Learn the incredible history of Hawaii’s true island comfort food.
Learn the history of the true island comfort food of the Hawaiian plate lunch.
While many iconic foods have their place in Hawaii’s culinary identity, it’s the humble plate lunch that really embodies the aloha spirit. It’s the beloved comfort food you share with your ohana –the family you were born into and the family you’ve chosen. Young and old, rich and poor all come together over the plate lunch.
The tradition of the plate lunch dates back to the 1880s when Hawaii’s pineapple and sugar plantations grew to meet world-wide demand. Laborers from across the world, including Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Okinawa, Portugal, Mexico and Puerto Rico, immigrated to the islands and made it their home.
Coming from different countries, these laborers rarely spoke the same languages. Food served as a bridge and a universal language as workers communed over their midday meal. It was through these multicultural relationships that some of Hawaii’s most unique traditions were created. The Portuguese arrived with the braguinha, which led to the creation of the ukulele. Vaqueros from Mexico brought the guitar that led to the creation of the slack key guitar genre.
For most of these workers, lunch consisted of leftovers from the previous evening –usually fish or meat supplemented with rice to make the meals more filling. As the workers from such different backgrounds came together, so too did their cuisine, bringing together a fusion of their traditional flavors with new ones from the island, particularly pineapple. In the 1880s, the plate lunch was born.
In the ‘50s, food trucks and road-side stands started to pop up offering plate lunches for sale to locals looking for a comforting and delicious meal. Over the years, the plate lunch evolved with Western influences to include macaroni salad, rounding out the meal with rice and sweet and savory proteins.
The rest is history as the plate lunch quickly became a staple for local Hawaii residents and visitors alike –and continues to be today.