The concept of customizing your udon to suit your preference is not new. In my neck of the woods, U:Don in Seattle’s University District has been offering it for several years. Marukame Udon made a big splash in Waikiki when it opened in 2011, a udonya that copies the cafeteria-style service that made it so popular in Japan. Every time I went past the restaurant last year, there was a line of customers outside. Today was no exception when we decided to have lunch, about two dozen people ahead of us, but the line moved quickly. If every seat is occupied, the staff will thoughtfully not let any more diners inside so no one will be looking for a place to sit. In typical Japanese fashion, there are plastic replicas of the food behind the storefront to help you decide what to order. There are also large pictures above the service area, not in immediate view. The menu should be facing customers as they first enter.
You place your order when you pick up a tray, which you slide along a ribbed counter along the service area. You can choose either a small or large portion. I chose the ontama style in which a soft-boiled egg is cracked over the noodles and served in hot broth. You can also order the broth on the side, either hot (kamaage) or cold (zaru), beef served on top (niku), a lighter broth (kake), concentrated broth (bukkake), or curry. When you pick up your bowl at the end of the line, you’re given the choice of having it garnished with sliced green onions and bits of crispy tempura batter.
Your final choices are one or more tempura (charged by the piece) and musubi (inari, Spam or umeboshi). The tempura includes shrimp, calamari, chicken (karaage) and vegetables (asparagus, sweet potato, pumpkin, mushroom). I picked shrimp and karaage and Spam and umeboshi musubi.
The shrimp are large with a nice, crispy batter. The chicken pieces are also large, chicken thighs with the same batter. Wrapped in cellophane, the musubi were still hot. and quite good.
The rich dashi broth was somewhat salty, otherwise a fine version. I don’t know how the best udon is made, but it seems the mass production at Marukame (as well as U:Don) compromises the noodle’s texture, not as chewy as the finest I’ve had, which even includes frozen ones I can get at any Japanese supermarket. Still, the udon is good. The entire bowl rates ☆☆☆. Our top choice for udon in Honolulu is still Jimbo.
2310 Kuhio Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815