Hawaii is probably one of the best states in the US to partake in East Asian and Southeast Asian cuisine. We are geographically closer, have large groups of people from those regions living here, and it’s not a trendy thing, we have been eating these cuisines for several decades. In part three of the tourist’s guide, we have our first ‘advanced course’ and will be covering Japanese food. Instead of going over the most popular types like ramen and sushi, I’ll try to go over some of the less popular stuff that you are less likely to get in your hometown. Once again, if you’re not ready for the advanced course, please check out the introductory post about eating in Hawaii here: A Tourists’ Guide to Eating in Hawaii pt. 1.
Have you tried the regional dish Okonomiyaki? It’s a grilled pancake with pork, seafood, vegetables, and sometimes noodles that’s popular in both Osaka and Hiroshima. The savory pancake is then covered with mayonnaise and a sweet sauce making this Japanese comfort food hit every part of your palate at the same time. If you’ve haven’t had this before, or it’s been a while since your last serving, there are a couple good places in Honolulu I could recommend. Check out Jinroku Pacific or Okonomiyaki Chibo, both located in the heart of Waikiki.
Katsu (cutlet) is a dish you can get at any plate lunch spot in Hawaii, but there’s a reason that you’ll rarely see a Japanese tourist eat that here. It’s because specialized katsu restaurants in Japan do it _way_ better. Specialized katsu restaurants pay particular attention to the different breeds and cuts and they also use better quality rice. There are two tonkatsu (pork cutlet) places in Honolulu I’d recommend checking out that came over from Japan. Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin in Waikiki (via Ginza, Tokyo) and Tonkatsu Tamafuji in Kapahulu (via Sapporo), and both do a great job with their pork cutlet. I’d recommend getting a reservation for Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin and if you try Tonkatsu Tamafuji, there will most likely be a line, so be prepared to wait for your seating.
On the topic of deep-fried foods, tempura (battered and deep-fried seafood and vegetables) is another food type you’ll run into in Japan, but not so often in the states. Japanese restaurants have been serving up tempura in Hawaii for as long as I can remember, but the stuff here usually pales in comparison to the restaurants I regularly head to Japan for. In just the last year, however, a ten-don place (tempura donburi, tempura served over rice) opened up a shop in Waikiki that’s worth checking out. In the basement of the Waikiki Shopping Plaza, you’ll find Kaneko Hannosuke, a tendon shop based out of Nihonbashi, Tokyo. Their edomae tempura bowls are perfectly sauced, aren’t that greasy, and really hit the spot.
As I wind down a third post about eating in Hawaii, I feel that there are several more regions I could cover for East Asian and Southeast Asian cuisine. If you’d be interested in follow-ups to this topic, (because I post so infrequently) you can subscribe to the Facebook page, Instagram page, or RSS feed to be notified about updates. Those links can be found at the bottom of the right sidebar. Also if you have any questions or comments about the topics posted, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.