Toast Hawaii is to Germans as an open-faced grilled cheese is to Americans. Universally understood, you could order this little snack in any restaurant or fast-food joint (imbisse), even if it's not on the menu. The Toast Hawaii recipe can be dressed up, if you wish, by adding a maraschino cherry to the middle of the pineapple, but it is tasty plain, too.
Toast Hawaii Backstory
Toast Hawaii was popularized by German TV cook Clemens Wilmenrod (real name Carl Clemens Hahn) in the 1950s. Possibly, a precursor to Toast Hawaii was the Grilled Spamwich, a recipe published in a Spam cookbook by Hormel in 1939 and brought to West Germany by American G.I.s. Spam was not available in Germany’s grocery stores so Wilmenrod replaced it with a slice of cooked ham.
The main ingredients were canned pineapple slices and cheese slices, two ingredients common in most households, making it an easily prepared meal that seemed exotic and upscale.
It wasn't long before Toast Hawaii could be found on the menus of just about all the West German restaurants, and served garnished with a lettuce leaf on the side and accompanied by a bottle of Worcestershire sauce.
Toast Hawaii is a modern classic that has nothing to do with traditional German cuisine but is still firmly entrenched in the culinary repertoire.
Toast Hawaii is not the only instance of open-faced sandwiches (butterbrot) in German cuisine. Butterbrot takes the place of a cooked breakfast or dinner. At breakfast, they are eaten with the hands but, at dinner, most often a knife and fork are used to cut the bread. If you cut the buttered bread into pieces and eat it with the hand (often used for children), the pieces are called häppchen or stückchen.
- 1 slice white bread (or wheat sandwich bread)
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1-2 slices ham (deli)
- 1 slice pineapple (canned or fresh, drained)
- Optional: 1 pinch dried marjoram
- 2 slices cheese (To cover bread, gruyère or Emmentaler are good choices)
Lightly butter both sides of the bread and place on cookie sheet.
Layer ham, then pineapple.
Sprinkle with marjoram, if using, and top with cheese.
Bake at 350 F for 12 minutes. Serve hot. The Germans eat this with a knife and fork.
- This recipe serves as many as you want. Count on one or two open-faced sandwiches per person.
- Try this with mayonnaise instead of butter (top side only), or Thousand Island or Ranch dressing. Serve with a fried egg for breakfast, or a salad for lunch or dinner.