Hailed by islanders as the ultimate midday meal, the Hawaiian plate lunch combines Asian, Filipino and Polynesian flavors to create a heavy, yet wholly satisfying and delicious dish.
The “plate lunch,” as Hawaiians refer to it, consists of two scoops of white rice, one scoop of mayonnaise-laden macaroni salad and a main entrée of meat or fish, frequently smothered in a savory sauce. Among the local’s favorites: shoyu chicken, chicken marinated in shoyu (soy sauce) and spices, loco moco, a hamburger patty topped with a fried egg and gravy, and kalua pork, pig slow roasted in an underground pit. Served in portions suitable for a Tongan warrior, the dish comes loaded on a floppy paper plate or Styrofoam carryout. These large quantities are regularly served for fewer than 10 dollars.
The plate lunch originated within Hawaii’s plantation fields in the nineteenth century. Laborers from Japan, China, Portugal, Hawaii and the Philippines all brought meals to enjoy in the shade after an exhausting morning of work. Their lunchboxes often contained leftovers from the night before. Cold rice and slabs of meat habitually made the menu. The Japanese would dine on teriyaki beef, while the Filipinos had chicken or pork. Koreans noshed on marinated ribs as the Hawaiians savored their kalua pork. Meals were exchanged, and the plate lunch emerged. The one scoop of macaroni salad was added later.
Nowadays, Hawaii celebrates the plate lunch as seriously ono grinds (good food). Hungry Hawaiians, worn-out surfers and eager visitors can be found at restaurants and roadside carts all over the islands feasting on the wonderfully greasy fare. Even President Obama, who famously maintains his fitness, is known to chow down whenever he visits his home state. For those watching their waistlines, many establishments now offer brown rice and leafy greens instead of the standard white rice and macaroni salad. But for true locals, that might be considered a crime.