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Loco Moco


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#1 Jason Perlow

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Posted 09 January 2004 - 06:33 PM

I was perusing thru last year's Saveur 100 issue (not the current one) and noticed that the Loco Moco, a distinctively Hawaiian dish, made their list.

For those not in the know, a Loco Moco is a hamburger patty with a fried egg on top covered with beef gravy and served over a mound of rice. It apparently originates in Hilo on the Big Island. There are apparently other variations of it that are served all over the islands.

http://www.tropi-tie...isten/text.html

If that isnt the ultimate hangover cure breakfast I don't know what the hell is.

So where on the islands are the best examples of this dish served?
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#2 skchai

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Posted 10 January 2004 - 12:01 AM

Probably the best version is the one you make at home. . . I mean, how much work does it take to fry an egg and hamburger, dump them on top rice, and open a can of brown gravy? :wink:

But as the article you linked to points out, Cafe 100 in Hilo is currently seen as the place to eat the classic Loco Moco and all its variations. By the way, what is an article about Loco Moco, the highest calories-per-ounce dish ever invented, doing in a bikini magazine? Isn't that kind of perverse?

In Honolulu, two places with well thought-of versions are Rainbow Drive-In on Kapahulu Ave and Karen's Kitchen on Cooke Street. There are also several branches of the "Loco Moco Drive-In" throughout Oahu, though perversely enough their most popular dish is garlic chicken, not loco moco. If you ever have the experience of dropping by the University of Hawai`i, you can (after dropping by to say hi) check out the "Paradise Palms" dining hall, which has its own loco moco bar. Sam Choy's Breakfast, Lunch, and Crab serves several different upscale versions, including lup cheong / char siu, spam, kalua pig, and mahimahi, as well as the original "Hilo style".

With so many variations available, it's getting hard to define exactly what a loco moco is. I guess anything on top of a bowl of rice with a fried egg counts, sort of like a Japanese donburi but greasier. But a lot of people are trying to push past the edge of the rice bowl, so to speak. If you venture into Hoku's at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental, chef Wayne Hirabayashi will gladly whip up for you a "loco moco" made from unagi and foie gras topped with quail egg on lobster chirashi rice. Expect to pay big bucks, of course.

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#3 Jason Perlow

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Posted 10 January 2004 - 12:14 AM

Ok, so I take it people make these at home, but is there anything specific to the brown gravy used (please, don't tell me the correct stuff to use is canned Swanson gravy or something equally vile) or the type of rice? Are we talking regular domestic white rice or a japanese type like short grain sushi rice? Starchy preparation or not?
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#4 skchai

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Posted 10 January 2004 - 12:41 AM

Jason, the correct stuff to use is Swanson Gravy. Seriously.

I'm sure Sam Choy makes his own from dripping, flour, and stock, but that's probably not what the Inouyes were pouring on top at Lincoln Grill in 1949 and not what you'll get at 90% of the plate lunch places today.

Real loco moco is supposed be grind-and-go food, so anything aimed at penetrating the little gaps between the taste buds is going to go to waste. Often, people who don't like brown gravy will substitute it with teriyaki sauce. However, once you get into demi-glace with truffles or 10-year-old shoyu with honmirin, that's Wayne Hirabayashi territory, and against the spirit of loco moco IMHO.

As far as the rice is concerned, medium-grain Japanese-style rice is the way to go - very starchy. This is what we refer to as plain "rice" here in Hawai`i - preferably piled into the bowl using an ice cream scoop to make compact mounds.

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#5 wesza

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Posted 10 January 2004 - 12:44 AM

Ok, so I take it people make these at home, but is there anything specific to the brown gravy used (please, don't tell me the correct stuff to use is canned Swanson gravy or something equally vile) or the type of rice? Are we talking regular domestic white rice or a japanese type like short grain sushi rice? Starchy preparation or not?

Jason: Billy Kimi the Uncle Billy from Hilo once told me that a authentic Loco Moco should be prepared using several popular local Lunch Wagon , Drive in type of ingredients sommonly used on the Big Island.

70/30 Ground Beef [Fat makes it taste better]
Commercial Brown Gravy Powdered Mix with Soy Sauce and Pan Drippings.
Hinode or any other Brand Talcum added Short Grain Rice.
Macaroni Salad with some Tuna added [Traditional]
Fried Egg.
Served with White Bread or Hamburger Bun if requested.

Thats supposed to be the real thing, but there are always variations evolving.

I had a friend who used to buy 5 pound Aluminum Containers with 10 Portions of Salisbury Steaks and Lots of Gravy.

He saved the Gravy from the Salisbury Steaks and used it for his Loco Moco's that because of the Gravy on his Lunch Wagon.

He'd buy the Salisbury Steaks and use them for his Chili, Meat Sauce and even as Salisbury Steaks that he served with Spagetti Sauce evey drop of the Gravy went to his Loco Moco's.

It seemed that there weren't many folks who operated Drive Inns or Lunch Wagons who were familiar with preparing Brown Gravy from scratch. Probably still aren't.

Irwin :unsure:
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#6 torakris

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Posted 10 January 2004 - 01:30 AM

When my husband and I lived in Kihei we could live on the homemade versions of loco moco for days on end when money was tight... :biggrin:
I still throw it together sometimes, but since canned gravy is not sold in Japan :angry: I make a version with teriyaki sauce and a slice of canned pineapple, it is a little "lighter" anyway.

Loco moco is becoming popular in Japan and I have seen a bunch of "Hawaiin" restaurants popping up that are serving it.

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#7 Gary Tanigawa

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Posted 14 January 2004 - 09:52 PM

When did loco moco become popular on Oahu? I grew up there and never heard of it before I left for college in 1979 (never visited the Big Island). Now, when I visit, it seems to be everywhere.

#8 skchai

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 12:12 AM

Welcome to egullet, Gary. Good to have you here.

I don't know for sure when it got popular on Oahu, but it was probably sometime during the late 1980s or later. I lived in Kona for a short while in the late 1980s. Pretty much all the Big Island plate lunch places had loco moco, but I had never heard of it before. When I asked my friends in Honolulu about it, none of them knew what it was either . . .

I started noticing it on Honolulu plate lunch menus during the early 1990s, though since I was living on the mainland by then I might have missed when it first migrated over . . .

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#9 Gary Tanigawa

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 03:59 AM

Thanks Sun-Ki. I asked my brother, who left for the mainland in 1983, and he confirmed my recollection so late 80s is probably accurate.

I wonder why it took so long (other than I don't really think it tastes very good)? Unlike manju from Maui, I suppose people did not bring back plate lunch loco moco from Hilo :smile:

Lots of good information here. I need to recommend it to other former and present islanders.

#10 Jason Perlow

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 07:19 AM

Unlike manju from Maui


Whazzat?
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#11 Chris Cognac

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 08:44 AM

I don't know about the Islands but you can get some great Loco Moco at Gardena Bowling alley coffee shop in Gardena and TNT Cafe in Torrance California. Jason, if you guys come out here, the Loco Moco is on me!
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#12 skchai

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 10:20 AM

Unlike manju from Maui


Whazzat?

Manju is a kind of Japanese pastry - sort of a like rounded edge hockey puck-shaped pie, usually filled with azuki bean paste.

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#13 skchai

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 10:22 AM

Thanks Sun-Ki. I asked my brother, who left for the mainland in 1983, and he confirmed my recollection so late 80s is probably accurate.

I wonder why it took so long (other than I don't really think it tastes very good)? Unlike manju from Maui, I suppose people did not bring back plate lunch loco moco from Hilo :smile:

Lots of good information here. I need to recommend it to other former and present islanders.

Thanks, Gary. Very glad to have you here, and hope to hear from your friends as well. . .

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#14 caroline

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 05:22 PM

And Jason, as a Hawaii enthusiast and convert to a huge number of the foods there, two I never learnt to appreciate were loco moco and manju.

Cheers,

Rachel
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#15 wesza

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 06:47 PM

My son who started Body Surfing at Sunset Beach told me about this dish that all the Surfers were eatting from one of the Lunchwagons that filled you up.

When I came down to check it out I discovered "Loco Moco" it was very popular and served at several of the Lunch wagons daily.

This was in 1972 and it appeared to be well established at most of haunts frequented by the Surfers who had limited incomes and wanted to feel full.

I tried it twice, once at his favorite wagon and then at the College Inn.

The College Inn made a House Made Gravy that was pretty good, but the Lunch Wagons was obviously proccessed and adjusted with Soy and Terriyaki Sauce into something only locals would accept since it was hot, stuck to the rice and easily scarfed. The Burgers were Machine made Patty's quite Fatty but that was generally prefered local taste.

Irwin
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#16 FoodZealot

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 09:03 PM

OK, here's where the local guy makes a plea not to mess with a dish from his childhood. Yes, while growing up, I had them at Cafe 100 and other drive-ins. I'm sure those fancy ones are good to eat and all, but for loco moco, I prefer simpler and humbler versions. To me, it's like deciding to gourmet-ify red beans and rice or a corndog. Mind you, I admire the spirit of those dogged explorers who put a fried egg and brown gravy on anything they can get their hands on. But I guess I just don't think loco moco is as durable of an idea for a dish as gourmet macaroni and cheese, gourmet tacos, or gourmet burgers, all of which can be worth doing, IMHO.

When making loco moco, I suggest that you put yourself in the mindset of rustic-soul food-gutbucket-satisfying food. Think like a firehouse cook, rather than a chef hanging out at the firehouse. If you happen to have a nice, homemade brown gravy around, sure, use that. But don't go buying demi-glace. And no parsley garnish! [grin]

Rachel, I'm with you re: manju.

~Tad

#17 skchai

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Posted 21 January 2004 - 11:48 PM

Tad, you truly have a transcendent understanding of the soul of Loco Moco. . .

For those who have been reading this thread and have no idea what Loco Moco looks like, your frustrations will be greatly relieved by the picture I am about to bestow upon you. Paradise Palms Dining Room on the campus of the University of Hawai`i has its very own Loco Moco bar (though unfortunately much downsized from before) and makes a paradigmatic version of the Hilo classic.

Posted Image

Here it is, with small puddles of shoyu and hot sauce on top the puddle of brown gravy, which in turn lies on top the puddle of the runny egg yolk - creating layers of color - all dusted with black pepper. Beautiful, no? The only heterodox step is the use of a plate rather than the traditional plastic bowl. This allows the perfect ice cream-scoop roundness of the rice balls to be displayed unfethered. The burger peeks out, almost bashfully, from beneath the puddles and metapuddles.

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#18 wesza

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Posted 21 January 2004 - 11:58 PM

Sun-Ki: Love the picture but of course i've got two comments.

[1] Where's the Macaroni Salad ?

[2] The Gravy doesn't seem "THICK" enough.

Does this reflect the upscale food being served at the UH ?

Is this comparable to the Lunch Wagons and Drive INN's Loco Moco's ?

I'm just begining to feel jealous with all the excellent photos you've been posting it's been doing a job on my appetite for everything I miss about the Islands.

Irwin :wacko: :biggrin:
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#19 Gary Soup

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Posted 22 January 2004 - 12:36 AM

I don't think the Loco Moco was invented by Ferran Adria, and it wasn't invented by me, although I did invent it for myself when I was a lean and hungry Beatnik wannabe in the early 60's.

The New Lun Ting was (and is) a workingman's pit stop in San Francisco Chinatown which featured a huge sign in the window reading "ECONOMIC MEAL". It's menu consisted primarily of something over a MOUNTAIN of rice (no "two scoops" here) with optional brown gravy. For me, the "something" was usually a 3/4 lb. hamburger patty, because it was the cheapest (about 85 cents), and I always opted for the gravy. They always had some fried eggs hanging around for other delicate concoctions, and sometimes I would cadge one for my cholesterol sundae. So there, I may claim to be one of the 33,700 co-inventors of the LM should an intellectual property lawsuit ever arise.

I spent a couple of weeks in Oahu in 1984 courtesy of my employer, and though I at at places like the Rainbow Drive-in to pocket some of my per diem, I don't recall seeing on any menus. In fact it's an outrage that something this elemental even has to be conceptualized with a name, and screw Wayne whatever-his-name-is.

#20 Chris Cognac

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Posted 22 January 2004 - 08:49 AM

One thing I like is to eat it with portugese sausage patties instead of hamburger patties..its a nice, spicy change!
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#21 LJC

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Posted 22 January 2004 - 01:58 PM

The name Loco Moco caught my attention; in Spanish it translates to "crazy snot". Do you think this has something to do with the sunny side up egg, the gravy or is it just a coincidence?

#22 alanamoana

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Posted 22 January 2004 - 04:04 PM

definitely the gravy :laugh: :laugh:

#23 skchai

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Posted 23 January 2004 - 12:12 AM

So then Wayne Hirabayashi's version should be called Loco Flema?

I think there are two claims about the origin of the name: The first is that the dish was named in honor of the "crazy" person from the Lincoln Wreckers who first ordered it at the Lincoln Grill (this is the story related in the link provided by Jason earlier). The second is that the term was coined later at Cafe 100, for similar reasons. I don't know how well either claim is documented.

Irwin, the loco moco has been downsized since your son's days on Sunset Beach. You now have to specifically order the "Loco Moco Plate Lunch" to get the mac salad. Just a "Loco Moco" (usually) comes in a bowl with no side dishes whatsoever. As far as the gravy is concerned, I have no idea why it's so thin - the campus budget crisis? Don't laugh, though. UH is definitely trying to upscale its food service - to the point of last year trying a "Chef's Special" featured everyday (at the Campus Center dining room, not Paradise Palms), which usually consists of something vaguely ethnic or fusion, e.g. seared ahi (a small piece), five-spice marinated pork loin, etc. However, it was usually anywhere from $6-8, so the students weren't buying. . .

Gary - you're right that Loco Moco has probably been "invented" thousands of times and therefore shouldn't have a name attached to it. Or, if it has to have a name, the one you mentioned, "ECONOMIC MEAL" sounds really good. This would keep it out of the hands of those conspire to pollute it by using top-quality, fresh ingredients.

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#24 wesza

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Posted 23 January 2004 - 12:49 PM

So then Wayne Hirabayashi's version should be called Loco Flema?

I think there are two claims about the origin of the name: The first is that the dish was named in honor of the "crazy" person from the Lincoln Wreckers who first ordered it at the Lincoln Grill (this is the story related in the link provided by Jason earlier). The second is that the term was coined later at Cafe 100, for similar reasons. I don't know how well either claim is documented.

Irwin, the loco moco has been downsized since your son's days on Sunset Beach. You now have to specifically order the "Loco Moco Plate Lunch" to get the mac salad. Just a "Loco Moco" (usually) comes in a bowl with no side dishes whatsoever. As far as the gravy is concerned, I have no idea why it's so thin - the campus budget crisis? Don't laugh, though. UH is definitely trying to upscale its food service - to the point of last year trying a "Chef's Special" featured everyday (at the Campus Center dining room, not Paradise Palms), which usually consists of something vaguely ethnic or fusion, e.g. seared ahi (a small piece), five-spice marinated pork loin, etc. However, it was usually anywhere from $6-8, so the students weren't buying. . .

Gary - you're right that Loco Moco has probably been "invented" thousands of times and therefore shouldn't have a name attached to it. Or, if it has to have a name, the one you mentioned, "ECONOMIC MEAL" sounds really good. This would keep it out of the hands of those conspire to pollute it by using top-quality, fresh ingredients.

Sun-Ki:

Upscale Menus, Edible Food at University Of Hawaii ?

When my 2 daughters and my wife were attending UH they decided to improve and upgrade the Food Service and brought in to operate the Campus Food service a Mainland company called "Saga Foods".

The real SHARP mainland operators upon carefully examination of the Food [?] being served immediately realized that the stickily rice was not up to their standards and one of the first things they changed to improve the quality was to switch to "Uncle Bens" Rice to be served lightly oiled to keep it separate and flaky.

Of course the only thing acceptable and most important to the students was the Rice that was served was what they were accustomed to getting everywhere else.

The result was that "Saga Foods" met "Stink Eye" it only lasted for part of one meal service before the Rice was back to being what was expected.

Probably the first time in years that the Students, Professors, Administrators and Employees all got to gather and agree about anything.

Don't fool with the Rice it's unanimous Talcum Coated Short Grain Rice Rules in Manoa.

Irwin :biggrin:
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#25 KarenS

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Posted 23 January 2004 - 07:33 PM

I can't stand uncle bens!

#26 ryanozawa

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Posted 24 February 2004 - 02:16 PM

As a former Hilo resident and a lifelong Hilo fan, I never really saw "Cafe 100" as the definitive spot for a loco moco... I just knew that was what they marketed themselves as. Several hole-in-the-wall eateries served what I considered to be superior versions of the dish. My sentimental favorite was the loco at Ken's House of Pancakes. Big. Heavy. Frighteningly delicious.

The UH Hilo cafeteria didn't do a bad rendition either.

Skchai, the UH Manoa moco you posted looks tasty, but just not quite right to me. The rice belongs underneath, darn it! And I agree, that gravy is way too thin. Loco mocos have to be artery cloggers, and to do the right amount of damage, the gravy's gotta be thick... possibly lumpy!

#27 skchai

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Posted 25 February 2004 - 02:05 AM

Mahalos for joining us here at eGullet, Ryan.

Thanks for sharing your Hilo-related wisdom. Have to admit never having been to Cafe 100 myself, so your take on things is very interesting. While, I lived on the Big Island myself for a several months working for West Hawaii Today, I rarely made it over to the rainy side! What exactly was the main difference between Cafe 100 and Ken's? Was it mostly the size of the loco?

Yes, I have to admit that the U.H. version is very heterodox. I think the reason they don't put the meat on to is probably because everything else at Paradise Palms is served on plates so they have to serve it on a plate. As for the gravy - that is pretty thin, as you mention. I don't mind that so much but perhaps it does go against the spirit of the Loco Moco.

Speaking of big loco mocos, I spocked some huge ones being prepared at Okata Bento in Kaimuki. Pan-lid sized; in fact they were using pan lids to flatten them down. Even managed a couple pictures, though unfortunately the second was out of focus.

Posted Image

Uncovered:

Posted Image

How did they taste? I don't know; I ate the bento!

Sun-Ki Chai
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#28 rlivings

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Posted 25 February 2004 - 09:54 AM

I don't know if UH manoa still does it but they used to cook their hamburger patties out back at a separate building and then bring it over and heat em up which led to a tough patty. This is at paradise palms, btw.

#29 ryanozawa

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Posted 25 February 2004 - 10:52 AM

Thanks for the welcome! As for the difference between the "original" Cafe 100 loco moco and what I consider to be a genuine loco moco (like the one served at Ken's), it came down to simple size. To me a moco comes in a large saimin bowl, and - if appropriately large and dense - almost takes two hands to carry.

What Cafe 100 was serving up was like a small Dairy Queen sundae by comparison - a small styrofoam cup with a sad lump inside. While I'm sure you can probably pay extra to get a "large," frankly I don't think there should be any such thing as a small loco moco!

#30 PakePorkChop

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Posted 26 April 2004 - 08:59 PM

Jason, you may be interested in this Fodor's link:

http://www.fodors.co...=100&dirtyBit=1

A classic discussion of Loco Moco and a dozen other related food issues!