If You Miss Your Kitchen’s Pork Bowl, Try This
Kawaii Bowls in Kaimukī has katsu egg bowls and katsu musubis, too.
I was browsing my Instagram feed one day when a video of drool-worthy pork belly bowl with oozing egg yolk stopped me mid-scroll. I was mesmerized. Where in the world was Kawaii Bowls?
Kawaii Bowls turns out to be Averi Oliveira’s family-run business. A certified food handler, Oliveira started it last October with a simple menu inspired by now-closed Your Kitchen, known for its rice bowls with fatty pork belly braised in a ginger-soy sauce and topped with a soft-boiled, panko-crusted egg.
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Oliveira, who used to work as a private chef, didn’t want to base her new business on a food trend. Nostalgia played a huge role in her decision to recreate the pork bowl. “Nobody does the Your Kitchen bowl and I really miss it—that pork belly bowl was so good,” she says. “I thought if I can recreate that bowl, people can have a taste of nostalgia. I want our food to be like that old song that comes on the radio and makes you smile.”
The result: Kawaii’s signature bowl, the $10 B.A.E. of tender, braised pork belly glazed with Oliveira’s Kawaii sauce and served with a soft-boiled katsu egg, rice and pickled onions. You’ll seriously want to order this bowl ‘before anything else.’
I never got to Your Kitchen, but after tasting the B.A.E., I know I would have loved it. The thick, juicy, fatty pork belly slabs are coated in shoyu-based Kawaii sauce, which tastes like a sweet teriyaki glaze. Cracking open the katsu egg is not only Instagram-worthy, the oozing yolk adds a huge umami factor. The crunchy panko layer is thick and holds up well during transport: I live about 20 minutes away, and the katsu is still crispy when I get home.
I make a special trip to Kaimukī to get this taco rice musubi, a new item. Oliveira plans to have a different musubi flavor each month, but I wish this Okinawan-inspired flavor could be a permanent fixture. One order includes three musubis filled with seasoned organic ground beef, cheese, tomato, cilantro and onions. They’re coated in panko and served with a warm, savory dipping sauce inspired by the consommé served with birria tacos, according to Oliveira, but it isn’t consommé.
“I like to do things that nobody’s doing, which is why I decided to do an Okinawan-style taco rice musubi,” she says. “I added a dipping sauce to add another level of depth to this. My sauce is more like a broth and has a taco salsa flavor.”
Oliveira was originally going to grill the musubis, but decided a katsu treatment would hold up better for takeout. I’m a huge fan. There’s a lot more rice than filling, but the filling is quality—a three-cheese blend of medium cheddar, Monterey Jack and creamy, semi-soft Asadero with crunchy fresh onions. The dipping sauce is like a mild salsa. Cut each musubi in half to coat every bit in it. A lone last musubi barely survives my commute home.
This simple bowl is designed for those who can’t get enough of the katsu eggs. It comes with rice, pickled onions and Kawaii sauce on the side. The name makes me crack up every time, pun intended. The eggs are from Eggs Hawai‘i; many of the organic vegetables and ground beef are also sourced locally.
In a nod to her vegan friends, Kawaii has a monthly changing vegan bowl. The current one features organic tofu katsu with Japanese vegetable curry, rice and pickled onions. The tofu katsu cubes are crispy and tasty when eaten with the curry, but I prefer the meaty B.A.E.
Ordering from Kawaii Bowls means texting your preorder to (808) 321-1921. You’ll receive a message back with directions to Kawaii Bowls’ space and parking instructions. When you get there, someone will bring your order to your vehicle.
Like legions of Your Kitchen fans who drove into Palolo Valley specially for those pork bowls with katsu eggs, I have absolutely no regrets about driving out to Kaimukī specially for Kawaii Bowls. In fact, I’m going back before the month ends to get more taco rice musubis.
Saturday to Monday from 12 to 5 p.m., (808) 321-1921, kawaiibowls.com, @kawaii_bowls