Hawaii Style Sushi in New York

I lived in Hawaii between the ages of 9 and 18.  Whenever this comes up in conversation here in New York City, people look at me with a pained expression and ask me how I ended up moving here.  It’s a long complicated story involving the realities of earning a living in paradise, my inability to adjust my internal clock to “island time”, my deep desire to be dressed up all the time, the fact that I sunburn, the lure of an urban setting, my interest in attending a four-year college and, of course, that teenage thing that makes you hate  and want to flee from WHEREVER you happen to have spent your highschool years.  I did not feel like I fit in on Maui.  Almost EVERYONE in New York is from somewhere else, so it is a place where the biggest misfits can feel at home.  Many New Yorkers came here because  they felt like freaks at home .  Other New Yorkers were  forced to leave their home because of some sort of upheaval or hardship.   Either way NYC is a net that catches the displaced, and inspires even the most shiftless, freaky, traumatized people to put down roots.  In many cases, there are so many displaced people here that whole neighborhoods of businesses crop up to provide those folks with products and foods from home.  There is no such neighborhood where you can get local Hawaii style food in New York.  I live in a Caribbean neighborhood so I can buy fresh coconuts and breadfruit and there is an L & L barbecue in the financial district…but that is about it.

I really do miss local food.  Local food is a mash-up of all the tastiest, most comforting treats from every ethnic group to ever immigrate to Hawaii. I grew up in Kihei, a few blocks away from Azeka market.  Azeka market sold the most delicious marinated ribs and the best (in my opinion) sushi.  In Hawaii, at least when I lived there, most convenience stores and lunch counters sold sushi that included tuna cooked sugary shoyu, pickled carrots and a bit of omelet.  Sometimes it’s spam instead of Tuna (I don’t like spam myself but spam is a big part of local cuisine).    Sometimes the was some seasoned shiitake mushrooms, dry shrimp flakes  and other mysterious, delicious stuff in there too.   At the Azeka Market lunch counter they included celery, which sounds weird but is actually delicious.  The last time I went back to Maui, I had a really hard time finding this sort of sushi and it made me really sad.  A lot of those old lunch counters, including Azeka’s, have closed down.  Maybe the health department cracked down on all of that fish sitting out at room temperature?

I make “Hawaii Style Sushi”  sometimes at home.  I only make it if I am going to have people to feed it to, because I have never been able to make small amounts of good sushi rice.  To be honest, Mine is nowhere near as good as the stuff from Azeka’s or  Shirokiya or  Ooka Market.  But all of those places have closed on Maui and there isn’t anywhere to get Hawaii style sushi in NYC.   So my home-made version is better than nothing and it is pretty darn tasty.  The reason mine is not as good is that I do not season my sushi rice so much.  In Hawaii, the sushi rice is seasoned with an astonishing amount of vinegar and sugar.  I can pretend not to know how much sugar is in it if I have not made the sushi, but I cannot bring myself to put that much sugar into my rice myself.  I also don’t use a little bamboo mat, so my sushi rolls are kind of messy sometimes.  It’s okay if your sushi is messy.  I say, don’t let the lack of a bamboo mat prevent you from making sushi.   I made a batch recently for a friend’s baby shower and another batch for a trip to the far Rockaway beach.  Hawaii style sushi is great beach food.

Below you will find the recipe for the sushi that I make.  Feel free to add some seasoned shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp flakes, pickled turnip or whatever.  You need to start the pickling a day before you intend to serve the sushi.


Makes about 15 sushi rolls

Pickled Carrots

  • 1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled and cut into long strips
  • some coarse salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup rice wine vinegar

Sushi Rice

  • 2 cups sushi rice
  • 2 and 1/4 cups water
  • a bit of salt


  • a bit of sesame oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 scallions
  • Furikake (a tasty japanese sesame, seaweed salt.  This is optional but highly recommended!)

Seasoned Tuna

  • 1 can of tuna
  • a bit of sesame oil
  • shoyu to taste
  • grated ginger to taste

Something Green and Crunchy

  • 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut in to long strips  or 1 stalk of celery trimmed and cut into long strips (I prefer the celery because it keeps its crunch longer)


  • 1 package of nori sheets

Pickled Carrots

  1. Place the carrots on a few sheets of paper towel.  Sprinkle them with coarse salt and let them sit for at least 15 minutes.
  2. While the carrots sweat, combine the sugar and vinegar.  Whisk it occasionally until the sugar has dissolved completely.
  3. Wipe all of the moisture off of the carrots with a dry towel.
  4. Put the carrots in the sugar and vinegar mixture and let them pickle overnight in the fridge.  If you keep them in a sealed jar they will keep for a long time in the fridge.

Sushi Rice

  1. The next day, rinse the sushi rice in sieve until all of the white starch is gone and the water runs clean.  This step is important!  Don’t skip it, or do a half assed job.
  2. Once the sushi rice is clean, let it soak for a half hour in cold water.  I did not used to do this, but I think that it does make the rice better.   While the rice is soaking start making the omelet and or Tuna!
  3. After a half hour, drain the rice again and put it in a heavy medium-sized  sauce pan with a lid.  Add 2 and 1/4 cups water tot he rice along with a little salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  As soon as the rice begins to boil, turn the heat down to low, cover the pot tightly and let the rice cook for 20 minutes.  Don’t open the lid!
  4. After 20 minutes turn the heat off, but leave the pot, covered on the stove for another 20 minutes.  Don’t open the lid!
  5. While you are waiting, prep all of your other ingredients.  You should start rolling the sushi after the rice has rested for 20 minutes. If you want to be more authentic, you should season the rice after it rests for 20 minutes with a mixture of sugar and rice vinegar.  Get a friend to fan the rice while you do it or all that steam will make your rice soggy!


  1. Mince the scallions and saute them in sesame oil until they are just translucent over medium in a large skillet.
  2. Whisk up the eggs in a bowl and season with salt or furikake if you are lucky enough to have some.
  3. Turn the scallions up to high heat and add the egg to the skillet. Tilt the skillet to make a very thin coating of egg over the entire pan.  Allow the omelet to cook  just until it is set (this will vary depending on the size of your skillet).  Remove the omelet from the pan and allow it to cool on a cutting board, before cutting it into long 1/4 inch strips.

Seasoned Tuna

  1. Open and drain the canned tuna.
  2. Heat a skillet with a tiny bit of sesame oil.  Add the tuna.
  3. Season the tuna with a few Tablespoons of shoyu or tamari and grated ginger.  I also like to tip a bit of the sugar vinegar water from the pickled carrots into the pan because I like the tuna to be a little sweet.  I also sometimes add some furikake to the tuna as well.   It is okay if the fish seems to be swimming in too much marinade, it will cook down and absorb it.
  4. Break the tuna up into fine flakes and combine it with the marinade.  Stir to prevent sticking.  When the tuna has drunk up all of the marinade it will be dark and sticky.  Set aside to cool in a bowl.


  1. If you have not done so already prep your cucumber or celery in to long matchstick slices.
  2. Gather all of your ingredients within reach.
  3. Lay a sheet of nori on a clean work surface.  You will notice that most nori has scored lines.  Those lines should run parallel to your body.
  4. Using wet hands or a wet spoon spread about 1/4 cup of cooked rice over the bottom third of the nori.
  5. Add a line each of omelet, seasoned tuna, pickled carrot and crunchy green something to the middle of the rice.
  6. Start rolling the sushi from the bottom, using your hands to compress the roll evenly.  As you finish rolling wet the top edge of the nori slightly so that it will seal as you finish the roll.
  7. Repeat the process to make more rolls with the remaining ingredients.
  8. You can slice the rolls with a wetted, sharp knife for a nice presentation.  For beach trips we just eat them whole!


6 Comments Add yours

  1. glenda says:

    Some Ono!

  2. Ian Jensen says:

    Add fish cake and the yellow raddish next time. SO ONO!

    Thanks by the way. I was hoping someone posted the canned tuna sushi. MY favorite and they always had it at 7 eleven in Hilo.

    1. YES! Fish cake and yellow radish! Thinking about it makes my mouth water.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s