Marukame Udon: Noodle Gamer-Changer
2310 Kuhio Avenue, Honolulu, HI
After a brisk hike up the Diamond Head Crater, we decided to walk over to Marukame Udon for some lunch. We were warned about the line-ups at this place but since we went at such an odd time – 2 pm, the place was nearly empty. We walked right in. Marukame is a Japanese noodle shop chain, the shop at Waikiki is the chain’s first overseas restaurant.
The noodle restaurant is set up cafeteria-style, you grab a tray, place your order at the counter, pick out some tempura from buffet trays beside the cashier, pay for your meal and seat yourself in the dining room. It’s no surprise that it’s one of the most efficient service setups, leave it to the Japanese to optimize service speed and efficiency for a sit-down food such as noodles.
I was starving after our Diamond Head hike but I was also steaming hot from the heat outside so I was torn between getting the cold udon noodles and the soup noodles. At the end, I opted to get the hot ontama udon: soup noodles with a soft boiled egg. My boyfriend ordered the Niku udon: hot soup noodles with seasoned beef. The udon noodles are freshly made in the shop, men behind the counter scoop out the fresh noodles and pour on broth and dress the noodles as each order comes in. It’s cool to watch the assembly line as your bowl of noodle moves along and more ingredients are being added to it.
I was the most excited about the tempura buffet, I had one thing in mind: spam musubi! I was disappointed to find that buffet tray empty but thankfully, a lady behind the counter was making fresh ones as we approached.
I have never had al dente udon noodles except maybe a few times at Guu in Vancouver. These udon noodles are a total game changer in my books – the texture was chewy and bouncy and totally absorbed the salty flavour of the broth. The egg was runny and soft and totally hit the spot.
The spam musubi was the best I’ve had on the island. I become obsessed with these gigantic fusion sushi and there are so many versions of them wherever we went. I loved that Marukame’s version features a thick cut piece of spam seared on both sides on top of perfectly cooked sushi rice.
The tempura we ordered were great compliments to our noodle bowls. I loved the inari the best, soft tofu wrapped around flavourful rice. The fried fish cake was salty and delicious, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The shrimp was tender on the inside and wrapped in the crispiest tempera crust. These shrimp were more tender than Giovanni’s, and more like the west coast shrimp that we’re used to.
Marukame is a great stop for a cheap but delicious meal. If you don’t go during peak lunch and dinner hours, you should be able to avoid line-ups. Another thing to remember is that they take cash only. I would rank Marukame as a must-visit in Honolulu.