Hifumi: good, cheap, plentiful Japanese food

Jo McGarry
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Friday - March 16, 2007
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Hifumi chef Darryl Kurihara
Hifumi chef Darryl Kurihara

Don’t be surprised if you have a hard time finding Hifumi the first time you decide to go.

My problem was not lack of direction,but rather the restaurant’s location within the Chinese Cultural Plaza. I love walking through this, a most authentic slice of Chinese life in Hawaii. It offers a fascinating glimpse of life within a section of the city, made more attractive by the aroma of incense sticks at altars, and the smell of food from various restaurants around the plaza.

Hifumi is on the waterfront side of the plaza, overlooking the river. It’s not a location you’d go to because of the view or because of the atmosphere, but it is a place where you’ll find some of the best value Japanese food in town.

“It’s my secret place, where I go to when I want a fix of good, cheap Japanese and huge portions,” says a friend of mine who goes for the jumbo shrimp.

He’s not alone. Hifumi is known for so many specials it’s hard to pick just one or two to feature. Take its giant shrimp.

“These are big,” says the restaurant’s Elsie Ching, proudly holding a foot-long shrimp, freshly dipped in batter and lightly fried. “Other places they say jumbo, but the size is no bigger than our regular shrimp. This is giant.” It’s certainly huge, but what impresses about Hifumi is the tempura touch. Light, fresh-tasting oil and a crisp, golden batter surround shrimp and vegetables.

“We change the oil every day,“says Elsie, “We never use it a second time.”

In the kitchen, Darryl Kurihara has had a lot of practice making Hifumi’s signature dishes - and eating them too. “I’ve been eating here since I was a kid,“he says,“My parents used to bring me here.”

After graduating from the culinary program at KCC, Darryl was unsure of the path he should follow - and Hifumi gave him the perfect opportunity to perfect his skills and cook the food he loved to eat.

Shrimp tempura and vegetable tempura are among the most popular dishes at Hifumi. The tempura is a crisp, golden brown
Shrimp tempura and vegetable tempura are among the most popular
dishes at Hifumi. The tempura is a crisp, golden brown

You have to work your way through the Hifumi menu,although regulars - those customers who’ve been a part of the restaurant’s history these past 37 years or so -

don’t need to look before they order. “People come for the shrimp,they come for the butterfish, the pork,” says Elsie.“They know we have the best prices and very good food - they come for the same things most every time.”

Certainly for a Japanese restaurant the prices are extraordinarily inexpensive. The lunch special ($9.95) features a choice of two items (shrimp tempura, tonkatsu, vegetable tempura, chicken katsu, beef teriyaki, pork teriyaki, ahi, salmon or Nitsuke butterfish with tofu) and comes with miso soup, tofu, gyoza, tossed salad, and cold soba noodles; choose rice and you can eat all you want.

“We don’t charge for extra rice,” says Elsie,“that’s another thing our customers like.”

You can grab a bowl of excellent Katsu Donburi for $6.95, and there are a series of monthly specials, specials for seniors and a keiki menu that could rival any of the top hotels in the city. Take the monthly opakapaka special, for example. You get a 10-ounce portion of fresh opakapaka served either Chinese style (steamed with ginger, onion and soy sauce) or wafu style (with fresh garlic, sake, soy sauce) for just $12.95.Add some sashimi and some shrimp tempura and the cost rises to just $21.95.

“People always ask us how we keep our prices so reasonable,“says Elsie. “We’re not in an expensive location, so that helps.”

Hifumi Restaurant 100 N. Beretania St.

(Parking inside Chinese Cultural Plaza)


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