Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rice on the Run

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.   In the old plantation days, you obviously needed the energy to keep working in the fields.  These days, you theoretically need the energy to stimulate your mind for whatever tasks you have on hand.   Even if you're trying to lose weight, breakfast is supposed to jump start your metabolism so you start digesting and burning calories from the moment you wake up.   In general, it's just supposed to kick start all the functions of your body for the day.   However, with today's lifestyle, a nice leisurely dinner is usually the biggest meal of the day.  Breakfast usually gets lost in the rush of getting to work or school, and the need for just a few more minutes of sleep.   I, personally, am not really hungry in the mornings either, so breakfast has never been a big thing for me.

In our mad rush to try to grab a bite to eat in the morning society has compensated by creating mad rush breakfast items, like Pop Tarts.   Back in high school, I had a friend who adored pop tarts.   He would toast Pop Tarts and spread Duncan Hines frosting all over them to give them an even more intense sugar rush worthy of   I've personally never understood why in society we've come to consider pastries which really should be desserts as viable breakfast options.  I had another friend who used to love Carnation Instant Breakfasts, a slightly more nutritious option.   However, instead of mixing them into milk and creating a milkshake, he would simply tear open the packets and pour them into his mouth in powder form.  I have to admit to trying this, and liking it, myself.   Somehow munching on the powder was like an intensesly milky flavor, and sinking your teeth into a mouthfull of dry powder as it packs itself densely between your teeth is strange but somehow satisfying sensation.  There are also Quaker chewy granola breakfast bars.  They are rather small and unsatisfying for an adult, but they are just perfect for my preschool aged son as we usher him into the car.

Of course you can stop into a fast food place, and grab a greasy, bacon or sausage, and egg breakfast sandwich.   But as Lisa said of Bart as he was peparing for his mini golf championships, "Steak and Eggs will make him sluggish.   Oats are the preferred choice of champion thoroughbread racehorses."   Of course, here in Hawaii, we don't favor oats or wheat as much as we favor rice.  So how do we get our fix of rice in the morning while we're on our mad rush out the door?    Well, the classic Japanese solution to the problem of traveling rice came in the form of the onigiri or musubi.

Deluxe Spam Musubi from 7-Eleven
Hawaii is of course well known for the spam musubi.   Probably the simplest, and one of my favorite, ways to have a semi-decent breakfast on the run, is to simply stop into 7-Eleven, and pick up a deluxe spam musubi.   With a little bit of egg, spam, and rice, it's just the perfect size and content for breakfast.  They're warm and yummy, with a bit of furikake to give them just the right seasoning.   What more could you ask for?  

Japanese tourists in Waikiki, would probably prefer the more traditional approach to the musubi.   The best place to get them is at an ABC Store (which of course you find on every block in Waikiki).   They have a rather ingenious way of plastic wrapping the musubi, so that the nori is kept separate from the rice, while mainting the triangle shape in the display.   You open it by pulling on the tab, which cuts open the plastic right down the center of the triangle.   Then, with the plastic essentially cut in half, you pull on the two lower corners of the triangle.  This pulls the plastic away from not only the outside, but the inside separating the rice from the nori, as well.   So then you're left with a perfect freshly wrapped triangle musubi.   They come in flavors of salmon, classic ume (picked plum), or my wife's favorite, konbu (the sweet salty shreds of seaweed you get to sample with toothpicks at Shirokiya).  These convenience store musubi's are quite popular in Japan.   They even feature prominently in the Cutey Honey live-action movie, where the adorable, titular, female android is said to be powered by musubi's.  There is a quite cute and funny scene where she devours 37 of said convenience store musubi's and is subsequently ready for action.

Musubi's are actually a time honored food item in Japan.   They appear a great deal in the jidaigeki, or samurai period dramas, in literature, movies, and anime.  The classic image of a lonely ronin walking down the Tokaido Highway, with his large hat over his eyes and a musubi in his hand, is engrained in any fan of Japanese cinema.   It even appears in the opening scene of one of my favorite anime movies of all time, Ninja Scroll.   The main ronin, Kibagami Jubei, is walking over a bridge eating his musubi, when he is assaulted by a band of assassins.   Naturally, he tosses his musubi in the air, kills all 3 assassins, and promply catches the musubi to continue eating it, all in one fluid motion.   Whenever I get to eat a classic Japanese musubi, that is immediately the image that comes to mind.    So where can you get the really classic Japanese musubi's here in Hawaii?    Well, you can stop into any okazuya, of course.   But on the corner of Punahou and King, there is a shop called Mana Bu's, that specialzes in making nothing except musubis.   Naturally, this singular pursuit of perfection in a single item, yields some pretty remarkable results.

Konbu Musubi from Mana Bu's
Mana Bu's has musubi's of tons of different flavors (except ironically spam).   Their specialty however, is their rice.   After all, what makes for a great musubi, except great rice.   For health nuts like my sister, they have organic rice, brown rice, and even 10-grain rice.   But, I am a purist, especially when it comes to musubis.   Nothing but the softest, stickiest, plumpest grains of white rice will do.   Mana Bu's does it very very well.   You can taste the subtle but full rice flavor in every bite.   They are also liberal with the other ingredients.   My wife simply adored their konbu musubi, with many bits of konbu throughout the entire ball.

Tuna Mayo Musubi from Mana Bu's
My only complaint would be that having pre-wrapped their musubi's, their nori is not nearly as crunchy as the musubi's you get from ABC Store.   But this is easily overlooked with the quality of rice, and the seasoning to the other ingredients.   My favorite is always the tuna mayo musubi.

Yaki Musubi with Spicy Salmon from Mana Bu's
Mana Bu's also has another classic Japanese preparation, the yaki musubi, where the musubi is grilled and browned on the outside and glazed with a sticky, sweet, salty, teriyaki like glaze.   This crisps up the outer layer of rice, in the same way as Korean dol sot bi bim bap.    It creates a fantastic texture where you first bite through the cruncy toasty outer layer of rice, and plunge into the soft warm inner layer.  The contrast is immensely satisfying.

In one of the last season episodes of Star Trek, Captain Picard expresses his distaste for elaborate breakfasts and preference for a simple coffee and croissant in the morning, in typical French fashion.  Often times, I mimic this sentiment, but in Hawaii fasion, it would be a nice musubi and a bottle of Ito En green tea.  Simple, but perfectly satisfying, and just the thing to get you going in the morning.


  1. YUM! Brown Rice Musubi!! actually, brown rice nigiri is quite fabulous too.

  2. For the past several years now, my daily breakfast consists simply of a fresh apple, nectarine, pear or banana, along with some toast. Can't beat the nourishment and energy from it.

    Manabu's is probably one of the healthiest places to eat on the island. I'm a firm believer in their approach to the macrobiotic diet.

    You gotta' try their salads and desserts. Also awesome! Hard part now is getting any before they sell out. Hopefully they've hired extra help to keep up with demand. I gotta' go back there soon.