Honolulu’s King of Spam Musubi Now Serves 23 Varieties at 7 Spots on O‘ahu
Spam musubi aficionados have 23 reasons to stop by a local eatery that’s building an empire on a mountain of rice balls.
Left to right: SPAM, ume AND CUCUMBER; SPAM AND TAKUAN; SPAM AND SHISO
Spam musubi, teriyaki Spam musubi, Spam musubi with avocado: Once he started, Toshiyuki Otake couldn’t stop. The man who would become Honolulu’s king of Spam musubi started Musubi Café Iyasume in 2000 with a lone original Spam musubi tucked among more traditional rice triangles stuffed with salmon, tuna mayo, ume and seasoned kombu—not because he loved rice, but because after fleeing a public relations career in his native Tokyo to start life over in Waikīkī, musubi-making was his only marketable skill.
“I can make musubi because I’m Japanese. It’s easy to make. But I can only make musubi,” says Otake, whose English is still limited. “I was not expert. I checked the recipe by internet. That was my concept: After you order, I make musubi.”
Left to right: spam, bacon and egg; unagi, spam, shiso and egg; spam and kim chee
What Otake found is that locals and tourists love Spam musubi. Bacon-egg-Spam musubi, ume-shiso-Spam musubi, shrimp-tempura-atop-avocado-atop-Spam musubi: He kept going. Today Iyasume’s seven counters sell up to 23 kinds of Spam musubi—the last time we checked, at least. Two new shops, at Kāhala Mall and just outside the Ke‘eaumoku Street Walmart, opened this year; two others, on Ena Road in Waikīkī and at Ala Moana Center’s Grand Lānai food court, opened last year.
Top sellers are original Spam, teriyaki Spam and avocado-bacon-egg-Spam musubi. Weirdest? Possibly unagi-egg-avocado-Spam. And here’s a tip: If you show up and your favorite Spam musubi isn’t on the counter, ask and they’ll make it fresh.
“You can grab and go,” Otake says. “Eat musubi walking. Running. Even driving. Not illegal, eating musubi in car. I have to say thank you to musubi.”