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How to make Hawaii plate-lunch-style macaroni salad. Two recipes.

hawaii_style_plate_lunch_macaroni_salad_recipeYet, for its irrefutable importance and enduring popularity, no definitive tale of macaroni salad’s origin can be told. Simply based on its main ingredients—pasta (Italian) and mayonnaise (French)—one can infer that macaroni salad’s genealogy is rooted in Europe. Potato salad, a likely relative, is also European—specifically German—in origin.

Cookbooks document the popularity of macaroni salad recipes across Mainland America in the early 20th century, and some observers have noted that Mainland chefs were being recruited to run Hawaii’s top hotels and restaurants during the same period, bringing their European-influenced culinary backgrounds—including macaroni salad—with them. Others speculate that sugar and pineapple plantation managers and supervisors, who were mainly of European descent, instructed their domestic help, mainly Asian immigrants, to prepare their beloved potato salad. Both theories are plausible, and it is possible that macaroni salad had more than one genealogical path to Hawai‘i.

Whatever the original dish, the local population eagerly adopted it and set about customizing it to local tastes. If it did originate as potato salad, dried macaroni noodles were cheaper and much easier to obtain and could be stored for longer periods of time than potatoes, so it’s no wonder that they eventually replaced potatoes in the local interpretations of the dish.

hawaii_style_plate_lunch_macaroni_salad_recipeThe local-style macaroni salad also featured mayonnaise—and lots of it. Mayonnaise could be made rather economically at home using vegetable oil and egg yolks, which meant that the entire dish was relatively inexpensive to produce, helped to stretch a family’s food budget and tasted good as well.

While the flavor of some foods may vary by ethnic group or by island, macaroni salad tends to vary from cook to cook—even cooks following the same recipe. Many people swear by specific brands of mayonnaise, while others claim that the flavor changes when they prepare the dish anywhere outside of the Islands—even if they have hand-carried the ingredients from Hawai‘i! There are literally hundreds of variations on macaroni salad: Do you prefer fat elbow macaroni or thin spaghetti noodles (not exclusive to but very popular on Kauai)? Plain macaroni or potato-macaroni? Frozen peas and carrots? Celery? Onions? Canned tuna? Artificial crab? Real crab? Hard-boiled eggs? How many? Relish? Mustard? What brand of mayo? Can you ever have too much mayo?

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
Top 5 favorite Hawaii plate lunch foods
L&L creates 3-lb. plate lunch. I eat it.
Of gods and plate lunches

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