Spam Fried Rice Omelets Prove That Hawaii Is Truly Paradise
Omelets in Waipahu
I go to Rocky’s Coffee Shop in Waipahu for their fried rice omelet and to check on my grandpa’s oil painting of Waipahu Depot Road circa 1930, which hangs on a wall. For the most part, Waipahu still looks like an old plantation town and the painting could depict the road stretching along the sugar mill today, but for its rickety black cars and lack of a strip club called Club Blossom. The old Hawaii-ness of Waipahu will likely change drastically once they’ve finished building the rail that will run through it from Kapolei to Ala Moana. But right now, walk outside Rocky’s, make a left at the corner, face the sugar mill smokestack, and you will be gazing at the more or less the same scene that my Grandpa Ralph painted.
The omelet consists of an improbably thin sheet of pale yellow egg wrapped around a fluffy pile of (most of the time) Spam fried rice. Sometimes, like today, the meat is diced Portuguese sausage. The waitress will perch on the wooden slats behind the counter, which look like they belong under an Ikea mattress, and ask you if you want green onions. Rocky’s has not yet made it into the era of rubber kitchen mats. The cook will season your rice with a squirt of shoyu from a cleaned and repurposed pancake syrup bottle.
The omelet is intimidatingly large. I always have to bring someone and force them share it with me, even if they want something else, just as my wispy, 65-pound, former plantation beauty queen grandma used to do to me when I’d spend long, lazy months in Waipahu between college semesters. She would order this enormous omelet, take her sliver of a share, and pile the rest on my plate, along with some of the hot cakes from Grandpa’s plate. I never got to order my own thing, and now I never want anything else from Rocky’s. You can decorate yours with shoyu, ketchup, or Tabasco, but I like mine plain.
The omelet often eludes me when I’m back in Hawaii. I’m always late or it happens to be a Sunday or a Thursday. Rocky’s is only open 4:30 am to noon and never Sundays or Thursdays.
Rocky’s also serves teri hamburgers, banana pancakes, and loco moco. This is local food, a distinction that takes on a very different meaning in Hawaii from the rest of the country. This is the stuff my father grew up on, alongside sweet rice cakes, Filipino stews, and saimin. My dad tells the same stories whenever we go to Rocky’s: how Grandma worked in the notions department of the old Arakawa store, which used to be across the street, and how Rocky’s made the best hamburger in the world when he was ten, but it cost a whole dollar, so it was much too expensive.
I’m terribly proud that Grandpa’s painting hangs on the wall at Rocky’s, although there isn’t anything besides the letters REA (for Ralph Epefanio Aranita) in a corner that indicates he painted it. He had walked into Rocky’s one day with the painting tucked under his arm. My dad claims that Grandpa lent the painting to Rocky’s, so in theory I could reclaim it. “But it belongs here, somehow,” he admits.
For several years, there was a tiny placard placed under it that seemed to announce the painting’s origins but actually read, “Grilled English Muffin, $3.50” (which seems like a lot of money for an English muffin, given that you can get a full Rocky’s breakfast with meat, two eggs and rice for $6.30. Unless your meat option is a full can of Vienna sausage, which will set you back $7.30). The one time I announced to a waitress that it was my grandpa’s painting, she responded, “What? I don’t know who gave dat. What you like eat already?”