And now back to our regularly scheduled blog. Yesterday afternoon was a good time to shop at Marukai, a Japanese warehouse club whose name translates to "circle club." Besides a chain of stores in Japan, Marukai has four stores in California, and two in Honolulu. Membership costs just $10 a year. Marukai also owns a chain of three 99˘ stores on Oahu where membership is not required -- they offer a great assortment of Japanese housewares.
Marukai warehouse club. The main store is in an industrial area.
Marukai carries a huge selection of Japanese groceries and fresh seafood, meat, and produce. The seafood includes sashimi-grade products flown in from Japan. There are premium meats like American Wagyu beef and Canadian Berkshire pork; and air-flown Japanese produce such as myoga
(a ginger-like root with a more delicate taste). There's also a Japanese housewares department, Japanese dry goods, and a sizeable selection of Filipino and Korean products. The interior has a bazaar-like atmosphere, especially when it's decked out for New Year's.
Here's the housewares department
Japanese New Year's is a big holiday in Hawaii. Many of the Japanese-Americans living here are second, third, or even fourth generation, but a lot of families follow traditions that have fallen by the wayside in modern Japan. Even mainstream supermarkets carry the makings for kadomatsu
, traditional arrangements of pine sprigs and bamboo stalks that are displayed near the entrance to the house; and kagami mochi
, decorations made of two stacked glutinous rice cakes.
Traditionally, kagami mochi are topped with a whole mandarin orange. Ours, which we picked up a few weeks ago at another Japanese supermarket, is topped with a plastic maneki neko
, a stylized "beckoning cat" figurine that symbolizes good fortune.
Here is the kagami mochi display in the other market. Don Quijote is the name of a Japanese supermarket chain. They recently bought out the Hawaii supermarkets that had been owned by Daiei – another Japanese supermarket chain that is now in financial trouble. In the upper right, you can see Don Quijote's mascot -- oddly, a penguin instead of a horse or donkey -- named Don-Pen.
In recent years, as fewer people want to spend days cooking all the traditional Japanese specialty foods for New Year's, the Japanese markets here have begun offering prepared osechi ryori
sets. Presented in elegant tiered lacquer boxes called jubako
, these sets are extremely pricey. Shirokiya, a Japanese department store in Ala Moana Center (Honolulu's largest shopping center) advertised "Deluxe Sets" with three tiers serving three to five people for $195, and two-tier "Couple's Sets" for $135! They're available by special-order only, limited to the first 200 orders. You can see an ad for Shirokiya's osechi ryori here
That's just sliiiiiiiiiiiightly out of our price range (
). Besides which I already own a jubako, and we don't like some of the foods (such as kazunoko
-- herring roe -- which to my palate tastes too salty and bitter) even if you are supposed to eat them for good luck! So I picked up a few prepared foods we like at Marukai and we'll put together our own osechi along with other foods that I'll cook:Takenoko kombu
-- bamboo shoots and kelp seaweedAjitsuke kinpira renkon
-- seasoned lotus root. In China and Japan, lotus root symbolizes the Buddhist wheel of life. It looks pretty and tastes good, too.Onigara yaki
-- skewers of small shrimp grilled in their shells. I've never had these and am curious to taste them. Shrimp and lobsters represent long life because their backs are bent, alluding to an old person.Sansai
vegetables -- a mixture of wild mountain vegetables such as fiddlehead ferns, sweet potato vines, nameko mushrooms, young bamboo shoots, and other vegetables. This isn't traditional for New Year's, but we like it. We usually eat it over rice. Cha soba
-- buckwheat noodles flavored with green tea. These are for New Year’s Eve.
The osechi ryori display. The lady in the apron and white kerchief is busy packing small plastic containers.
More osechi ryori. Doesn't this look like a bazaar?
Still more of the osechi ryori display. Here, you can see the kadomatsu
(pine and bamboo decorations) -- as well as kagami mochi
(stacked mochi cakes, topped with a fake mandarin orange) flanking the sign.
Sake display. These are large bottles being featured for New Year's celebrations. The white kanji character on the blue banner in the center says "sake."
Marukai's fish department. The ladies in the white kerchiefs work there. There's an old fishing boat hanging from the wall as a display. Sorry, I can't read all the red characters on the banner -- I recognize "fish" and "large" -- maybe someone who knows kanji can translate the whole phrase? Poke
display. Poke (pronounced POH-key) is a local Hawaiian seafood salad, usually made raw seafood cut in cubes or slices and mixed with seasonings such as scallions, chopped limu
(a branchy, crunchy seaweed), crushed kukui
nuts, soy sauce, sesame oil, chiles, or other condiments. Some types are made with cooked seafood (such as octopus) or even cubed tofu. It's very popular in Hawaii and every supermarket fish counter has a large display.
Going front to back, left to right, this picture shows Korean style hokkigai
(red clams with chile seasoning), mussels, wasabi tako (wasabi-seasoned octopus), "ocean salad" (a green seaweed salad), taegu
(Korean seasoned shredded codfish); hidako sumiso tako
(baby octopus in a vinegar-miso dressing), hidako limu tako (baby octopus with crunchy seaweed), onion tako (octopus with chopped onions); tofu poke, and shrimp poke. The most popular types of poke use ahi, but they're not in this photo. Marukai offers about three times the poke selection shown in this picture.
One of the favorite New Year's foods in Hawaii is sashimi, especially a red fish like ahi (the Hawaiian word for maguro, yellowfin tuna). Demand for ahi during the days before New Year's drives the price of this fish sky-high. The finest grade of bluefin tuna is priced at $40.99 a pound, with the next lower grade at $29.99!
The local newspapers begin featuring "ahi alerts" several days before the end of the year. This
was the lead story in yesterday’s newspaper! (Told ya it's like a small town here.
Trays of sashimi assortments and oysters on the half-shell.
Tai snapper from New Zealand. All the fish are facing the same direction, in proper Japanese manner.
Japanese cucumbers (these tiny ones are flown in from Japan; the ones we grow here are larger), shiso leaves, and tiny chiles
Fresh quail eggs and fresh wasabi. They're in the refrigerated case of the fish department near the sashimi.
Close-up of the fresh wasabi, air-flown from Japan
Beef sliced for sukiyaki and for shabu-shabu. Every supermarket here carries Asian-style cuts of meat.
A large selection of fresh mushrooms
Imported fresh matsutake
mushrooms ($117.15 a pound!!!) and sudachi
(small citrus fruits – their juice is used for seasoning foods)Myoga
, a ginger-like rootGobo
(burdock root). This batch measures almost a yard long!