LOCATION: Smorgasburg D.C. (Tingey Plaza, Washington, D.C. 20003)
After my most recent business trip out to LA back in August, my cravings for musubi began to grow, especially due to the fact that it’s not as widely available near where I live. So you can imagine my delight when we were walking around the Smorgasburg D.C. market and spotted the Lei Musubi tent. It automatically made it onto my list of places to stop by.
From a selection perspective, it was relatively straightforward with two musubi options: one with Spam and the other without. The core musubi order itself consisted of a Japanese rice ball with sautéed kimchi on the inside, furikake around the edge of the rice ball, and green tea sea salted nori wrapping around, topped with some microgreens. Being the Spam lover that I am, it was an easy decision on which musubi to go with.
There were two electric flat-top grills in the back of the tent cooking up the Spam slices and musubis, helping to get that nice crispy exterior to the rice. Your order is pretty much served fresh from the grill, and I initially got a bit too overzealous when attempting to pick up the musubi and almost burned my fingertips. It was definitely piping hot for the next few minutes while I had to wait for the food to cool off.
The musubi itself was an interesting construction, with the kimchi rice ball in the middle, two slices of Spam sandwiching the rice ball, and the nori folded around everything like a taco. The whole thing then had what tasted like teriyaki sauce drizzled over it. Because of the way it was wrapped, it certainly made it easier to hold in one hand and eat.
I’m a bit of a textures guy when it comes to eating food, and for my first bite into the rice ball, I’ll admit that it was slightly strange. The grill had crisped up the rice on the outside of the rice ball, but on the inside, it was relatively soft and borderline mushy. I’m not sure if the moisture from the kimchi had saturated the rice too much, but it was just an odd dichotomy of textures.
From a flavor perspective, it was a combination of sweet, sour, and savory, depending on what you were able to encapsulate into your bites. Trying to take a bite of both the Spam and rice ball at the same time really compressed it down quite a bit, so I had to gingerly make my attempts. Having a fork and knife to cut both items up into pieces could have been helpful to the eating process. I’m not sure if I was fully onboard with the kimchi in this application, since the sour flavor was a bit too overpowering against everything else for my taste.
I definitely had some high hopes coming into this food stop, based off my previous experiences with musubi. But between the mushy texture of the inside of the rice ball as well as the overpowering flavor of the kimchi, I think the balance just wasn’t there, from both a flavor and texture perspective. Perhaps offering one other musubi option aside from the two at the market could be beneficial for those who aren’t as big into the kimchi flavor.
Let’s now take a look at the Lei Musubi Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
And finally, here are my rankings for Lei Musubi:
Food: 2.75 / 5
From my perspective, the mushy texture inside the rice ball was too much to overcome. The kimchi flavor was also a little too overpowering and caused the sweet and savory flavors to come out a bit muted.
Smorgasburg D.C. was arranged into a smaller space than the one in LA, but I think that gave it the advantage of having more of a community feel. I never felt like the space was ever too crowded, as there was plenty of room in the immediate area around the market to sit and chill out.
Service: 4 / 5
With the two flat-tops going in the back, it looked like they were constantly cooking their supply of rice balls and constructing them into the musubis, based on if you wanted Spam or no Spam. That ended up making for not too long of a wait before you got your food.
Price: 4 / 5
I don’t recall the exact price, but my guess was that it hovered around the $4 range for each musubi, which is a pretty reasonable price point for what you get.