Omedetu, Shirokiya! Congratulations!

Got a great mango recipe? Under Tips, Recipes, Ideas and Food Lore tab above, check out the information on the recipe contest at the Mangoes at the Moana event coming up July. 9

Tomorrow: A lucky-you-live-Hawai’i bread pudding.

Wednesday: The restaurant rule.

Been hearing about the week-old food court at Shirokiya Ala Moana and, since I was out and about with a food-loving girlfriend yesterday, I made a stop there. Yataimura (roughly, “food stall village”) takes up the entirety of the second floor of the popular Japanese goods emporium. Twenty-one outlets for prepared food and three sit-down spaces have displaced — alas! — the kitchen supply department that was a great favorite of mine. (Fun, cheap gadgets, yay!!!!!). But since Yataimura is just the first step in a two-year renovation project celebrating the parent firm’s 350th birthday, perhaps the kitchen stuff is coming back somewhere else in the store. (PLEASE!!!)

Shirokiya opened for business in Nihombashi, Edo (a business district of modern Tokyo),  Aug. 24, 1662. Hmmm, that’s even before the bullet train!

Anyway, the Ala Moana store, which has been going through various business convolutions in recent years, is celebrating with a number of new partners, who operate the booths that ring the room, selling everything from cone-shaped crepes filled with ice cream to golf-ball size grilled octopus snacks called takoyaki. A liquor license, so they can serve sake and shochu and such, is pending.

There’s a rather gracious cafeteria-style area called — with a notable lack of creativity but maybe it is more graceful in Japanese — Shirokiya Selections. They sell generous-sized plate lunches with a wide range of choices from the familiar to the distinctly odd (to the uneducated Western eye). I was intrigued by “dry curry,” a curried fried rice that looked as though it would be sort of hot, sweet, chewy. And I was awed by the most expensive plate lunch I’ve ever seen: two fresh, Big Island farm-raised abalone on the shell, plus a half-dozen sides for $18. (The word”expensive” was on many first-timers’ lips as I evesdropped but people who know Japanese food were excited by the variety and the hard-to-find regional specialties.)

The food floor is no longer much of a place for shopping. It’s about eating in or taking out. There is a tiny dry goods section. There are several chiller shelves of Japanese prepared and pickled staples. And there is some fresh produce. But you’d do better shopping for provisions at Marukai or Nijiya. (For example, the only wasabi they had was the green paste in the tube — no fresh, no kizami (chopped wasabi stems in a seasoned mixture).

There’s an extensive tempura and noodle bar but I couldn’t tell you much about it as the menu is all in traditional hanging wood plaques written in Japanese (prices in English, though). There’s an outlet of Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin, the Waikiki restaurant which, in my non-negotiable opinion, makes the best tonkatsu  (breaded and deep-fried pork and other meats) in the state. Among their specialties is the bizarre-looking menchi katsu, sort of tonkatsu club sandwich.

There is a rice bar selling five kinds of freshly made flavored rices (hijiki seaweed-vegetable, cherry blossom, sweet chestnut, azuki bean and bamboo shoot), both in plate lunches and in sushi sets that are so gorgeous they’re like works of art. (Apologies, I didn’t ask about the cherry blossom rice and can’t find a definition for its name, sakuraokawa; the name clearly refers to the delicate pink color but the main ingredient, surely not cherry blossoms, is a mystery to me.)

There are several outlets for eclectic Japanese sweets: fish-shaped grilled cakes, mochi stuffed and decorated with everything you can imagine from both East and West, bubble tea, the aforementioned crepes. The old restaurant on the makai-diamondhead side of the floor survives.

There is perhaps no form of traditional Japanese food: sushi, sashimi, tempura, taishoku (formal mixed plates), tonkatsu, yaki (grilled items), noodles (hot and cold), pickles, salads. Except maybe nabemono, the family of hot pot dishes, unsuitable for takeout, of course.

Japanese pay minute attention to presentation and packaging and many of the dishes — even the $8-$12 plate lunches — are charmingly arranged.

Having strolled, photographed, made notes, bantered with chefs (who, in several booths, call out welcomes, thank yous and other commentary to customers, as in some Japanese restaurants), I left empty-handed. I’d just eaten breakfast and the only grocery item that interested me was the elusive kizami wasabi.

My girlfriend, who bought some sweet potato tempura because it’s a weakness of hers, wondered aloud whether the whole set-up was perhaps too ambitious. Could the place continue to support this many booths, this many chefs, this wide a variety of dishes?

I wondered if I’d make and effort to go there again. If I worked at or very near Ala Moana, I know I’d be there often as parking on that level (mauka side, third level) is always available, there’s almost no waiting as the items are constantly freshly stocked. Plus, given the recent ascent in plate lunch prices,  the tab isn’t unreasonable. It would be a good place to pick up a piece of grilled fish and some rice and edamame salad for dinner.

But will I drive there? If I were more deeply intimate with Japanese cooking, and could differentiate between the sought-after regional styles of soba and such, I’m sure it would be a draw. But I’m easily amused with a garlic chicken plate lunch.

Anyway, well worth a visit. Go hungry. It’s a waste if you go full, as I did.

P.S. If you know Japanese food, please see the Pupu Platter on the right. I had a dish the other day that’s been haunting my dreams and I want to know how it’s made. The most delicious simple cold somen salad I have ever encountered.

Tomorrow: A lucky-you-live-Hawai’i bread pudding.

Wednesday: The restaurant rule.

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