Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam Wonderful Spam!

I’ve long been a fan of British comedy. As a kid, I would stay up late and watch Fractured Flickers and a couple of other oddball comedy shows. But the king of late, late night was Benny Hill. Maybe it was just the scantily clad women, chasing or being chased by Hill, but I found the skits really funny.

Later I became a fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I still chuckle at the fuzzy little rabbit that turns out to be a fearsome beast that rips men apart (if you haven’t seen it, here is a link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnOdAT6H94s&t=3s).

Vikings enjoying a little Spam at breakfast

But one of the most lasting skits from the show involves Vikings, breakfast, and Spam (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gxtsa-OvQLA).

Now, in my younger years, I vaguely remember having Spam for breakfast once. I became more familiar with the processed meat product when I was stationed in Hawaii in the 1980’s, but I didn’t eat a lot of it.

Intrigued, I began to look into the origins of this “mystery meat.”

It’s really not much of a mystery. Introduced in July 1937, the Hormel company found a way to use pork shoulder, which was not a popular cut of meat. They blended it with some ham and a few other ingredients (salt, water, modified potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrate), sealed it in a can and cooked it for about three hours to kill off any bacteria that would make the meat spoil.

During World War II, the US Military became the major purchaser of the luncheon meat. Spam was shipped to the Pacific and to the front lines in Europe. With fresh meat being quite scarce, it filled a need for an Army on the move.

Soldier’s and Marines shared their Spam with local populations, many who faced near starvation, and Spam became a part of the local diet. It’s still somewhat popular in the UK, but the pink loaf has found a real home in the Pacific.

Hawaii, Guam, Okinawa and the Philippines, all consume large amounts of spam each year.

But South Korea has taken their love of spam to another level.

In the US Mainland, you’ll find the blue cans of meat in almost every grocery store. Neatly stacked on store shelves, most American’s just walk past.

In South Korea, Spam has achieved a status of a luxury gift during the Lunar New Year and annual harvest festivals. Packaged in fancy gift boxes, many Koreans plop down as much as $75 for a package containing as many as 16 cans and some expensive cooking oils.

Here in the US, Hawaii is the state that consumes more Spam than any other.

So, I wasn’t too surprised when stopping into a McDonalds on the North Shore, I found Spam and rice on the breakfast menu.

I grabbed a couple of breakfast sandwiches for the family, and a plate with eggs, Spam, sausage, and rice for myself.

I must admit, it was a great breakfast.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Loco Moco

During the four years I lived in Hawaii, I managed to learn to love many of the distinctly Hawaiian foods.

Over time, I developed a fondness for spam, chili over rice and a few other new flavors. My personal favorite, even to this day is the plate lunch.

There is one quintessential Hawaiian dish I couldn’t wrap my mind around as an 18-year-old. Loco Moco.

The Loco Moco at Pounders Restaurant at the Polynesian Cultural Center 

It’s generally agreed that Loco Moco traces its roots to one of two restaurants in Hilo Hawaii in about 1949.

According to legend, the dish was created for a group of teenagers who wanted something to eat, other than American type sandwiches, but that would still be inexpensive, easy, and quick to prepare.

The dish may have been named for one of the players on the Lincoln Wreckers football club, who’s nickname was “Crazy.” One of his teammates was taking Spanish in school and suggested they use the Spanish “Loco” instead of crazy. They picked Moco, mostly because it sounded good. Whether or not they were aware, moco in Spanish can mean booger, yep, that ooze from the nose. So, in essence they created the “Crazy Booger.” Yum.

Richard and Nancy Inouye, the owners of the Lincoln Grill, used some of the ingredients they had on hand to create the dish. They served up some common American favorites, like burgers, and had various Asian items on the menu.

In their published musings about the origins of Loco Moco, they name names, mention the local football club, and have many members of the club make public statements backing up that the dish was created in their restaurant (the other restaurant offers no proof that I have seen to back up the claim they came up with the dish).

In what may be the first real fusion dish, they served up a hamburger patty over a bed of white rice and topped it with brown gravy. Later they added a sunny side up egg.

As I mentioned, at 18 I wasn’t keen on the idea of Loco Moco. I think it was the sunny-side-up egg that put me off.

On our trip back to Hawaii after over 40 years, I made up my mind to give it a try.

We spent the first part of our Hawaiian vacation in Waikiki. Having lived on Oahu for four years, we opted to spend a little time in the “city” before moving to a hotel on the North Shore.

Turned out the North Shore hotel we picked was literally in the parking lot of the Polynesian Cultural Center. Which turned out to be a great choice.

We could just walk over to the Hukilau Marketplace at the PCC and eat at the restaurants or the food trucks there.

One night we made a reservation for the Pounders Restaurant at the Marketplace. My granddaughter opted for the make-your-own pizza. I went for the Loco Moco.

The kids Make-Your-Own Pizza

Pounders has taken the Loco Moco to the extreme. I’m not sure how much rice, but they serve three quarter pound burgers and three sunny side up eggs in their version of the local classic.

Its very good, but it’s a bit much for just one person.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Plate Lunch


When I was 18, I decided to venture out into the “real” world. I had told my mother when I was 12 years old, that I had planed on a career in the US Army. My first plan (the US Military Academy at West Point) hadn’t worked out, so I had switched to plan “B.”

Plan B, started with me becoming an enlisted Soldier and I was fortunate to find a position in an Army unit in Hawaii.

I was stationed on a small base west of Honolulu. For an 18-year-old it was the best life possible. I knew that I could eat at the Mess Hall, I had a guaranteed roof over my head and a steady paycheck.

The barracks that I lived in when I was first assigned to Hawaii

Which is why my friends and I spent every possible moment on the beach, mostly in Waikiki (and yes, in the bars there also).

At one point while growing up, we raised our own cattle, hogs, chickens, and turkeys. By the time I was 18, I knew that I was a big fan of steaks, Italian, Chinese and Mexican food. But that was the extent of my food experience.

Finding myself in the culinary wonderland of the Polynesian Islands, I began to try a variety of new, but pretty safe, dietary choices.

Though I wasn’t ready to dive headfirst into uncooked fish, octopus, poi, laulau, or spam musubi just yet. However, shave ice, saimin, and chili over rice (who knew it would rock) made me think about expanding my palate.

Which brings me to one of my fast-food favorites – plate lunch.

Growing up in SoCal, we had the advantage of growing up in the home of fast food. The original McDonald brother’s restaurant is only about 30 miles from where I grew up. The home of In-and-Out is maybe 60 miles away. My high school classmates and I split our Mexican food loyalty between the original Del Taco and its offshoot (and better) competitor, Naugles which were both local eateries.

One of the main attributes of fast-food, in my mind, was that it is “hand-held.” Like the original hot dog, it requires no silverware and no plate. It was purposefully designed to be consumed on-the-go.

Plate lunch was different. While still “fast-food” it was served on a paper plate and with plastic silverware.

I’m pretty sure that my introduction to plate lunch was at a roadside takeout window in Eva Beach.

I don’t remember who I was with, but I remember looking at the plate with a more than mild degree of skepticism. I thought, who would serve teriyaki beef with macaroni salad and rice. Turns out it was pure genius.

I wondered where the idea of the plate lunch came from. Who devised this rather strange combination of carbs, and why?

According to the website Eater.com;

“The origins of the dish date back to the 1880s, where it began as a popular midday meal option for hungry workers on Hawaii’s booming pineapple and sugar plantations. The plantation workers would bring their lunches to work with them in bento boxes, and leftover rice was used as an inexpensive way to bulk up whatever meats were leftover from last night’s dinner. By the 1930s, new mobile meal services called lunch wagons popped up to cater to laborers and drive-ins; instead of being served on bento boxes, they were served on compartmentalized paper plates, hence the name "plate lunch." By the 1950s, the plantation era had ended, but the plate lunch was a staple at drive-ins and free-standing restaurants across the islands.”

So, the origins of the plate lunch is not much different than the humble hot dog or burger, a cheep and filling way to feed hungry workers in the field.  

Forty some odd years after I left Hawaii, I finally returned to the Islands for a vacation. High on my list of foods I wanted to retry was the plate lunch.

Unfortunately, we first tried an order in a food court in Waikiki. They attempted to “upscale” the traditional plate lunch. The meat was tough, the sauce tasteless and the macaroni salad was replaced with a bad salad and a piece of pineapple. I was not pleased.

The "fancy" Waikiki plate lunch

I tried again at a food truck in the Hukilau Marketplace at the Polynesian Cultural Center when we were on the North Shore. I think I paid a little over half what I paid for the lunch in Waikiki, but the difference was worth twice as much.

Finally, on the North Shore, I found a real plate lunch from a food truck at the Polynesian Cultural Center

The beef had the sweet-salty blend that you expect from a good teriyaki sauce. The rice, was, well rice. The macaroni salad was very good. It took me right back to that little stand in Eva Beach. And it was just as good as I remembered.