The fast food of paradise
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Paradise makes me hungry.
I rediscovered this fact recently during what has become an annual sojourn to the Big Island of Hawaii. During the past two weeks—when I wasn’t swimming with the fishes, gazing intently at the ocean hoping to see humpback whales spout and breach, voraciously reading or waiting for cocktail hour to kick in—my vacation-mates and I spent a whole lot of time discussing what we’d have for our next meal.
Because we stay in a house about an hour away from Hilo that’s off the grid and about 30 minutes from the nearest grocery store, it’s important to plan at least some of the meals in advance. In addition to the rafters of vodka and passion, orange and guava juice that we kept well-stocked, we also made sure to have plenty of staples on hand, as well—such as rice, coffee, eggs, tortilla chips, various dairy products, salsa, and some sort of meat.
Nearby farmers markets also ensured our larder and small fridge were stuffed full of fresh fruit and greens. Sweet starfruit, spiky red ramadans, juicy papayas, avocados the size of grapefruits, limes and lemons, bananas, kale, green and sweet onions, tomatoes, cabbage, oranges and green beans were available in abundance—and on the cheap. When we could, we’d also secure ahi tuna and eat it either raw (in the form of poke) or lightly seared.
A few of the most memorable menu items from the vacation include giant hamburgers we cooked over ironwood embers, the aforementioned fish delicacies, hand-picked coconuts, fresh-from-the-lava-cave limpets served in lime juice, egg-based Dutch babies with a banana compote, savory buns and SPAM musubi sourced from a nearby 7-11, and, for breakfast on Superbowl Sunday (which also happened to be Groundhogs Day and the birthday of one of the vacationers), my annual serving of Loco Moco.
Since first sampling what is often called “Hawaii’s original homemade fast food” a few years ago, I’ve made it a point to order Loco Moco for breakfast at least once during the trip. At first, I was merely curious about what a monstrous mound of white rice topped with a hamburger patty, a sunny-side-up egg or two, and smothered in gravy would look like. Then I tasted it, and I was hooked.
Local lore says the dish was created in the mid-1950s in Hilo—either at the Cafe 100, which still cranks out about 9,000 of them every month, or at the Lincoln Grill—for teenagers who wanted something different than American sandwiches or Asian food. The story goes that the nickname of the first boy to eat the crazy concoction was “loco,” and that “moco” was added because, well, it rhymed.
Although the meal is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Hawaii, I prefer to eat it—and the inevitable leftovers—for my morning meal. In fact, for my next brunch gathering, I plan to recreate the dish to see if its comfort food capabilities transfer from paradise to the mainland. You can, too.
1 pound hamburger (not lean)
1/4 cup grated onions (optional)
salt/pepper to taste
1 can good beef broth
flour for thickening
1 tbsp butter
couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce
hot cooked white rice
Gently mix the hamburger, grated onions and salt/pepper. Form either two big patties or four smaller-size patties. Heat frying pan until very hot. Place hamburger patties on the pan/grill and let sear just until juices start appearing on the top. Flip over and cook for a couple more minutes. You will want the burger slightly charred but still tender on the inside. Place burgers on the side.
For the gravy, pour a little broth into the same pan and incorporate the yum-yums, then pour in the rest of the broth. Bring to a boil and let reduce for about 3-5 minutes or so, depending on taste, for a more potent gravy. Turn down heat to a simmer. Add a couple dashes of worcestershire sauce.
In a separate bowl, mix flour with some water. Using a whisk, slowly whisk in the flour/water mixture until gravy is nicely thick and smooth. Turn off heat and mix in the butter until well blended.
Traditionally, the eggs should be sunny-side up. The secret to a good fried egg is to fry the egg slowly on low heat until it’s cooked—just don’t overcook it! It also helps to have the eggs thawed to room temperature before cooking them.
Use regular medium grain white rice, approximately three scoops worth per plate, and top it with the burger, the egg, and gravy all over.
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