U, Me and Ume
There’s an old remark that goes, “If you love it so much, why don’t you marry it?” All sarcasm aside, if that statement was relevant to me and food, together we would create the ultimate union. My love for most foods runs deep, but I must admit that I’ve been known to have some pretty strange cravings. I live for anything sour — lemon, pickles, candy — you name it. As a young child, all my parents had to do was hand me a piece of ume and I was content. Honestly, this sentiment still proves true today.
“Ume” (pronounced ooh-may) is short for umeboshi, a Japanese salt plum that comes from the ume tree.
Once ume goes through a three-day pickling process, they are packed in barrels with salt and stocked to produce a mouth-watering sour and salty flavor. There are two basic types of umeboshi — white and red. Red ume is what I grew up on. Prepared with shiso, red ume is best known for its distinct salty flavor.
This week, clamoring for savory ume, I made it my goal to visit the following Ono, You Know establishments, all of which put a sweet touch on this salty/sour plum by integrating it into a variety of dishes. So, let’s get to it … U, me and ume!
When you’re on the go, but in need of something to eat, Kozo Sushi does the trick. Stop by this fast-food sushi chain, which originated in Osaka, Japan, decades ago. Over the last 40 years, Kozo Sushi has increased in popularity and now has many convenient locations across the island. Thank goodness, because I can’t say no to sushi. Especially when ume is at the center of it all — literally.
Kozo’s Ume Hoso Maki ($1.30 for six pieces) and Ume Cucumber Handroll ($1.40) are my fuel to get through the day. The ume in each one presents a nice blend of salty, sweet and sour flavors, all wrapped into one delicious bite. Ultimately, in Japanese cuisine, when paired with rice or other ingredients, ume is an essential condiment that can’t be ignored.
638 Keeaumoku St. (and various locations)
Based on the idea to implement a healthier approach to traditional Japanese cuisine, husband-and-wife duo Isamu and Moco Kubota opened the doors to YuZu in Ala Moana Hotel. The Kubotas’ mission to incorporate yuzu, or Japanese citrus fruit, into a variety of dishes is apparent in the restaurant’s name, but that’s not to discredit other healthy and guilt-free items on the menu.
Like yuzu, ume has a very distinct taste, capturing the marriage of salty and tangy beautifully. The ingredient steals the spotlight in Plum and Shiso Yakitori Skewers.
Priced at $3.95 for two skewers and $11.45 for six, these savory starters feature tender pieces of chicken thigh grilled until the exterior becomes a light, golden hue and the edges crisp. The meat remains moist and the chefs delicately season it with salt. You may say that the chicken alone resembles any other yakitori fare. However, that notion will change once you experience the robust flavors of shiso and ume paste carefully drizzled atop the skewers — the chefs are meticulous with this step, as the plum and shiso sauce should be apparent in every bite.
Although I had been to YuZu many times before, sampling Plum and Shiso Yakitori Skewers was a first. My final verdict? Well, because I absolutely love ume, the yakitori was fantastic! Honestly, there are no words to describe the perfect blend of lively textures and flavors that dance on the tip of your tongue. But to really appreciate these skewers, you’ll have to try them for yourself. And if ume just isn’t your thing, you can opt for other yakitori flavors, including teriyaki and yuzu pepper.
Ala Moana Hotel, Kona Tower Lobby
410 Atkinson Drive
For die-hard noodle fans (myself included), last year’s closure of Kiwami Ramen in Waikiki Shopping Plaza left hearts saddened and stomachs empty. Yet, much to the delight of diners, this famed eatery re-established itself with a new storefront on Keeaumoku Street.
While the location changed, the quality fare remains the same. The broth, for instance, is made from boiling a whole chicken and fruits for more than five hours, which allows for a beneficial amount of collagen to be released.
Take it from me, Shio Ramen with Ume ($10) is a must! Here’s why: The ramen noodles are added to a simple broth seasoned with hints of Hawaiian salt. The broth is mild so it doesn’t overpower the intense flavor of the Japanese pickled plum placed atop the dish. The creation is garnished with mizuna, a Japanese leafy green that resembles flat-leaf parsley.
Before digging in to your bowl of hot ramen, mix the morsels of ume into the soup base to really appreciate its unique flavor. Yum!
641 Keeaumoku St.