Bento sightseeing in Oahu, Hawai'i

I’m back home! I’ve posted more in-depth articles about my food-oriented experiences on Oahu over on Just Hungry (Part 1, Part 2) but I thought I’d talk briefly about some bento-related things I found there on Just Bento. I only had 6 days there, at least 3 of which I spent mostly beach-hopping, so I couldn’t cover much, but hopefully this gives a general overview.

As you probably know, Hawai’i has a large Japanese-American population, as well as a large number of tourists from Japan. So it’s not surprising that bentos are widely available in the Waikiki/Honolulu area. ABC Stores are mini-marts which carry everything from food and drinks to souvenirs and household sundries. In Waikiki there’s one on just about every block. (ABC Stores are so iconic in Japan that I’ve seen their used plastic bags being sold on Yahoo! Auctions. Presumably people carry them around in Japan pretending they’ve been to Hawai’i.) In the prepared food section, sandwiches share shelf space with onigiri and bento lunches. The ABC onigiri were not bad at all. The fillings were rather mediocre, but the rice part was quite good. (The sandwiches were nice too actually.) Onigiri are such perfect small snacks, they should be carried in every convenience store!

abcstore_onigiri.jpg

Also in Waikiki, my hotel (the Waikiki Parc) just happened to be right around the corner from Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin. Since I was on a tight budget I didn’t want to go there for a sit-down dinner, but I did get the $8 katsu sando (pork cutlet sandwiches) to go, and found them to be excellent. The photo doesn’t really do justice to them: the cutlet was freshly fried, the meat was tender, the sauce tangy, the breading still a bit crispy. My only minor complaint was that the Japanese style white bread was just a bit too lacking in substance.

katsusando_bairin.jpg

Going further afield, there are a number of Japanese supermarkets around. Marukai (a membership store along the lines of Sam’s Club, but you can get a free pass if you say you’re a visitor and show an out-of-state ID (or, as we did, act dumb when asked for a membership card by the cashier; I also read that the cashier may make you buy a $1 daypass, but ours didn’t)), which also has branches in California, is the biggest one, but there’s also Don Quijote (formerly Daiei). Even the American supermarkets and stores carry things like spam musubi and chicken katsu musubi. (The spam musubi at 7-11 is marginally better than the one from Foodland.)

Shirokiya is a small Japanese department store. It’s located in the Ala Moana (shopping) Center, which is easy to get to from Waikiki by car or public transportation. It has a fairly well stocked ‘okazuya’ area (okazu means the savory dishes that go with rice) with lots of prepared foods for sale. It’s like a small version of a department store food department like the one described here. Here are some of their substantial bentos.

shirokiya_bento.jpg

What about bento boxes and bento-making equipment? I can’t say I was overly impressed by the stock of these items, either at Marukai (the one at the Ward Center anyway, which is the only one I went to) or Shirokiya, not to mention the Marukai-operated 99 SuperStore. Maybe people in Hawai’i tend to buy their bentos rather than make them? You can find basic supplies at any of these locations however, some with a very Hawaiian bent (this spotted at Marukai, but they had the same thing at 99 SuperStore too):

luncheon_meat_slicer.jpg

Now, if you have a Mitsuwa store or similar where you live, you probably won’t find either Shirokiya or Marukai to be different enough to take time for. But if you don’t have any large Japanese grocery stores near you, you may find them quite interesting. I found both places to be rather fascinating in a different way. They sort of remind me of the way supermarkets and department stores used to be in Japan a couple of decades ago…more down-to-earth and less sophisticated than the stores of Japan today. (The Japanese word that fits here is 庶民的 - しょみんてき.) It made me feel rather nostalgic!

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Marukai

One thing I love about Marukai is that they come out with circulars every once in a while with recipes and information about Japanese traditions and trends. The last one I saw had a piece about the recent banana diet fad in Japan. Yeah, most people here buy pre-packaged bento or visit okazuya and select the items themselves. Most of the well-known okazuya are in Kalihi. I used to look forward to getting sweet potato tempura and cone sushi (like inari sushi but a lot bigger) from Kabuki for field trips. I don’t think my mom or grandma ever packed me a home cooked bento.

Egg Slicer

I’ve always wondered what else you could use an egg slicer for besides slicing eggs and mushrooms. Slicing Spam for spam musubi makes sense though.

Hawaii

I’ve spent a lot of time on Oahu, and you should’ve gone for a bed and breakfast! Lots of people have little cottages behind their homes that they rent out to guests for $60-90 per night. You can usually find them on the internet with a little digging. There’s a great one in Kailua near the triangle park that is walking distance from the beach. You can save a lot of money on the actual staying that way so that you can spend more on food. : )

washoku on Oahu

I was just on Oahu for a short time, too! I blogged about my trip and mentioned many of the things I ate (though I didn’t have bento while I was there—the closest I got was checking out the selection of bento boxes at Don Quixote). I hadn’t even intended for it to be so food-centric, but somehow it ended up that way. :)

Eating in Hawaii

I got married on Oahu in September. My (now) husband and I stayed on Waikiki beach, at the Pacific Beach Hotel. They have their own ABC store right in the lobby of the hotel, on the beach side. We saved a lot of money by eating breakfast there everyday. Each morning, we went to the ABC and each got a Spam Musubi and a small bottle of juice, then we walked across the street and ate it on a bench on the beach. Beautiful!!
One of the cashiers was confused, then impressed, she said the tourists never bought musubi, they had them for the locals. I thought they were pretty good, and I don’t normally eat spam. We also ate onigiris for dinner from the ABC a couple nights, if we had a big lunch and just wanted a small, inexpensive dinner. The only bento-related thing I got was a musubi press (and some hot and spicy spam), though I haven’t used it yet.

Oh my gosh! You came to

Oh my gosh! You came to Hawaii! Maybe I passed by you in Shirokiya and didn’t know it. :)

I LOVE Shirokiya’s bentos! Sometimes I try to do my own cooking, but it never tastes quite as good (esp. the seasoned vegetables and okowa!) If they weren’t so expensive, I would like to eat there more often. ^^

Luncheon Meat Slicer?

I get the whole egg slicer bit (Its almost impossible to do it using a cleaver without being a ninja) but luncheon meat slicer? Now that’s just being lazy. :P

Re: Luncheon Meat Slicer?

I doubt I could get nine even slices of Spam doing it myself with a knife! I get eight by cutting the block in half, then half of a quarter, then half of that.... If you're making a batch of Spam musubi, then this looks like a winner to me. I hadn't seen one before but will look for one now.

Shirokiya

I love Shirokiya! I go to Oahu every year for a week and I have to go there at least a couple of times for lunch. I live in So Cal so we have our share of Mitsua and Marukai markets here… but Shirokiya has much better selections on bentos. BTW, so true about the ABC store, I think there’s almost 2 on every block on Waikiki. Top 3 things I saw in Waikiki this year were: #1 ABC stores, #2 Honolulu Cookie Company and #3 the Coach store (as in purses).

Re: Bento sightseeing in Oahu, Hawai'i

next time you are here we have to meet toshow you some other foods!

Re: Bento sightseeing in Oahu, Hawai'i

I live on Maui. You can find lots of the little Japanese kitchen tools at Longs drug store. Even though it was bought out by CVS they still carry the same stuff they always did. I do wish that Maui had more options for bento supplies, but at least I have the internet. I ended up buying my bento boxes on ebay from Japan.

Minit Stop gas stations have kitchens in them, and most of them carry Spam Musubi, Manapua, Inarizushi (though not gluten free), and a couple of other Asian influenced food items. They also sell fried chicken and potato wedges. I've never been a fan of Spam, and I can't eat the other foods they carry, so I long for them to carry those little prepackaged onigiri with simple ingredients or even plain with a sheet of nori. That'd be a nice snack while out on the go.

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