The most American mid century Polynesian Pop snack is from Germany.
I only learned of Toast Hawaii a few months ago, during a bout of insomnia-driven internet browsing. Look at this thing! White bread, topped with ham and a pineapple ring, and cheese, like a proto-Hawaiian pizza. Indeed, Toast Hawaii appears to predate Hawaiian pizza by about seven years, having been brought into the world by German television chef Clemens Wilmenrod in 1955. It’s even topped with a bright red clown nose cherry! It looks All-American, but this quick-prep snack is an iconic bit of German cuisine.
I don’t speak German, so this is 20-minute look back at Clemens Wilmenrod is mostly lost on me, but it’s still a fun watch. I’m pretty sure it includes footage of him threatening to commit hara-kiri if anyone says they invented the stuffed strawberry before he did. Really! It’s the bizarro world version of Trader Vic’s “anyone who says I didn’t create this drink [the Mai Tai] is a dirty stinker.”
A week ago I finally got around to buying the ingredients to try it myself, and yesterday was the day. Here’s the deal:
- Preheat the oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
- Butter both sides of a slice of white sandwich bread, put it on the baking sheet
- Top with a slice of ham
- Top with a pineapple ring
- Sprinkle with the dessicated marjoram you have kicking around your spice cabinet that you don’t remember buying (optional)
- Top with swiss cheese
- Bake in the oven for 12 minutes
- Top with a maraschino cherry as soon as it comes out of the oven
- Guten appetit!
My thoughts, having made this exactly once:
- As I’d predicted, the bread got a little soggy. I think it’d fare better if it was pre-toasted. Research needed.
- My ham:pineapple:cheese ratio needs work. Too much pineapple. I think my ham slice was too thin, I may double up or even triple.
- The descriptions I’ve read out there say that Germans eat this with a fork and knife. I call bullshit. This is clearly garbage food. This thing is obviously meant to be eaten by teenage boys & lonely bachelors. These people would not be fussing with cutlery. Or a plate. Or marjoram. Or a cherry, they would just eat those out of the jar.
Naturally, I had to reach out to my very favorite German, who also of course happens to be a bit of a connoisseur of mid century Polynesian Pop, The Book of Tiki author Sven Kirsten:
That was one of my favorite bachelor’s dishes for a long time! The thing is to really lay the cheese on thick, it has to make strings from your biting into it, like pizza. Nothing too strong, it’s the texture more than the taste of the cheese…in a way, it is the classic couch potato food: To be true to its fast home food concept, get the bread, ham and cheese packaged in slices in the same square size, and the pineapple also sliced in the can – Voila, you can fill a whole baking pan in a couple of minutes! …but, to be honest, to get the right, thick cheese, I amended that basic concept and cut thicker strips of cheese and laid them next to each other… hmmm, I am gonna make me one tomorrow!
Sven also confirmed to me that he never bothered with the cherry or any other fussy business… maybe ketchup. Anecdotal confirmation is empty calories, terribly bad for you, but tastes so good.
UPDATE: Sven has a couple more notes:
Pre-toasting will indeed help against the sog, and actually, knife and fork make it much easier to create clean little bite-sized chunks that can cool down on the fork, and make the pineapple ring less overwhelming.
ANOTHER UPDATE!: Hold on, Sven just shared the best thing with me. This is a German song about a guy who doesn’t want to go to Hawaii, because he doesn’t want to drink tropical cocktails, he wants to drink beer. THIS IS THE BEST THING.
I leave you with this: the guy in Depeche Mode who is the only one anyone would refer to as “the guy in Depeche Mode” (Andy Fletcher) named his vanity record label Toast Hawaii because he likes the stuff so much. And now he’s a little more interesting, isn’t he?