Plate lunches are the quintessential item in Honolulu, HI. It is similar to the meat-and-three that is popular in the southern U.S. in that it is an easy, simple meal reduced to a few options so people can pick up a quick bite to eat. Just like the meat-and-three, the Hawaiian plate lunch comprises regional influences as well as those of its immigrant populations. Each dish offers elements of traditional Hawaiian cuisine further influenced by the Japanese bento box and other Asian components. Here is an explanation of these elements so you can be ready to enjoy this combination when you travel to Honolulu.
Plate lunch origins
There is no agreement on the exact origin of the plate lunch. While it most resembles a bento box, and contains some of the same ingredients, the first form of the plate lunch is thought to date back to plantation labor in the 1880s. As workers for the fruit and sugar trades migrated from the Philippines, China, Japan and Portugal, they did not consume the traditional American lunch of a sandwich and coffee. They normally ate leftover rice with whatever they could find for it—including canned, cold or teriyaki-flavored meat, scrambled eggs or pickles. As they learned new eating habits from the Americans, workers added macaroni salad and gravy to their lunches. Korean workers also introduced Kimchi.
When the plantations came to an end, these lunches continued being sold on food wagons serving construction workers and other laborers. This was actually the beginning of a food cart tradition that not only brought the wagons to the mainland, but also Hawaiian barbecue and other cuisine.
The plate lunch now
If you order a plate lunch from a food court or restaurant now, it will normally consist of rice, macaroni salad and an entrée. A larger portion version, called the mixed plate, contains an extra entrée.
The entrée choices are very diverse. Kalua pig is a popular choice along with calamari, chicken in various sauces (including honey-lime) and salmon in ginger. There are still options that feature meat and gravy and traditional Hawaiian-style entrees like laulau, lami salmon and poke. You can choose to be as Asian, Hawaiian or American as you wish for your plate lunch: there is even a plate lunch that features nothing more than a hamburger with gravy and rice.
Where to find a plate lunch
The plate lunch is a mainstay of food on the island. You can likely find them at any restaurant or food cart with many varieties. Another benefit of the plate lunch is that is inexpensive and filling, which makes it a great option after hiking, surfing, boating and basically enjoying the recreation of Hawaii.
Haili’s Hawaiian Foods offers many options for Hawaiian plate lunches here in Honolulu, HI. We tend to operate more on the traditional side, with lomi salmon, haupia, kalua pig and poke. If you are ready for a taste adventure, come visit us to choose the plate lunch best suited to your preferences.