What Is Loco Moco?

Gregory Hanson

Loco moco is a traditional Hawaiian breakfast and comfort food. The most common version consists of a bowl filled with white rice, topped with a hamburger patty. The burger and rice are drenched in thick brown gravy, and the entire dish is topped with a fried egg. This dish is quite popular in Hawaii and has evolved beyond its humble roots as inexpensive but filling food. Many restaurants and chefs have produced their own variations on loco moco.

White rice is usually used in loco moco.
White rice is usually used in loco moco.

This specific dish dates back to the 1940s, when it was created at the behest of several hungry teenage athletes. These young men wanted a hearty and filling breakfast on a budget, and loco moco was the result. The young men are purported to have named it themselves, after the Spanish word loco, meaning "crazy".

Loco moco is often topped with a fried egg.
Loco moco is often topped with a fried egg.

Traditional loco moco contains a mix of macronutrients common in comfort food. The dish is rich in carbohydrates from the white rice. It also contains a great deal of protein from the egg and hamburger. The dish also provides a substantial amount of fat from egg, beef, and gravy alike.

Many local and regional variations on loco moco are available in Hawaii today. Some common versions draw on the island’s rich Japanese heritage. Even the most common form of the dish contains strong echoes of Japanese culinary practice, including the use of starch as a base and the layered construction of the dish.

Fried rice may be substituted for the white rice that is standard in the dish. While this substitution does not make loco moco any more healthful, it can add additional flavor. The fried rice may also contain other foods. Small pieces of vegetable, often peas or carrots, are common. SPAM®, a food eaten widely in contemporary Hawaii, may also be added to the fried rice.

Other preparations keep the basic layered structure of loco moco but further modify the specific components of the dish. Any protein can be used in lieu of the hamburger patty, and meats such as steak, pork, and chicken, in addition to the ubiquitous SPAM®, have been used. Some chefs may replace the traditional but fairly bland brown gravy with sauces that provide more flavor or that are less rich.

Even the egg perched atop a plate of loco moco is replaced in some versions of the dish. High end restaurants have experimented with upscale takes on the dish. One common substitution involves replacing the chicken egg with a quail egg in a miniaturized version of a loco moco.

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