Window display of okazu offerings

Okazuya (御菜屋 or おかずや) or okazu-ya are a Japanese-style delicatessen common in Hawaii. Unlike western delicatessens found in North America or Europe, an okazuya is an establishment that sells readymade Japanese-styled food. "Okazu" refers to a side dish to accompany rice, while "ya" refers to a retail establishment.[1][2][3]

In Hawaii, an okazuya offers an array of okazu, food items that are sold à la carte, often by the piece, which can be combined to create a meal.[4] However, many of the dishes may also be offered in the form of ready-to-go bento.[5][6] It is often considered the precursor to the plate lunch.[7][8]


The idea of the okazuya was a result of Japanese and Okinawan immigration in the late 1800s. Thousands came to Hawaii to as work as contract laborers in the fruit and sugar plantations.[6] While men labored in the plantation fields, women were doing household jobs such as cooking. Many of these women would eventually sell their cooked dishes to other plantation workers for additional income.[9][10] These establishments were essential in the daily lives of immigrants, particularly for bachelors who did not have the resources or knowledge to cook for themselves.[11][12] Although the local okazuya derive its name and recipes from Japan, they are still considered very much Hawaiian.[13] Many of the okazuya that exists today were started by Okinawans who retired from plantation work in the 1940s.[14]

Numerous okazuya are standalone take-out shops or attached to another family business like a neighborhood grocery store,[6] but there are a few that have a dining area or have an adjoining restaurant. Older okazuya have typically remained a family business passed down from generation-to-generation.[15] Consequently, the challenges of multigenerational establishments have forced several to close when family members choose other careers.[6][11][16] Much of the work is done manually, requiring 18 hours a day.[15][17] Each of the main Hawaiian Islands has an okazuya.[18] Oahu had as many as forty-two okazuya in 2000, but that number has decreased to less than half by 2022.[18] The oldest existing okazuya on Oahu is Sekiya's which was opened in 1935.[19] One of the oldest in Hawaii was Nagasako Okazu-ya Deli in Lahaina, Maui, opened in the early 1900s before it was destroyed in the 2023 Hawaii wildfires.[20][21]

Okazu dishes

Various standard okazu items

Numerous okazuya proprietors and workers typically start very early in the morning to prepare the okazu before opening the shop in order to target customers who purchase lunch before the start of workday.[6][16][17] As a result, several dishes are sold at room temperature,[6] although a few okazuya have modernized with equipment such as food warmers. These dishes are often displayed on the window front or counter (sometimes without prices) for patrons to see.[15][20][22] Very few remain open past lunchtime, in order to prepare for the next day. While many okazuya offer traditional and similar fare, ingredients and preparation of okazu can vary greatly from one shop to another. "Fried chicken" at one shop may consist of battered boneless chicken thighs while another uses panko bone-in chicken wings.

As suggested by the name, okazu are dishes that are enjoyed with rice. Thus, many are characteristically salty or salty-sweet, with partial use of shōyu (soy sauce) and mirin (sweet cooking wine) as ingredients. Several of these dishes were a result of fusion cuisine, adapted to the ingredients and tastes of the time. Okazuya-style chow fun is simpler than Chinese chow fun and is a common substitution for onigiri (rice). A "potato hash" (or "hash patty"), sometimes containing small amounts of canned corned beef, are described as pan-fried potato croquettes sans panko. The Okinawan dish rafute is pork belly simmered in shōyu sweetened with sugar. This popular concept was applied to dishes like chicken and hot dogs which were widely available and affordable, now known today as "shoyu chicken" and "shoyu hot dog" respectively. Tamagoyaki often include SPAM, hot dogs, or fishcake.

In the present day, several okazuya have included in their offerings to modern local-Japanese fusion dishes such as "chicken katsu," "furikake chicken," "garlic chicken," and non-Japanese foods such as Chinese stir fries including chow mein, Filipino adobo, Korean kalbi, Hawaiian poke, and American steak.[6][15]

Rice and noodles

Vegetable side dishes

Fried items

Simmered items


See also


  1. ^ Mannur, Anita (January 2006). "Asian American Food-Scapes". Amerasia Journal. 32 (2): 1–6. doi:10.17953/amer.32.2.42q45g759q686875. ISSN 0044-7471. S2CID 146663990.
  2. ^ Yano, Christine (January 2006). "Shifting Plates: Okazuya in Hawai'i". Amerasia Journal. 32 (2): 36–46. doi:10.17953/amer.32.2.7w6u2184865054r6. ISSN 0044-7471. S2CID 147504188. Retrieved September 24, 2023.
  3. ^ Yano, Christine R. (October 2009). "Becoming Local: Japanese American Delicatessens in Hawai'i". Chinese and Northeast Asian Cuisines: Local, National, and Global Foodways. (in Chinese). 財團法人中華飲食文化基金會: 19–1–19-18. doi:10.6641/PICCFC.11.2009.16.
  4. ^ "What Are Okazuya?".
  5. ^ Folen, Alana (September 2, 2012). "Home, Sweet Home at Nuuanu Okazuya | Nuuanu Okazuya". Dining Out. Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Retrieved September 24, 2023.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Yamanaka, Katie Y (November 14, 2022). "This Mom-and-Pop Shop is Known for Building Better Bentos". Hawaii Magazine. Retrieved September 24, 2023.
  7. ^ "Origins of Plate Lunch". Honolulu, Hawaii: KHNL. November 27, 2002. Archived from the original on January 5, 2008. Retrieved November 12, 2008.
  8. ^ Smith, Andrew F. (March 9, 2007). The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Oxford University Press. p. 326. ISBN 978-0199885763.
  9. ^ McLean, Alice L (2015). Asian American food culture. USA: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 14.
  10. ^ "2019 'Ilima Awards Restaurants: D-H". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. October 13, 2019. Retrieved September 24, 2023.
  11. ^ a b Shimabukuro, Betty. "Two friends are working on a guidebook listing all of Oahu's very special delis". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved September 24, 2023.
  12. ^ "Reader Poll: What's Your Favorite Okazuya on O'ahu?". Honolulu Magazine. August 10, 2021. Retrieved September 23, 2023.
  13. ^ Boehm, Deborah (1981). "Okazu ya". East West Photo Journal. 2 (Winter): 24.
  14. ^ Matsuda, Mitsugu (1968). The Japanese in Hawaii, 1868-1967, a Bibliography of the First Hundred Years. Honolulu: Social Science Research Institute, University of Hawaii.
  15. ^ a b c d Beriss, David; Sutton, David E (2007). The restaurants book: Ethnographies of where we eat. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 48-62.
  16. ^ a b Oi, Cynthia (March 3, 1999). "Much Ado About Okazu". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved September 24, 2023.
  17. ^ a b Ohira, Rod (January 4, 1999). "Okazuya leaves sweet memories". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved September 24, 2023.
  18. ^ a b Dela Cruz, Donovan M; Chai, Jodi E (November 15, 2000). The Okazu Guide : Oh, 'Cause You Hungry!. Publishing: Watermark. ISBN 0970578709.
  19. ^ "Ono Okazuya". PBS Hawai‘i. July 26, 2022. Retrieved September 24, 2023.
  20. ^ a b "RE-LISTEN: Okazuya (with Jodi Endo Chai)". PBS Hawai‘i. July 23, 2022. Retrieved September 24, 2023.
  21. ^ Wianecki, Shannon (September 13, 2023). "What We Lost in the Lahaina Fire". Eater. Retrieved September 23, 2023.
  22. ^ Hoshida, Greg (October 16, 2020). "A New Okazuya Continues a Long Tradition in Waipahu". Honolulu Magazine. Retrieved September 24, 2023.