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skchai

Hawaii Plate Lunch

40 posts in this topic

Irwin, I've really learnt a lot from your posts on this thread and on the one on Hawaii restaurants too.  Can you bear another couple of questions?

Did the military have any connection with or influence on the plate lunch? I've read that on the mainland lunch wagons were set up around military bases in World War II and after.  Was that the pattern in Hawaii too?  And if what did they serve?

And how many caterers were supplying the plate lunch scene in the 60s and 70s?  Were any others, like you, involved in other aspects of the food business?  Sounds like the movers and shakers in Hawaiian food were quite few. 

Oh I wish I had been able to go to Lisboa.  Good luck with your new venture.  And thanks so much for posting,

Rachel

Rachel, Mamster and skChai: The orgin/evolution of the "Hawaiian Plate Lunch", is something that according to my information only statred with the second world war. It was not directed to the actual Military Bases, whose personel were fed only in the Mess Halls or on base NCO or Officers Clubs. The only way on-duty personel could access the ,"Plate Lunchs". was by getting a Pass. If they'd receive a pass they raced right to wherever the 'Action" was or the Beaches/Bars.

The major customers were the Civilians, employed at various positions by the Military. This included the majority of Long Shore Men, Base oriented Civilian Employees in fact the great majority of workers. They were the customers that the independant contractors served. Many were pre-order and prepaid by the Military, others were serviced by Lunch Wagons, with special gasoline permits who were expected to be at assigned places at specified times of service. Remember everything was on a 24 hour basis. The oters operated from assigned semi-permanent locations where they served Truck Drivers or worker who assembled for transportation to and from work.

The most viable criteria for the plate lunch was full them up, cheap and tasty.

This was even applicable into the 1980ties. I took the chance and purchased a Full Shipping Container, sent directly to Oscer Mayer from their plant by mistake at a very low price for the product, because I was familiar with it, had tried it, and thought it was perfect for Plate Lunches. I brokered it to the caterers who specialized in the Plate Lunch Wagons. The item was 'Salisbury Steak's, 10 ounces each, packed 12 to a aluminum steam table sized container, that more importantly was loaded with a good tasting gravy. This 40.000 pound container lasted less then 2 months. We charged the regular hi volume wholesale price. Made a good profit on the first container, and a commision of the future containers sent every 6 weeks for years. This item went great. Minimum work, lots of gravy to cover the meat and rice, even extra to use on other dishes. It was and maybe still is a hit.

I wasn't directly involved business wise with the caterers or Lunch Wagon operators, even though I certainly was a customer. I did get to know many through the years as customers or friends thru various associations or suppliers when wearing my consultants hat. I was able to permote some items featuring reasonable under utilized food products suitable to that type of service on a probono basis. Irwin


I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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My wife grew up in Hawaii and her brothers to this day talk about and make plate lunch for themselves. As a true howlie I do not fully get it. Two of my wife's brothers compete at an Olympic level in water sports and eat the stuff religiously. They make it everyday at home and look for it every time they go out.

I eat salads and fresh foods everyday and could lose 20 pounds. They eat this starchy stuff and would be lucky to have a combined body fat of 8%!!

I know that a lot of local Hawaiians fight with a weight problem from the excess fat/carbs in there diet. My main question would be is why did they adopt such a cuisine? Hawaii is a tropical paradise with a diverse selection of beautiful fruits, vegetables and seafood.


Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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.....note: I am not saying all Hawaiians are over weight!


Edited by Chef Fowke (log)

Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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I know that a lot of local Hawaiians fight with a weight problem from the excess fat/carbs in there diet. My main question would be is why did they adopt such a cuisine? Hawaii is a tropical paradise with a diverse selection of beautiful fruits, vegetables and seafood.

Chef Fowke, excellent question. There are discussions of this issue (in bits and pieces) in the following threads:

spam and mac salad: "hawaiian" foods

The Future of Hawai`i Restaurants: New Concepts, "Theories of the Mid-Range"

and most recently a thread devoted to the topic:

White Rice, Spam and Health in Hawaii


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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Chef Fowke, It's a great question and one that most of us who were not born and raised in the Islands ask ourselves. I'd always assumed that you could just pluck fruit from the trees on Pacific Islands.

But the fact is that Hawaii had NOTHING to eat when the first Hawaiians arrived (not quite true, a couple of berries high in the mountains, fiddle head ferns, flightless birds, seaweed and reef fish which are mainly tiny and bony (think angel fish). It was not that easy to catch the big offshore fish such as tuna most of the year even for seamen as skilled as the Hawaiians .

Luckily the Hawaiians brought a dozen or so plants, many of them for food, and so added taro leaves and stems to the green veg list. But theirs' was never a culture with a lot of fruit and veg.

Now with other immigrant groups you can get an amazing range of fruit and veg in Hawaii. The Farmers' Markets are a wonderful source and even the grocery stores have items unheard of or rare on the menu. But incorporating new fruits and veg into diets takes a lot of learning and time.

And it's helpful to remember that our own passion for fruit and veg dates from the 20s or 30s when vitamins were discovered. Before that, in most parts of the world, food that really filled you up and gave you energy (that is proteins and carbohydrates) was the most desired. Still is, actually.

That doesn't give a full answer to why the plate lunch is popular but perhaps it helps with the fruits and veg part,

Cheers,

Rachel


Rachel Caroline Laudan

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Irwin, Thanks so much for the information on how plate lunches were done for civilian workers with the military. Salisbury Steak. Container loads of it. Fascinating. You are filling in more of the history of Hawaii's foods than I ever dreamt possible. We have to find some way that people in Hawaii can learn all this,

Rachel


Rachel Caroline Laudan

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I just wanted to put in my two-cents worth. I was born and raised on Oahu as was my mother and father. I remember my mom telling me once that they (her family anyway) became dependent on canned foods such as spam, canned corned beef, vienna sausage during the war with Japan when fresh food and other dry goods were in very short supply. I have very fond memories of my mom packing me a bento lunch with two musubi (rice balls wrapped in nori), scrambled shoyu eggs and fried spam, vienna sausage or shoyu hot dog. Even though I know it's really unhealthy, the smell or occasional taste of it brings back really fond memories of childhood. I must also say that the best way to eat a bento is to spend the whole day at the beach under the hot sun in the salty ocean water, then eat your bento with an ice-cold soda pop! It's the BEST!

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As a true howlie I do not fully get it.

:laugh::laugh: "haole" :laugh::laugh:

well, i'm only now reading up on this thread and find everyone's information great and fun to read!

agreed that the plate lunch isn't the most healthful thing. i like the korean style plates from palama market, but i tend to share one plate with my mom. there's enough meat in one plate lunch for two meals! i remember being able to eat the whole thing (when i was younger!!). now, the metabolism just doesn't kick in the way it used to :hmmm: .

mac salad isn't my favorite as it usually has too much mayo.

rainbow drive in is great (slush float anyone?)

there's a place at the koko marina shopping center called "loco mocos" i guess it is like l&l and is quickly becoming an up and comer on the chain type plate lunch place. not too bad teri beef.

i too know lots of locals who have very little body fat (a lot of canoe paddler friends) who eat like this regularly. i have no idea what their arteries look like though! just because you look great on the outside doesn't mean you can't drop dead of a heart attack!

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agreed that the plate lunch isn't the most healthful thing.  i like the korean style plates from palama market, but i tend to share one plate with my mom.  there's enough meat in one plate lunch for two meals!  i remember being able to eat the whole thing (when i was younger!!).  now, the metabolism just doesn't kick in the way it used to  :hmmm: .

Palama Market's plate lunch outlet is pretty good - we usually eat there whenever we go to stock up on groceries. That whole Kapalama Mall on Dillingham is going through some pretty major changes. JaJa, which was a pretty good Chinese place, closed down, and was replaced by someplace called "777". Somebody in into lucky numbers, I guess. Haven't had a chance to check it out. A Japanese-style bakery has also opened up next door.

there's a place at the koko marina shopping center called "loco mocos" i guess it is like l&l and is quickly becoming an up and comer on the chain type plate lunch place.  not too bad teri beef.

Hear a lot about up-and-coming places on the Hawai`i Kai side. Don't get to eat over there very often, but lot of my friends are moving there. Any other suggestions in that area - plate lunch-wise, Alanamoana?

And while we're at it, any other Korean plate lunch places people enjoy? We usually go to Ducky's, which is a small, semi-enclosed place near our house in Manoa. They have a nice charcoal grill, and an unbeatable $14.95 family pack special that contains lots of kalbi, fish jun, meat jun, chicken katsu, etc. plus several sides and a mountain of rice. No duck - it's a pun on the owner's name. At night they turn into a "outdoor bar style" establishment (I use the quotes because it's strictly BYOB) selling grilled pork belly, pig's feet, red-hot fish hotpot, and other stuff that's popular with the young Korean crowd.

Or have any favorites when it comes to Okazu-ya style plate lunches? We usually goes to Fukuya's near King and University. Their mochiko chicken is the best. Fried ahi is pretty good, and all kinds of nigiri (musubi) to go with it. Very good vegetable dishes, including kinpira (stir-fried shredded) gobo, stewed Kabocha pumpkin, and whatever else the owners have in mind that day. Who said place lunch couldn't be healthy?


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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I think L&L can be decent, depending on the outpost.  But it's really just B-grade plate lunch.  It's usually easy to find a place that's significantly better just by asking around.

guess I need to ask, we really enjoy L&L.

We ate multiple meals at various L&L Drive Inns. L&L is a Hawaiian chain that specializes in plate lunches. One of my favorites is the mixed BBQ plate: thin piece of grilled teriyaki steak, small portion of grilled BBQ (teri/shoyu) ribs, and two grilled teriyaki chicken thighs served on two scoops of white rice with a scoop of very good macaroni salad alongside, all for 5 bucks!! My wife would usually have one of the various fresh grilled plate lunches such as MahiMahi for about $6 or the various saimin (noodle) dishes. There are over 50 locations around the islands. See: http://www.lldriveinn.com/


"I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be"

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Sweet Willy,

L&L is certaintly not a bad establishment. Their quantity/price ratio is among the best, and the quality is O.K. relative to other Honolulu plate lunch places. The knock against them is that they lack any thing distinctive to set them apart from other places, and lack a lot of side dishes other than mac salad. Also, being a large chain, they are always a convenient target for gripes!

By the way, the link you gave seems to lead to a cybersquatter. The url for L&L is http://www.hawaiianbarbecue.com/.

Aloha


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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A big welcome to eGullet, pakeporkchop.

Thanks for the link to the Tony Chang article. I’ve always admired “What's Cooking around Town” at the Hawaii.rr.com site for its great information and stories – and it’s becoming a real resource for the people on this site as well! Would you happen to know how to get copies of his newsletter, "Woktalk"?

The teppanyaki plate lunch idea is a real interesting innovation – it definitely qualifies as “upscale”, although Tae’s seems to have been able to keep the price down to “normal” place lunch levels. I’ll definitely try it next time I head out to Daiei. I was surprised that the potatoes in the steak roll are raw – how do the customers react to that? Are they completely raw or partially cooked? It looks from one of the pictures in the story that they may spend some time on the grill.


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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aloha, sk!

the shredded potatoes are indeed raw. the potato is place in the center of the beef wafers before the wafers are folded over. the heated meat partially cooks the potato but the potato remains relatively fluffy and crunchy.

my guess is that the combination is well-received, judging by the number of return customers, particularly those ordering in bulk for their office, etc.

to suit my preferences, i always ask that the beef roll be under-done. i know that tae does not favor special orders, but to my mind that's the only way to have beef roll.

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