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April 03, 2006

Loco Moco


Dominic Armato
It pretty much negates the need for both lunch and dinner, but I've added a new item to the pantheon of breakfast favorites.

The version pictured here is a little gussied-up, especially since its origins are essentially as dive food, but what you're looking at is a Hawaiian creation known as Loco Moco. Much like the Caesar Salad, the exact origins of the dish are slightly fuzzy, but this much is generally agreed upon: It was created in Hilo in the late '40s as hungry impecunious teenager grub, originally consisting of a pile of white rice topped with hamburger, egg and brown gravy. Some of the finer details aren't so well documented. It may or may not have originally been made for a kid nicknamed Loco. It may have first appeared at Cafe 100, or the Lincoln Grill, or somewhere else. And the Moco part may have simply been a cute rhyme, or it may have been slang for snot, referencing the dish's somewhat less than refined nature.

In any case, I like it. The variants are many. In fact, the current Loco Moco nexus, Cafe 100, offers over 20 versions with numerous combinations and permutations of the basic ingredients. Had I learned about Cafe 100 before today, it might have merited a road trip. But as it stands, I can only judge the two that I've had, and this one is my favorite.

The Loco Moco at Pahu i'a takes the basic premise and refines it quite a bit. In place of the plain white rice is shrimp fried rice. There's still a hamburger patty, but it's made with good ground sirloin. Nestled under the traditional eggs are some sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions. And in place of an oversalted diner beef gravy, they use a nice sweet and salty teriyaki sauce. It's a great combination that owes more than a little nod to traditional Japanese sukiyaki... sweet shoyu, beef, egg, onions... tasty stuff, and right up the alley of a savory breakfast fiend with a soft spot for Asian flavors.

I ate this dish about 34 hours ago, and I think I can still feel it in my stomach. But in case it doesn't last until my next trip, I'm going to have to either find someplace that makes it, or make it myself. A recipe may be forthcoming if I'm feeling bold one weekend.

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