see the rice/ume/nori combination too. It’s irresistible. Terrific review of a bento staple. Musubi, omusubi, onigiri or rice ball it’s all good to me! Good golly I miss shopping at that store!

  6. Wow, those musubi’s look delicious and along with everyone else I got the mouthwatering effect. I’m craving the variety of Asian foods that Hawaii is blessed with! The combination of something so simple is so good!

  7. Call me a fuddy duddy, but the only kind of musubi for me is one stuffed with ume. That’s it, nothing else is necessary.

  8. Ah, the musubis are beautiful. And the pumpkin tempura makes me smile. Squash and sweet potato are my favorite, as I love the crisp outer shell of the fried batter and the sweet, soft inside of squash or potato. I haven’t really had much rice since I got back from visiting family, but I may have to make up a batch for some simple Spam musubi.

  9. wasabi prime, another great Kabocha dish is the one simmered in shoyu that they sell at Masa & Joyce and Nuuanu Okazuya. Sugoi!
    Fat Fudge, I can dig that too. Ume and white rice are “BFF’s” (Best Friends Forever)!
    Migration Mark, indeed, when it comes to good food, simple is usually the best!
    Rick, mahalo!
    hapabento, along with Migration Mark, glad to hear you too get that mouthwatering effect from just looking at ume, nori and rice. For a moment I thought folks might thing I’m WEIRD like that. lol
    Ryan, that sounds fantastic. I’ll be sure to look for it next time I hit the warehouse Marukai. Which has me wondering whether anyone sells Natto Ahi Poke? I know there’s the “Nattochos” at Gyotaku, and that’s proven that Natto and Ahi Poke go really great together!

  10. Since no one has touched on the “inaka” issue, here’s my crack at it. Looking at the omusubi, I believe they called it inaka because it’s round (versus triangle) and the nori is already wrapped on the omusubi, making it soggy. This type of omusubi may invoke memories of the omusubi grandma made back in the good ol’ days to picnics/outings/travels. So, I think from the nostalgia that it brings, they may have chosen to call it “inaka musubi.” Cuz you know, the urban omusubis are perfectly triangular, nori is separate to retain the crispiness, and sold in 7-11.

    That’s my take on it – but i’m only a bilingual grown in Hawaii – not grown in Japan.

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