Homey Japanese faves a secret in Kalihi-Palama
|Photo gallery: Akyth Inc.|
By Lisa Sekiya
Special to The Advertiser
By Lisa Sekiya
If you've ever gone to a chicken sale, the Punahou Carnival or the Okinawan Festival, chances are you've tried the food from Akyth Inc. This mom-and-pop catering shop makes the local-style makizushi, with the bright red and green ebi flakes, shoyu-sugar tuna and stronger vinegar taste.
Order from Akyth (pronounced ah-KEETH) directly, and get things straight out of your grandma's Honpa Hongwanji cookbooks. We're talking old-school Japanese favorites such as chicken hekka and sanbaizuke (pickled vegetables).
Just as the cookbooks reflect Hawai'i's multicultural mix, this place offers everything from gau gee to kalbi, sold by the piece or the pound. The flavor is what you grew up with, right down to the boiled peanuts you busted open at Honolulu Stadium.
Never heard of it? Owen and Kiyomi Morishige, the husband-and-wife team that started the business back in the '70s, seem to like it that way. Except for sponsoring Owen's bowling team, they don't really advertise. In fact, I pleaded with them to share their story.
The company's name is derived from the first or middle initials of the Morishige family — husband Akito, wife Kiyomi, and children Yoko, Takeo and Hisayo. While Akyth mainly does catering for large groups, it can accommodate smaller orders for pickup.
On occasion, however, such as Labor Day weekend, when they make 7,000 sushi rolls for the Okinawan Festival, Owen turns down business to maintain the quality of the food. So call in advance.
My co-workers and I picked up about $50 worth of bento, sushi, boiled peanuts and other dishes. The mustard-cabbage sushi packed a wasabi wallop, without wasabi inside — just some powerful mustard cabbage.
I had no beef with the Korean sushi. Literally. Akyth's workers created the rolls, and decided to leave out the beef. Instead, they put in sauteed carrots, garlic, spinach, egg, Korean fishcake and Spam. The rolls came flecked with sesame seeds, a nice touch.
The stuffed aburage turned out to be pork hash in a cone sushi wrapper. The water chestnuts added texture to the flavorful blend of ground turkey and pork.
And Akyth's nishime impressed me with nine items I wouldn't want to wash, chop and cook for just one dish. There were chicken, daikon, carrots, bamboo shoots, konnyaku (tuber root cake), string beans, konbu (seaweed), mushrooms and araimo (Japanese taro).
I liked the lighter shoyu flavor. Once, I went to a place where the nishime was so salty, it came with high blood pressure. Not here. Plus, when I arrived, the dish was still warm.
"We don't refrigerate," explained Owen. "We try to make everything fresh."
Akyth's warehouse location is what you'd expect from a low-key operation. It's off the main thoroughfare of North King Street, in an industrial section of Kalihi-Palama and without any major signage that could bring in new customers. The Outdoor Circle would be proud.
Traditions are kept alive here, and you can find it in the cooking. For example, I didn't know what "shojin" food was. The Morishiges filled me in.
Many issei and nisei know that when someone passed away, they could expect "shojin" or vegetarian food at the Japanese funeral. That was part of the Buddhist tradition.
At funeral receptions today, it's helloooo carnivore special! You'll find chicken katsu, ham, teri beef — meats from all walks of life.
While Akyth does offer these dishes, it also prepares the vegetarian ones such as hijiki, a tasty and healthful blend of seaweed, aburage and konnyaku in a shoyu-sugar-sake sauce.
There's also the shirae (also referred to as shira ae). When I saw the mixture of mashed tofu, miso and won bok, I thought, "Wow, so this is shirae, food of my ancestors, 'shojin' food. OK, I'll pass."
I'd rather have Akyth's fishcake, which my uncle would bring to holiday gatherings. These popular patties are made by combining surimi (raw fishcake paste) with diced shrimp and other goodies, then frying them on the grill. Along with the mochiko chicken and sushi rolls, they're a top seller.
Get 'em while you can. Surprise, surprise, with his children unlikely to take over the business, the 72-year-old Owen said, "We'll play it by ear."
What keeps them going in their golden years? The customers. "We hope they appreciate the food we make. They're the reason we're still operating."
So have your chicken hekka the way grandma used to make it and reminisce about small-kid time. Kiyomi, who grew up in Makawao, Maui, fondly recalled going to the county fair as a young girl, and looking forward to eating the hekka.
"I was brought up with this food," she said.
Through Akyth, the Mo-rishiges are bringing up a whole new generation on this food, too.
Lisa Sekiya works in The Advertiser's marketing department and spends her spare time seeking out inexpensive eateries.