The plate lunch is a syncretic menu item that
is a quintessential part of the cuisine of Hawaii. Standard plate
lunches consist of two scoops of white rice, a scoop of macaroni salad,
and a main entrée. Many plate lunch outlets
also sell "mini-plates" which come with the same entrées in smaller
Left: Plate lunch.
Although the exact origin of the Hawaiian plate lunch is
disputed, it goes back to the 1880s when plantation workers were in high demand
by the fruit and sugar companies. Laborers were brought from around the world
including China, Japan, Portugal, and the Philippines who would eat leftover
rice and things like canned meat or teriyaki or cold meat or maybe scrambled
eggs or pickles, and almost no salad or vegetable. Mayonnaise macaroni and gravy
for the meat were later added.
As the days of the plantations came to an end, the plate lunches started being
served by lunch wagons to construction workers and day laborers.
There are a number of popular entrées that come with plate
lunches, mostly of Asian influence or origin. Notably from Japanese origin is
chicken katsu, fried boneless chicken breaded with Japanese bread crumbs, and
teriyaki (often shortened to "teri beef").
A common side-dish with plate lunches is fried
noodles, often made of either chow mein noodles or sometimes
A notably American facet of the plate lunch is the
hamburger steak, a hamburger patty
smothered with brown gravy and placed on top of rice. When a fried sunny side up
egg is added onto hamburger steak, it becomes a
In many plate lunch restaurants, you'll find entrées of Hawaiian origin as well,
like kalua pork (also called "kalua pig") and lau lau. Some side
dishes of Hawaiian origin include lomi salmon (also called "lomi-lomi
salmon") and haupia (a coconut dessert).
In many local Korean restaurants, many Korean entrées are available with plate
lunches, including kalbi and meat jun. Some side dishes include taegu, and
a dish made of seasoned soybean sprouts.