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The Art [and Science] of the Mixed Plate

Posted on June 30, 2015

No matter which Hawaiian Island you visit, one meal you should definitely seek out and try is the mixed-plate version of the Hawaii plate lunch. With so many combinations of local comfort food to choose from, there is a mixed plate for just about every taste. If you’re visiting Hawaii for a vacation (or anything else), make it a mission to try as many mixed plate variations as possible. I certainly did!

In essence, a mixed plate is a plate lunch with two (or more) types of main protein items, selected from a variety of menu choices. Near always accompanying these are a couple of mainstay sides — typically two scoops of steamed white rice and a scoop of macaroni salad.

Part of the origin of the mixed plate can be traced back to the late 19th century and the plantation lunches of sugar and pineapple laborers who brought leftovers to eat during their lunch breaks in the field. These laborers, who immigrated to Hawaii from Japan, Korea, the Philippines, China, Portugal, Okinawa and Puerto Rico, often shared each other’s leftovers. Just one of the reasons why modern plate lunch menus have so many choices.


Deciding which tasty protein to try is always the hardest part; Photo Credit: Carrie Campbell

 So, is ordering a lunch plate art or science? Well I say a little of both!

Think of the rice as the plain white canvas. It isn’t going to get in the way of the taste of your crunchy chicken katsu, or the sticky sweetness of your kalbi beef, or the subtle smokiness of your kalua pork, but those carbs will help stick to the ribs so you aren’t hungry in an hour!

And your scoop of macaroni, or “mac,” salad? Depending on what you select as your protein, it has dual functionality. It can cool the mouth after that bite of spicy sausage or bite of kimchee. And with the finely cut carrots and celery, you get some vegetables! Also given the major mayo used to make Hawaii’s version of macaroni salad, it also makes a nice addition to the gravy that may be on top of some proteins like fried chicken or a hamburger patty.

See, food science!

Do you do two fried proteins? Do you mix cultures?


No plate lunch is complete without a scoop of rice…or three; Photo Credit:
Andi Fisher

Well, that’s the art part. And just like any piece of art hanging on a museum wall, the appreciation of it is purely subjective.

If you are watching your weight, there are now lots of places that offer brown rice, vegetarian options and lighter versions of protein. Is it still a mixed plate? I say, yes! That is the essence of Hawaiian culture – everyone is ohana (family) and the many cultures, many tastes and many styles are always accepted, as long as they are accompanied with the aloha spirit.

I spent a week on Hawaii Island and ate several lunch plates. Two favorites were my fried chicken and kalbi beef from Hawaiian Sytle Café in Hilo and a somewhat non-traditional katsu chicken with garlic rice and green salad from Puka Puka Kitchen in Hilo.


The classic plate lunch gets kicked up a few notches at Puka Puka Kitchen; Photo Credit:
Andi Fisher

On the Kona side, even though poke was my main focus, I still enjoyed lunch plates from Da Poke Shack and Umeke’s!

So, how to order a lunch in Hawaii? Any way you want! Go forth and enjoy!

About Andi Fisher: Andi is a full-time corporate gal, AFAR Ambassador, Local Expert of San Francisco, and travel blogger for Misadventures with Andi. She works in social media and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she loves to play tourist. She grew up living all over the world and continues to be a gypsy as often as possible. A true foodie, most of her travel focuses on the local food and restaurant scene and how much of it she can get in her mouth!

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