Rumaki is an hors d'oeuvre or appetizer that is traditionally made with marinated chicken livers and water chestnuts, which are wrapped in bacon, broiled and served on a toothpick. The bite-sized appetizer is generally believed to have been invented as a Polynesian-inspired dish in United States in the 1940s. During the 1950s and 1960s, rumaki was commonly served at many tiki restaurants, cocktail and holiday parties and in some Chinese-American restaurants. Over the years, a variety of recipe adaptations have been made, resulting in many different renditions of the dish.
Classic rumaki is generally made by first marinating chicken livers and water chestnuts in a tangy, sweet sauce. The components of this marinade vary depending on the recipe but often include soy or teriyaki sauce, brown sugar and spices such as ginger and garlic. Once marinated, the chicken livers and water chestnuts are then wrapped in a piece of bacon, pierced with a toothpick to hold the three items together and broiled in an oven until the bacon is crispy. After broiling, the rumaki is usually served immediately while still on the toothpick.
Most sources agree that rumaki was invented in the 1940s, though exactly who coined the initial recipes is somewhat contested. Some believe it was created by Vic Bergeron, owner of a tiki restaurant chain known as Trader Vic’s. Others claim it was invented by Donn Beach, owner of a similar restaurant chain, as the earliest written record of rumaki comes from a 1940s menu from one of his Don the Beachcomber restaurants.
Regradless, rumaki quickly became one of the popular appetizers of the 1950s and 1960s. It was served not only at the tiki culture restaurants where it began, but also by caterers and home cooks alike at cocktail parties and holiday gatherings. Around this time, rumaki even began to show up on some Chinese-American restaurant menus as an appetizer or as part of a pu pu platter.
While not as popular as it once was, rumaki can still be found today in both its traditional form and in a variety of adapted renditions. For example, some recipes now call for using shrimp or dates in place of chicken livers, or pineapples in place of water chestnuts. There are vegetarian recipes, calling for mushrooms used in place of chicken livers and soy-based bacon in place of pork bacon. While exact recipes often vary, the common themes of a flavorful marinade, crispy wrapping and ingredients held neatly together on a toothpick generally remain.