Pier 38 Fish Market Lures Us with Fresh-Off-the-Boat Seafood
Fillets, sashimi, amaebi, poke kits: Much of it is landed that day by Hawai‘i’s largest seafood distributor.
Pier 38 Fish Market sells seafood so fresh that some lands in Honolulu by boat or plane the same day it’s sold. ‘Ahi from nearby waters, hamachi flown in from Japan, lobster from Maine, sweet amaebi shrimp worthy of a sushi counter: The selection changes daily at this tiny retail shop.
The fish market opened in April next to Nami Kaze restaurant. Dinner crowds might miss it since it closes at 5 p.m. I stumble on it after brunch with a friend. Since we’re happily full, I plan to browse and return another day. But I can’t resist and end up circling back to buy hamachi sashimi ($15 for a little more than half a pound), amaebi, a block of ‘ahi ($18.95 a pound) and a lobster ($16.95 a pound). I marvel over a rainbow of tobiko, flying fish roe in plain orange, green with a wasabi kick and yellow from a hint of citrusy yuzu.
It’s like being in a seafood version of a candy shop. Each time I go, I hear customers comparing prices at other fresh seafood counters on O‘ahu. The selection and lower-than-usual retail prices make sense when you consider the fish market’s location within shouting distance of the fishing boats at the pier, and the fact that its owner, Fresh Island Fish, is Hawai‘i’s largest seafood distributor.
The shop is tucked on the makai side of Fresh Island Fish’s main processing plant. The local company specializes in wild-caught seafood from its own fleet of 22 commercial longline fishing boats, as well as from the neighboring Honolulu Fish Auction and seafood that it flies in.
In three visits so far, the price for amaebi has ranged from $9.95 to $22.25, depending on the size of the shrimp. I buy some at $17 a pound, cheaper than I’ve seen it in years, even in Chinatown. After we devour the tails raw in DIY sushi, we cook the heads in pasta sauce.
The next two times I’m hungry and go for ready-to-eat nakaochi, fresh ‘ahi scraped from between the ribs and resembling a tartare; negi hama ($9.95 a pound) or minced hamachi with green onions; and a poke kit with cubes of ‘ahi, marlin and salmon to be assembled later. I also get a New Zealand salmon fillet to grill. My family’s omega-3 status improves with each visit.
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When I tell friends about Pier 38 Fish Market, they suggest I delay writing about it until they put in their orders. I laugh nervously.
That’s another thing: You can order ahead online or by phone or walk in and place an order. Peering through the display cases to watch the fish cutters prepping the seafood just beyond, I realize that these folks can keep up with demand. So see you there.