Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I Love Plate Lunch!

When you think of Hawaii, what comes to mind? The beach? Surfing? Hula? All of that is good, but the food, now you're talking! I truly believe the food of Hawaii is the most underrated regional cuisine in the United States. The combination of excellent tropical fruits, fresh seafood and even ingredients like taro are highlighted in pan-Asian recipes that show the many foreign influences in the islands--Philippine, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, etc.

There are many types of food found in Hawaii, none is more typical than the plate lunch. If you are familiar with the Japanese bento box, then a plate lunch will make all the sense in the world. Traditionally the "plate lunch" consists of some kind of meat, and scoops of white rice and macaroni salad all served up segregated in a styrofoam box.

On this past trip to Oahu we frequently saw much healthier versions of the plate lunch. The scoops of white rice and macaroni salad were sometimes being replaced with green salad and brown rice. Those salads came with innovative homemade dressings such as sesame vinaigrette or wasabi ranch. Sometimes grilled vegetables even took the place of meat on the plate.

Many of the specialties of Hawaii have not changed one bit. A few of my favorites are the succulent kahlua pork, a whole pig cooked in an underground oven and pulled into shreds; "poke", a kind of chunky ahi ceviche and lau lau, salt butterfish, and pork wrapped in taro leaves and steamed in ti leaves until soft. Other things you might find on a plate lunch include teriyaki beef, mahi mahi, and mochiko chicken. Mochiko chicken is chicken marinated in a mixture that includes Japanese rice flour called "mochiko" then fried.

In the next week or so I'll share the details of some of my favorite plate lunch places in Honolulu. Stay tuned...