II am in love with chirashi. It’s a recent obsession: I was running into a shopping frenzy when I spotted a rare bowl of chirashi mid-afternoon among the chilled bentos at Nijiya Market and grabbed it. As I swallowed him in the back seat of my car, his kindness stopped my chopsticks – slices of deep red maguro akami, smooth and without sinews; silky crunchy akagai and other Japanese shells; a generous mound of ikura. The rice, even cold, was sweet and lightly, perfectly seasoned, each grain distinct.
It’s now a mission of my culinary life to relive those moments, in places outside of sushi bars. Chirashi, in my opinion, is for lunch; in a sushi bar, I want the entertainment and surprises of omakase. Fortunately, I have yet to find a bowl of chirashi that I don’t like. If the slices are thin, I don’t care, as long as they’re interesting and fresh. And where I wanted adventure in a bowl of chirashi, reveling in all that wasn’t the usual ‘ahi, salmon and hamachi (because why, Hawai’i? Why, living on islands fringed by reefs surrounded by seasonal seafood, do we eat the same things all year round?), now I have come to enjoy them too. A bowl of chirashi sans’ ahi, salmon and hamachi lacks a Hawai’i-ness element.
SEE ALSO: 6 Takeaway Places for Maximumist to Budget Chirashi in Honolulu
You will find these seven bowls in food courts, poke shops and yes, a supermarket. Their price ranges from around $ 10 to $ 25; if you find them worth the price is a conversation for you and your own chirashi tastes.
The one that started it all – and for the remarkable supermarket price tag of $ 9.99. This one meets Japanese tastes. Given that my favorite thing to eat in Japan is seasonal seafood sashimi – anything that swims in the seas off Hokkaido in late April, for example – this one takes me to a very happy place, despite thin slices and a modest portion of rice.
Several locations, @nijiyamarket_hawaii
Take Fish Market
Take’s slicing can be intimate, which is a draw for me. The small counter inside the Moanalua 99 food court (formerly known as 99 Ranch Market) is a family run, flawless operation. The rice is cooked and seasoned to Japanese standards, another perk, and the dashimaki egg roll is made just like in Japan, turning a thin sheet of whipped egg over on itself as it cooks. But my favorite aspect of Take’s $ 10.99 chirashi bowls is the vertical tasting of ‘ahi akami, chutoro and nakochi, small scraped pieces of tuna ribs. It is a respectful and delicious treatment of the fish.
1151 Mapunapuna Street, (808) 834-8485
Chirashi bowls at poke shops feature thick slices of the local favorite trifecta of ‘ahi, salmon and hamachi, and sometimes, like at Paradise Poke, a ball of ikura that makes sushi lovers turn green. Slices of tako and dashimaki eggs complete the toppings of this $ 20 bowl.
SEE ALSO: Garlic Shrimp, Musubi, Lemongrass Kalbi: There is much more than fish at Paradise Poke
Fish & Rice
Another bowl of Japanese-influenced chirashi, the crowning glory of this one ($ 17) is the softly grilled unagi chunk dressed in soy tare, all absolutely fresh. Tucked away in the modest food court of a Korean grocery store, Fish & Rice has a sushi chef from OG izakaya and a sushi bar Imanas Tei.
1670 Makaloa Street, (808) 367-0863, fishandricehawaii.com
SEE ALSO: Find this tiny sushi counter inside a Korean supermarket
You don’t have to go into luxury at Mama Kim’s. The regular chirashi bowl ($ 17) features generous slices of translucent ‘ahi, salmon, and hamachi, along with egg rolls and dashimaki shrimp. But where there’s a deluxe option ($ 24), I take it, and my reward is the addition of grilled agi, sweet scallop, ikura, and luscious uni lobes. One of the best chirashi finds of my quest.
1481 S. King Street, (808) 260-4109, @mamakimshawaii
SEE ALSO: Mama Kim’s Fresh Sushi and Poke Bowls Spice Up KÄheka
Maguro Brothers sells poke, sashimi, and chirashi bowls in Chinatown for lunch and in WaikÄ«kÄ« for dinner, all for take out. This $ 12.65 bowl is a hybrid – ‘ahi, salmon, hamachi, and tako are all local favorites, but the rice and portion sizes are up to Japanese standards (the large chirashi offers more of the above for $ 5 what’s more). That’s because Japan-born brothers Jun and Ryo Tsuchiya have been catering to local tastes for years (remember their Sakura restaurant on Waialae Avenue?). Super remarkable: this chirashi is accompanied by real wasabi – not fresh, but real – which adds a fruity, fleeting and nuanced bite to seafood.
Several locations, @magurobrothershawaii
‘Ahi & Vegetables
You find the thickest slices in the chirashi bowls of poke restaurants; at ‘Ahi & Vegetable they are too big to fit in my mouth and chew normally. This $ 18.95 bowl is an easy and filling find if you are in Kalihi or the Ala Moana Center. Note: A choice of white, sushi or brown rice; and ikura, golden tobiko fish roe and boiled choi sum, a surprising addition with salinity and a deep leafy green depth.
Several locations, @ ahiandlÃ©gumes