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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 5, 2006

Loco moco has humble Hilo roots

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

Someone who says he witnessed an important historical event always makes a good story, especially if the event is the birth of a gastronomical monstrosity in this case, that cholesterol blockbuster, that bane of the American Heart Association: the loco moco.

Historical sleuth Mike Mauricio, who works at carpentry on the side, has tracked down Walter Ushiroda, who once worked for Pan American Airways and lives in Wai'alae Valley. More importantly, Walter says he was on the scene when loco moco was invented.

While the origin of the loco moco has been debated, Ushiroda says the momentous occasion took place more than 50 years ago in Hilo, known worldwide for rain, tsunamis and Sig Zane aloha shirts. Long before Sig Zane aloha shirts, there was the Lincoln Grill, across from the fire station in Hilo. The fire station is still there. Alas, the Lincoln Grill has gone to that great diner in the sky.

Let us set the scene for the birth of the loco moco, as described by Walter. Forget about jet airplanes and computers. This was in the era symbolized by a sweat box called Klum Gym on the University of Hawai'i-Manoa campus, where air conditioning was unknown.

In Hilo, you didn't watch football on television. You played barefoot football at Ho'olulu Park, where there was a wooden grandstand, with cold showers underneath for the teams. Barefoot football is a Hawai'i phenomenon. In Honolulu, Kaka'ako had a team, Kalihi had a team, Palolo had a team, Kam IV Road had a team.

The rules were incomprehensible by today's standards. High school linemen then weighed up to 295 pounds. The maximum limit for barefoot football was 135. You weighed more, you didn't play. There was no limit to age. Walter said a team from Maui on which the father played quarterback and the son played center came to Hilo.

Walter, 114 pounds dripping wet, played for the Lincoln Wreckers, who hung out at Lincoln Park when they weren't hanging out at the Lincoln Grill. These kids were intermediate-school age.

The Lincoln Grill was run by Nancy and Richard Inou-ye. He cooked and she waited tables. Richard had a closet in back with a car seat, table and stool. That's where he played hanafuda with his buddies while Nancy tried to cope with the kids in front.

One day, she complained to the gang, "You guys don't buy anything, just make mess."

They answered, "Hey, why not make something we can afford?"

"Like what?"

"Like hamburger, rice and gravy."

So Nancy got saimin bowls and filled them with hamburger, rice and gravy. Then she went to the wall where she wrote the menu on a piece of butcher paper. "Richard, what do we call this dish?" she said.

"The kids are crazy. Call it loco moco."

And so loco moco was born.

Walter said the egg came later.

Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.