Farmers Market Finds: Torched Sushi and Handrolls in Kailua and Kaka‘ako
Ilea’s Kitchen serves up tantalizing aburi sushi creations in Kailua and Kaka‘ako.
Farmers markets are breeding grounds for food innovation and some of Hawai‘i’s most successful restaurants. Frolic’s series spotlights some of these ‘ono finds.
What: Aburi sushi rolls and handrolls
How much: $8 to $19
What markets: Saturday at Kaka‘ako Farmers Market, 919 Ala Moana Blvd.; Sunday at Kailua Farmers Market, 1090 Keolu Dr.
Vendor schedule: Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
If you’re familiar with my posts, you know that I love handheld meals. Real street food, not just burgers and tacos, but anything on a stick, rolled up or in a cone. Walk-and-eatability is just one of the reasons why I love temaki or sushi handrolls. On top of being portable, a handroll is a luxurious personal moment whether you’re on a busy road or at your favorite sushi bar. Generously stuffed with fillings of your choice, and only you get to experience it end to end by yourself.
Last Sunday while browsing the Kailua Farmer’s Market, a man torching up sushi and handrolls at a quaint stall called Ilea’s Kitchen caught my eye. Sushi for breakfast? Say less!
Half of Ilea’s Kitchen’s menu feels geared towards local and Western visitor palates—think handrolls with shoyu ‘ahi poke and salmon with cream cheese ($8 each). The other half consists of unique combinations with a bit more Japanese flair centered around the technique of aburi, or lightly broiling the fatty parts of fish to alter its taste and texture. The blue flame singes the tender flesh on contact sealing in juices, caramelizing delicate fatty marbling and leaving a faint, smoky aroma. This is where Ilea’s gets interesting.
Mommy’s Combo ($19) is a trio of cut rolls each featuring slices of torched seafood matched with different sauces and texture components. Daddy’s Combo ($19) is similar but the rolls and toppings are raw. I order three aburi temaki a la carte: ‘Ahi with black sesame sauce, spicy salmon with unagi sauce and hotate (scallop) and ebi (shrimp) with shoyu chile oil ($8 each).
For those that want to try both types of rolls, order the Crunchy Combo ($16), which includes one shrimp tempura cut roll and your choice of handroll.
The finished product has me swooning. Kabayaki sauce, crisp cucumber and crunchy fried onions finish the spicy salmon roll. Salmon is my favorite fish to enjoy seared and this morning’s version is no exception. It’s so fresh and melds seamlessly with the creamy spicy sauce but the smokiness gives the kabayaki sauce some oomph to cut through the richness.
The seared ‘ahi is tucked in with spears of asparagus and topped with house-made black sesame sauce and whisper-thin sweet onions. The sauce is unexpectedly tangy, lifting the nuttiness of the kurogoma just enough to blend nicely with earthy asparagus and crunchy sweet onion. The hotate-ebi temaki is finished with thin slices of seeded green jalapeño and shoyu chile sauce. The vegetal notes in the jalapeño go well with the intense char on the shrimp and the sauce offers a nice warm kick. I wish more of the scallop would come through as there can never be enough of it.
Japan natives Hiro (Daddy) and Sachi (Mommy) Manabe have been dreaming up and serving their aburi sushi since September 2021. The Manabes and their 7-year-old daughter Ilea have been at the Farmlovers Kailua Farmers Market for the last month. Even during my visit, I take note of the crowd that stops at the sight of Manabe torching the fresh sashimi.
Hiro Manabe says that while he’s worked at a few Honolulu restaurants, making sushi is his hobby. From what I can tell, he’s fully invested in it.
When telling someone about Ilea’s Kitchen they asked, “How do they do good sushi at the farmers market? So hot!” The answer is, carefully and made to order. The Manabes have their space figured out with many coolers involved. The more complicated sushi rolls are prepared beforehand to aid in the speedy execution of orders, but when you get your temaki, the nori is properly crisp and the rice has a supple texture with just the right amount of seasoning.
After this flight of temaki, I will gladly be back to try their sushi rolls. Until then, I’ll bask in my discovery of these super oishii handheld wonders.
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