Nabe for a Happy Soul

Cover Story Features

September 7, 2014

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Anthony Consillio

For Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant owner Issei Kazama, the vibe at this 8-year-old restaurant is easy-going, lively and fun. “It’s as if you’ve stepped foot into the living room at a friend’s house party. We want our guests to feel like they’re at home.”

Kazama and Riki Kobayashi opened the Piikoi establishment in an effort to share their love for Japanese nabe (hot pot), sukiyaki and more.

In Japan, nabe typically is regarded as a “winter dish,” but Ichiriki’s founders broke the mold when they brought it to the Islands. Now, even on the most humid of days, Ichiriki buzzes with patrons stirring up delicious concoctions of comfort.

Chanko nabe, as Kazama calls it, is a staple in the diets of Japanese sumo wrestlers. Reason being that it’s a healthy dish that can be consumed with gluttony.

“There are many varieties of nabe. Two most recent additions to the menu are Berkshire Pork Belly Chanko Nabe ($21.95 dinner) and Short Rib Nabe ($21.95 dinner, lunch variations of the two are available as well),” says Kazama.

Pork Belly Nabe features your choice of broth (Ichiriki and Pirikara broths rank among the top) coupled with an eclectic platter of ingredients to add to the piping hot broth, including enoki mushrooms, chives, bok choy, shrimp, salmon, chicken, aburage, tofu, sausage and tsukune — a chicken-and-pork paste scooped into meatballs — not to mention tender pork belly.

“Pork belly nabe is one of those that’s under the radar because it’s a fairly new option, but our regulars love it.

“The ratio of fat to meat in each slice of pork belly is perfect. There’s so much savoriness and flavor,” adds Kazama.

USDA Choice strips of boneless kalbi stand out in Short Rib Nabe. When placed in the hot pot, the kalbi cooks in a matter of seconds, soaking up the brothy flavors like a sponge.

“Eight years ago, we had no clue nabe would become such a huge thing. We just wanted to make it through the first three years of business,” says Kazama with a laugh. “It’s great to see people enjoy nabe on a regular basis.”

Besides its dedication to fresh ingredients and ultimate customer satisfaction, Ichiriki is committed to presenting the best taste possible.

“To maximize the nabe experience for our patrons, it’s important that everything tastes good. To eliminate the chance of mediocre meat and broth combinations, we like to plate everything for you, rather than offering every item a la carte,” confirms Kazama, “For instance, Mushroom Nabe goes best with yuzu broth.”

Since the birth of Ichiriki’s Piikoi eatery, the restaurant has expanded its presence on Oahu’s dining scene. Locales in Aiea and Kaneohe soon followed, each restaurant offering the same authentic taste: flavors of grandeur unmasked and in their purest form with no added MSG.

“Riki and I created most of our broths, with the exception of tomato broth and Angry Goma broth,” says Kazama. The latter is the brain child of Piikoi general manager Andrew Doi. Angry Goma Nabe is named Ichiriki’s spiciest broth, all thanks to jalapeno, habanero and chili peppers, along with a hint of sesame.

If you aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of hotpot dining, Ichiriki’s attentive staff is more than willing to lend a hand.

As mouths water in anticipation of monumental nabe glory, longtime customers know Ichiriki can whip up renowned appetizers and desserts as well. Mushroom Medley ($6.95) and Ahi Katsu ($7.95) are the owner’s personal recommendations, and patrons can attest to their appeal. Green Tea Shave Ice ($4.95, $5.95 with ice cream), packed as high as Mount Fuji, is adorned with azuki beans and mochi balls. The shave ice is comprised of actual green tea. Sweet and bitter, the dessert welcomes the coolest ending.

Kazama believes re-establishing business goals is the recipe for success.

“We’re finally starting to see generations of families at Ichiriki. There are those who dined with their parents as kids, and now they visit the restaurant as adults. It’s very cool.

“Our goal is to keep our customers happy and serve them for more decades to come.”

Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant

510 Piikoi St. #102 (and other locations)
Lunch: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 4 p.m.-midnight

Honolulu, HI 96814

Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best