Top 5 favorite Hawaii plate lunch foods

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Teri beef and chicken. Beef stew. Garlic shrimp. Macaroni salad. Meat jun. Lomi salmon. Shoyu chicken. And yes, even Spam.

These are just a few of the lip-smacking edibles that got lots of votes but DIDN'T make the final Top 5 cut when we asked our HAWAII Magazine Facebook Ohana: "What's your favorite Hawaii plate lunch food or menu item?"

Hundreds of you voted, in the process getting us so hungry for the tasty multicultural mix of foods that grace Hawaii's world-famous two-scoops rice and macaroni salad plate lunches, we were able to plan out our lunch hours ahead of time for the next couple of weeks.

If you’d like to join in on our next HAWAII Magazine Facebook Ohana Poll and vote along with our always-growing reader family, go to the HAWAII Magazine Facebook page and “like” us. In return you’ll be able to share your answers in all of our future “Hawaii favorite” poll questions as soon as we post them, know the results of the poll when all of the votes are counted, and get all of our daily photos and features.

We’ll be posting our next Ohana Poll question on HAWAII Magazine’s Facebook page in the days ahead, so join soon if you haven’t yet.

Until then, here’s the Top 5 countdown of our Facebook ohana’s favorite Hawaii plate lunch foods and menu items.


#5: Laulau

It’s not all that difficult to figure out why laulau has endured as a favorite Hawaii dish for centuries. Besides its savory, uniquely Hawaiian taste, it’s also, arguably, Hawaii’s first real mixed plate. Laulau is a complete meal—pork, chicken or beef, salted butterfish and taro leaves wrapped in ti leaves and steamed. (In pre-contact times, it was cooked in an imu, a Hawaiian undeground oven) Served piping hot when every ingredient within the ti leaves is cooked to tender, salt-kissed perfection, laulau done right is Hawaiian food nirvana.



#4: Chicken Katsu

Chicken katsu is a longtime staple of the Hawaii plate lunch. A take on the popular Japanese restaurant dish tonkatsu (or pork cutlet), chicken katsu is essentially a chicken cutlet taken to more crunchy extremes. The recipe is easy enough: Deboned chicken thighs, butterflied, battered in flour, egg and panko (Japanese bread crumbs) then fried to a crisp, golden brown. Why panko instead of standard breadcrumbs? Traditional Western-style breadcrumbs tend to get soggy as the cutlets cool. The more flakier panko breading keeps the cutlet crust crunchy long after frying, making chicken katsu a perfect entrée for takeout plate lunches. Chicken katsu is also seriously delicious. A small cup of tonkatsu sauce (think of it as a sweeter, thicker take on traditional Worcestershire sauce) is always served on the side for dipping. Use it.



#3: Poke

The basic poke mixture of cubed raw ahi (tuna), salty seaweed, and crunchy sweet onions is so delicious, so perfect with just about any plate lunch, we're salivating at just the thought of adding some to our next lunch hour feast. The word poke (pronounced poh-keh) is Hawaiian, meaning “to slice or cut crosswise into pieces.” The poke first eaten by early Hawaiians was a simple mixture of raw fish, Hawaiian salt, seaweed and chopped kukui nuts (called inamona in Hawaiian). Later recipes mixed in onions and, sometimes, tomatoes. Head to most Hawaii fish markets today, however, and you’ll find a wide selection of poke—from tako (octopus) with ginger and garlic to mussel poke with kim chee,. We’ve seen poke recipes with raw crab, cooked shrimp, clams, smoked salmon, pipi kaula (dried and smoked beef), even seared ribeye steak and tofu. There are so many varieties of poke available in Hawaii, for just about every kind of taste, a true fan could add poke to his or her daily plate lunch for weeks without having the same poke twice.



#2: Loco Moco

Loco moco isn’t so much a single Hawaii plate lunch menu item than a full-on Hawaii plate lunch on its own. How else to classify the classic version of the loco moco—a grilled beef patty on a bed of rice, topped with a fried over easy egg, then slathered with brown gravy? Some will look at the photo above and think, "Ew. Repulsive." Others? They'll ask, "Where the heck do I get one just like it?" So many in our Facebook ohana voted loco moco as their favorite Hawaii plate lunch menu item, we felt our lives might be threatened had we not included the dish here. Plus, we absolutely adore this uniquely Hawaii comfort food classic and its abundant permutations crafted by Island chefs happy to give the loco moco its culinary due.



#1: Kalua Pig

Oh, how you love kalua pig! With rice. With poi. With rice and poi. But especially on a Hawaiian plate lunch with hearty sides of rice, poi, lomi salmon, poke, maybe some chicken long rice or pipi kaula, and, for dessert, a cube of haupia. You crave it when you’re away from the Islands. It’s the first dish many of you have to eat right away when you return. We love it, too. The Hawaiian word kalua means “to bake in a ground oven.” Traditionally, kalua pig was baked in an imu (see #5 laulau), lined with hot stones. The whole pig was seasoned simply with sea salt, placed in the imu, then covered with banana leaves to seal in the flavor and heat from the stones. Imu-cooked kalua pig, in our opinion, is still the best tasting kalua pig. Sadly, these days it’s a bit more difficult to find imu-cooked kalua pork outside of a luau or Hawaiian restaurant licensed to practice the traditional cooking method. Much of the kalua pork sold commercially is slow smoked, above ground. Still, the basic recipe for kalua pig is essentially the same—pork shoulder butt, salt-rubbed, smoked then shredded and served piping hot with apropos sides. At its best, kalua pig is tender and juicy, and steeped in a lightly smoky, lightly salted flavor.

Lunch, anyone?

Click on the links below for the Top 5 results of our previous HAWAII Magazine Facebook Ohana poll questions:

top_five_favorite_Hawaii_plate_lunch_menu_foods(Want to learn even more about Hawaii cuisine and get some recipes for local food favorites? Grab a copy of "From Kau Kau to Cuisine" or "Kau Kau: Cuisine and Culture in the Hawaiian Islands," from HAWAII Magazine sister company Watermark Publishing, in bookstores or by clicking here.)

Photos: Dawn Sakamoto (pg. 1, top; 5), Derek Paiva (pg. 1, bottom; 2; 4)

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