Eating Loco Moco, Turkey Tail, and Fried Chicken At A Honolulu Institution — Dining on a Dime


on the western part of Honolulu in sort of an urban, industrial area, and where we’re going right now is a place that I am very excited about. It has come recommended from chefs and non- chefs, locals and tourists alike. It’s called Ethel’s Grill. It is a Honolulu institution. It’s been there in its current incarnation for nearly 40 years. What it does is serve local favorites: fried chicken, loco moco, not necessarily the traditional plate lunch which you would see with an entree and macaroni salad and scoops of rice but things that have become staples in the community over the decades that it has served it. So it is a place that is beloved far and wide and yet it still retains its local feel. We’re headed there right now and I can’t wait to see what it’s all about. This place is super cool, could you, I know you’re really busy, just tell me a little bit about the history of the restaurant? “My mom and dad opened the restaurant in 1979. Mom has retired about three months ago, she would have been here. She’s tired of working. So now she’s singing karaoke all day with her friends.” Didn’t an Ethel’s Restaurant exist before? “There was an original Ethel, but my mom and dad were too cheap to change the sign so they kept Ethel’s Grill as is.” There’s a lot of sumo stuff on the walls. “For mom and dad, sumo is their favorite sport.” Is there a lot of sumo on TV from Japan? Are your parents from Japan? “Mom’s from Okinawa, dad’s from Tokyo.” Where do the recipes come from? “Dad was a chef but they needed an entire team, so three years ago my husband took over. We’re going to get you a mochiko chicken.” I saw someone get a local moco, it looks really good. “Try the local moco.” And then also maybe the chicken. Yeah tell me a little bit about the turkey tails. “We marinate and then cook it and then we deep-fry it until it is nice and tender falls off the bone. Really fatty really rich, it’s a lot of goodness.” Can I get one? “A sample? Yeah.” Awesome amazing. Aloha! Now I understand that you grew up in the area just a couple blocks away. “Two blocks away, right over here.” i was interested to learn that this was actually your first time here. “This is my very first time.” You grew up two blocks away! “It’s kind of amazing, when we walked to the shoreline, we just go straight down that way, so we never discovered or passed this way.” Now that you have been here, did you enjoy it? “We have, the food was delicious. This is sort of like a real local-style food you know, so it’s a good place to bring out-of-town guests, get kinda like a local flavor.” That’s beautiful, thank you. This food looks outstanding. So what we have here is a plate of local moco, a plate of the mochiko chicken, and special request for me, deep-fried turkey tail. We’re gonna start with the loco loco moco. It’s a traditional dish in the pantheon of the cuisine of Hawaii. Legend has it the dish actually originated in Hilo at a small restaurant in the late forties early fifties when a bunch of teenagers went into some grill one day and wanted something to eat and wanted it fast and the owner put some rice in a piece of meat, poured gravy all over it and said, “Here you rowdy kids, eat this!” And they liked it and i think the egg came later. One of the group of the teens’ nickname was “Crazy” and they just thought it would be funny to call it local moco, according to my research. That is actually the story of loco moco, however, they were onto something because the dish grew in popularity and is now considered one of the quintessential dishes here on the islands. It consists of plain white rice, hamburger patty which with onion, seasoning, a couple of fried eggs, and then the whole thing is slathered in a beef base gravy thickened with flour. It is a practical filling delicious lunch. This is a really thick nicely charred meat patty, you can see how it’s blackened on the outside so it’s almost like a nice and crunchy on the outside which is brilliant. There’s a good piece of meat. It doesn’t resemble a hamburger, it resembles sort of like a little more loosely packed meatloaf flavored heavily with onions and spices. There’s nothing exceptional to the individual components of this dish but offer together something very satisfying. The yolk running down mixes in with this thick beef-based flour gravy, it tastes like almost maybe like it has a little bit of maybe with your identity and it is delicious. I can see why this dish stood the test of time over the decades. We’re going to move on. This chicken looks great. This is the mochiko chicken served with a scoop of white rice. The scoop of white rice is a common sight during lunch time here in Hawaii. The plate lunch, which is typically an entree, two scoops of white rice and macaroni salad, is one of the most popular things to eat. This kind of resembles it. Now the chicken as was explained to me by Naka is marinated in like a shoyu, ginger, internal secret recipe marinade and then it is breaded in a light mochiko flour and mochiko flour is rice flour, so that should have a much lighter cleaner taste to it. A little bit of a sauce here like a sweet ginger sauce This is great, especially the sauce. The chicken itself is good piece of chicken. Thigh meat is tender, the meat is juicy. The meat has retained a little bit of that fermented soy and sweetness, as well as a little bit of that ginger, and then dipping it in the sauce is what really kicks it up to another level, because you see those nice bits of minced garlic. The ginger is great, the tartness of the ginger really cuts through any kind of greasiness of the chicken. That sweet marinade is awesome with the happiness of a piece of fried chicken Last but not least we have the special honored guests, the turkey tail. TK made an interesting comment when she dropped this off, she said it looks like a malasada. Malasada for those of you who may not know is a Portuguese doughnut without a hole, and she’s right, it looks like a doughnut. Look at that, she she said it was all rich and fatty and she was right, you can just see how greasy that is. You see that yellow fat just running out. This is the ass end of the turkey. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that we throw it away, considering we eat pigtail, considering we eat oxtail. This is going to be like clean vinegar sauce, which has some pickled vegetables in there. That’s pretty good. It’s also fried in that light mochiko flour. Have you ever deep-fried turkey out there any of you? I’m sure some of you have super fast way to cook a turkey in 20 minutes. It’s also a really good way to burn down your house so be careful all of you. Price hawks out there, everything is around ten dollars and you get a large amount that will fill you up for good. I really hope you enjoyed this episode of Dining on a Dime from Ethel’s Grill. If you’d like to watch more, please click here.

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