The plate lunch is a quintessential Hawaiian meal, roughly analogous to a Southern U.S. meat-and-threes. However, the pan-Asian influence on Hawaiian cuisine and root in the Japanese bento makes the plate lunch unique to Hawaii.
Although the exact origin of the Hawaiian plate lunch is disputed, according to Professor Jon Okamura of the University of Hawaii the plate lunch likely grew out of the Japanese bento, as they "were take away kinds of eating and certainly the plate lunch continues that tradition". Its appearance in Hawaii in recognizable form 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 from China, Japan, Portugal, and the Philippines, who would eat "leftover rice and a lot of things like canned meat or teriyaki or cold meat or maybe scrambled eggs or pickles, and almost no salad or vegetable," according to The Honolulu Advertiser's former food editor, Ms. Kaui Philpotts. Mayonnaise, macaroni, and gravy for the meat were added later.
As the days of the plantations came to an end, plate lunches began to be served on-site by lunch wagons to construction workers and day laborers. Later, local holes in the wall and other stand-alone plate lunch restaurants began popping up, then plate lunch franchises. Eventually these made their way to the U.S. mainland, beginning with the L&L Drive-Inn chain in California in 1999. At that time L&L founder Eddie Flores rebranded it "L&L Hawaiian Barbecue", explaining that "When we went to the mainland, the name 'Hawaiian' is a draw, because everyone just fantasized, everyone wants to come to Hawaii".
Overwhelmingly popular plate lunche entrées reflect Asian influence. Of Japanese origin is chicken katsu, fried boneless chicken breaded with Japanese bread crumbs, and beef teriyaki (often shortened to "teri beef"). A common side-dish with plate lunches is fried noodles, often either chow mein or saimin noodles.
Other Asian ethnic contributions include the Chinese influenced Char siu Pork and Filipino Chicken Adobo and Longanisa. From Western Europe come dishes with Linguiça, a traditional Portuguese sausage.
Plate lunch of lau lau, kalua pork, lomi lomi salmon, poi, haupia, and rice
- "Origins of Plate Lunch". Honolulu, Hawaii: KHNL. 2002-11-27. Retrieved 2008-11-12.
- Steinhauer, Jennifer (November 12, 2008), Carbo-Loading, Hawaiian Style, The New York Times (New York, NY): D1 New York edition, retrieved 2009-11-01
- "L&L Hawaiian Barbecue · L&L Drive-Inn - About Us". Honolulu, HI. Retrieved 2009-11-01.