Classic Hawaiian Food and an Oahu Eat Out Tradition
Apparently President Obama likes to eat here. You may know that he hails from Honolulu, though that wasn’t the reason we came, it was a little fun aside. Having zero frame of reference for Hawaiian food culture, other than the legendary luaus, we were both really shocked at the blast back to the past. The food culture on the islands changed dramatically during WWII when the large US war ships would stop to refuel and brought in a new food culture to the island. SPAM for one, as that was a staple on the ships. Hawaii is now the number one SPAM capital in the world. Most love it and eat it and it is sold in various concoctions everywhere – and is actually tasty! Mayonnaise and macaroni was another food combination introduced to the culture at that time, and like time has stood still, a generous side scoop of very soft elbow macaroni swimming in thick mayo with salt and pepper is now a salad fixture on every plate lunch: right beside another generous scoop of rice. The rice comes from the Asian cultures that found there way there to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations over a hundred years ago. (Honolulu is also the home of the world’s largest and busiest Costco, but that’s a whole other story.)
Take a look at the menu. What a telling display of the mix of cultures on the island and of their “fast food” culture. Considerably different than a hamburger and fries. I cannot think of any Drive-In restaurant from my past that served anything different than hamburgers and hot dogs with fries and onion rings and shakes. Now I was hungry but don’t eat any of this stuff. I just cannot digest meat… “What is the Loco Moco?” I had it, and learned about it later.
In 1961, in the midst of major economic changes in Hawaii, Seiju Ifuku and his wife opened Rainbow Drive-In in Kapahulu, at the entrance to Waikiki. “They served 50-cent chili with rice plates, $1 barbeque steak plate lunches, 25-cent hamburgers and 14-cent French fries — food that was geared to the working person and the Waikiki beach crowd.” Seiju and Ayako’s philosophy was to serve “generous portions of hearty, simple food, with two scoops of rice and a side of macaroni salad” at a reasonable price never charging tax so their working customers would know exactly what they were paying for each classic, Hawaii-style plates lunch. It is still the same.
This was a massive amount of food for this bit of money. A Loco Moco? It is below and this is about as traditional a Loco Moco as you will find anywhere. It is a dish that was created, according to Keira from Hawaiian Food Tours, by her own family in the early 1940’s or 50’s when the surfers were finding their way to the island and were very literally “beach bums” with little money and big appetites. The dish: a bowl of rice topped with a hamburger patty and laden with gravy, then covered with a fried egg so the yolk can add to the mix. It is a dish that could be really good… if the gravy was deadly. I found it “OK”, but most importantly, a really compelling cultural experience. It was very filling. I could see where a dish of rice and meat, or rice and an egg, would evolve into the Loco Moco. There was a large bag of yummy fries and an old fashioned medium sized hamburger for Vanja’s fare. He thought it was delicious.
I love to play with my food. The rice and gravy and meat looked so delicious and when I broke the yolk I was all in. There was just something missing for my palate, but it wasn’t a big deal. The experience overshadowed the lack luster flavour. I was completely into understanding the food and culture, not so into it being important that I loved it myself.Glad we went, and we went again another day, too. Vanja had the pork cutlet plate. It looked rather anemic to me. He said it was good: meat, macaroni “salad” (macaroni and mayo with salt and pepper… there is sometimes a bit of onion added) and rice. Remember that old commercial: Where’s the beef? “Where’s the vegetables?” kept screaming through my head throughout this trip whenever we would stop to eat.
Visiting their website just now, I can see I really missed out. Needed to taste the chili. Looks like they are either famous for their chili mix, or they sell it and people buy it to take home, anyway! I would definitely go back because now I have to try the chili!
I wish I knew about this place when we were in Honolulu couple years ago. Now I want to go back so bad.
Judy Swainson says
It’s amazing what you can put together in a dish! I like the look of Vanja’s burger and fries. 🙂