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Ma‘Ona Musubi Brings Unique, Japanese-Style Musubi to Downtown Honolulu

This new shop serves a range of musubi fillings, from classic Spam to inventive miso kale.


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Ma‘Ona opened in downtown Honolulu a couple of months ago, offering grab-and-go musubi with a variety of fillings such as miso-kale and spam.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox

 

Walk too quickly and you might miss Ma‘Ona’s downtown storefront next to Baker Dudes on Alakea Street. The simple musubi shop doesn’t boast much in the way of signage, but inside, the tidily labeled trays of musubi have plenty of visual appeal.

 

We squeezed into the store around lunchtime, behind a bustling crowd eager to grab the available offerings. First of all, these aren’t your grandma’s musubi. Ma‘Ona musubi are rectangular in shape, with nori enfolding the entire bottom half of the musubi. The rice bulges with filling, giving the impression of a sandwich or a pocket.

 

That’s exactly what owner Kenya Shiimura intended. A native of Japan, Shiimura has been living in Hawai‘i for five years. He and his wife were inspired by the Hawaiian word ma‘ona, which means “full (of food)” in Hawaiian. They wanted their musubi, together with patrons’ tummies, to be literally stuffed, and their musubi are packed with three to four times the volume of a standard rice ball.

 

The fillings—including shiso, beef curry, kayaku pork, smoked pork, mayo shrimp, salmon, miso kale—range from classic to creative. The salmon ($2.08), served with a thin slice of lettuce, is cooked and flaked in-house. The soboro pork ($1.88) is sautéed in shoyu and oyster sauce.

 

There’s something for every musubi lover, with fillings including Spam and egg, shiso, beef curry, kayaku pork, smoked pork, mayo shrimp and salmon.

 

There are musubi for vegetarians, too, including these filled with nori-ume.

 

As for the Spam musubi ($1.68), it’s an uncomplicated version, prepared simply, without any sauce. It’s portable and easy to eat in the Ma‘Ona-style nori pocket. (The Spam musubi is also available with cheese.)

 

Several varieties of musubi—kombu, nori ume and bonito ($2.68 each)—are made with a premium rice called tsuya hime from Japan’s Yamagata Prefecture. It’s one of the country’s most popular rice varieties, with a slightly sweet flavor and chewy, mochi-like texture. The rice is also available for sale by the bag.

 

Ma‘Ona uses a premium rice called tsuya hime from Japan’s Yamagata Prefecture. It’s sold by the bag, too.

 

Shiimura is proudest of their homemade miso soup: “It’s ... different,” he says. “It has umami.”

 

Ma‘Ona uses five varieties of bonito flakes to brew a unique dashi. The hearty broth is filled with carrots and aburaage that transforms a humble rice ball into a meal. Also available for purchase are side dishes including miso salmon ($3.88), tomato chicken ($2.48) and teriyaki chicken ($2.68).

 

Ma‘Ona plans on popping up at the Fort Street Mall farmers market this summer. Shiimura’s goal is to open more locations and to make pocket-style musubi the standard.

 

There’s no customer seating inside. This is a quick and affordable lunch on the go. And, if you show up to find empty trays, ask any of the friendly staff behind the counter to make you a fresh musubi; they’re happy to help!

 

Ma‘Ona Musubi, 921 Alakea St., open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday, 536-8009.

 

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