Hot Pots in Honolulu Restaurants

Hot Pots are Hot: What’s trendy in Honolulu restaurants? A commonly found, Asian family meal with a thousand-year history. Here’s why it seems so new.


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Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant

510 Piikoi St., 589-2299, Lunch daily 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner nightly 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday until midnight, Sunday until 10. Limited parking, major credit cards.

 


Unlike many of the hot-pot restaurants we visited this month,  Ichriki brings trays of ingredients to you.

Ichiriki can hardly be accused of capitalizing on the hot-pot boom, since it opened in 2005. In fact, it originally enjoyed its own outburst of trendiness.

Its novelty was paper nabe, essentially a hot pot in a paper bowl. The special paper withstood the gas flame underneath, the boiling liquid inside. Theoretically, it absorbed some of the fats from the meal, making it healthier.

“We got a small bump from the hot-pot craze, but, really, we have our steady customers, who like what we do and keep coming back,” says Ichiriki’s manager, Masaki Sasada.

The difference between the new hot-pot eateries and Ichiriki is that Ichiriki is a real restaurant. You sit, food comes.

Two of you can order two different shabu shabu. You get a metal pot divided by a curve that makes it look like a yin-yang circle. Our yang was the house dashi-based broth. Our yin was the pirikara, which adds to the dashi the vibrant flavors of chilies and garlic.

No trip to the coolers. Each person gets a tray of food, artfully arranged, fans of chives, green onions and enoki mushrooms, won bok, tofu, aburage, stunningly uniform slices of ribeye, and kuzukiri (transparent noodles made of arrowroot).

Plus tsukune, a mild Japanese chicken sausage encased in a long, narrow bamboo scoop. No self-serve; our waiter deftly scooped out portions of tsukune into the soup, creating little meatballs.

There are two styles of hot potting. I just throw stuff in all at once. The friend I brought was methodical. The whole shiitake mushroom caps needed to go in first, because they took a while to cook. The cabbage cooked so fast you could throw it in last.

Reason No. 7: Hot pot gives you the illusion you’re actually cooking, although someone else has done all the work.

The last thing I threw in the pot was something that looked odd to me: finger-size, tough-skinned sausages. When I finally succumbed to trying one, it had a nice snap when you bit into it and a blast of smoky pork flavor. “These,” said my friend, “are far better than they look.”

I like a restaurant that knows what it’s doing; I would have never chosen the sausages from a cooler. (I learned later, they are called arabiki.)

Another nice touch: As you wind down, the server arrives with noodles. “Yes, you wait for the noodles until the soup is ‘perfected’ by cooking all the other ingredients in it,” says Sasada.

“They better have shave ice,” said my friend as we finished the noodles. Of course, it arrived: a slightly too sweet strawberry shave ice with condensed milk, ice cream and mochi balls, the whole shebang.

Having washed down the soup with a few of Ichiriki’s tasty ume shochu cocktails, we ended up with a highly satisfying $80 dinner. “Eating like this,” said my friend, “is just enough work to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something.”

Which led me to Reason No. 8: People like hot pot because they haven’t just eaten off a plate, and feel they’ve actually done something. Conquered dinner.

Maybe the Mongol warriors were onto something after all.

 

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