Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Iyasume Musubi

To balance out the last two posts, this post is going to be short. And because I find myself craving savory bites from Oahu, I'm going to write about one of my favorite comfort foods: musubi.

Spam has a special place in the hearts of most Koreans and Korean-Americans. If you're in Seoul, expect convenience stores to have variety packs, gift baskets, and the most recent renditions of flavored spam. Any true Korean spam lover can't blog about spam without sharing that the roots of spam in Korean households attach to the Korean War. And despite what the Wikipedia page suggests, I assure you, spam is not considered a delicacy in South Korea. It's never seen "alonside imported European luxury goods." It's just something that's always around in a typical Korean home.

If you are just being introduced to musubi, shame on you. Luckily, it's a relatively easy snack to make, or conceptualize in your head, so welcome to the conversation. Spam, seaweed, and rice make up this classic trifecta of deliciousness. And arguably, the mecca of this deliciousness is Iyasume Musubi.

The location is a little bit tough to see if you're just driving by, but after a few strained peeks into each alleyway on Koa Avenue, you'll find a calm, smiling onigiri greeting you and welcoming you to the restaurant.

At Iyasume Musubi, they serve a slew of varieties of onigiri (another shame on you if you don't know what that is, but rest assured, it's basically a triangular mound of rice wrapped in a sheet of seaweed), and of course, musubi.

The kitchen is appropriately small, and the interior is essentially a studio apartment transformed into a snack stand with three small tables for customers looking to immediately satiate their musubi cravings.

At the cashier's suggestion, my friends and I shared three onigiri and two musubi. The nice thing about this place is that everything tastes exactly like its description. It's also nice that the rice is always perfectly warm and well-cooked, and the nori wrapping breaks at the tooth and doesn't get soggy.

The Tuna Mayo Bonito at the left tasted just like freshly cooked tuna, mayo, and fishy bonito. The Salmon and Spicy Cod Roe on the right was my second favorite with a briny roe and toothsome and generous portion of salmon.

The Spicy Fried Chicken Mayo was the clear winner. Despite being nestled in a comforter of rice and a thin sheet of spicy mayo, the fried chicken was still crisp and juicy. Each bite was like eating tatsutage chicken with spicy mayo over a bed of rice and sprinkled with nori. Oh wait, each bite wasn't like that, it was that exactly.

On the traditional musubi side, we had the Egg Cucumber Spam and Egg Spam.

If spam were ever "fresh," Iyasume Musubi's got it. The preparation of the spam is spam at its best (unless it's in kimchi fried rice). The nice char added a smokey flavor to what is, in the end, still spam. I preferred the crunch of the cucumber in the Egg Cucumber Spam to the cucumber-less Egg Spam. The cucumber also made me feel like I was eating something healthy, which is always a nice security blanket.

While there's absolutely nothing wrong with eating your purchases in the store, I like to think of musubi and onigiri as treats you take with you on a stroll through Waikiki, road trip, or hike. We did the latter two. The bites were a great intermission to a scenic drive along Tantalus Drive, and a perfect prelude to a hike on the Makiki Valley Loop Trail, both of which I highly recommend.

Iyasume Musubi
2410 Koa Ave
Hale Waikiki Hotel, Suite 4
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 921-0168

GET: Egg Cucumber Spam; Spicy Fried Chicken Mayo.

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