I like SPAM. I didn’t know I liked it until a month ago when my husband and I were visiting The Big Island in Hawaii. Having grown up in an Italian-American family on the East Coast, it’s not something my mom bought. (We weren’t even allowed to buy jarred tomato sauce.) In fact, when I called her from Hawaii recently, here’s what she had to say:
Mom: “Hi, honey. What’d you have for breakfast this morning?”
Me: “SPAM musubi. It’s a big rice ball filled with SPAM and wrapped in Nori seaweed. It’s amazing.”
Mom: “Ham and rice?”
Me: “No, SPAM and rice.”
Mom: “Cause I know you’d never eat SPAM. Blech.”
Me: “Mom, it’s SPAM, not ham.”
Mom: “Not the pink stuff in the can? —Dramatic pause — You wouldn’t!”
Me: “I would and I did. And it’s actually really good. You’d like it.”
Mom: “I can’t believe my daughter ate SPAM.”
I hadn’t heard that kind of despondency in her voice since “Dynasty” went off the air in 1991. I understand her disbelief. SPAM has endured a lifetime of unnecessary scorn. Hormel Foods introduced Spam in 1937 as a way to use up leftover pork shoulder and ham; however, it quickly (and unfortunately) become known as “mystery meat,” paving the way for ridicule and satire, most famously illustrated in the 1970 Monty Python “Spam” skit. Since it was canned and wouldn’t spoil easily, SPAM was ideal for the military; during WWII, more than 100 million pounds of SPAM were shipped abroad to feed allied troops. Due to its geographic isolation and limited farming, Hawaii quickly became a destination for SPAM as well. Hawaiians love SPAM: Almost 4.5 million cans of SPAM are eaten per year in Hawaii, which comes out to an average of six cans per person. They eat it at home in sandwiches, stir-fries, salads, rice dishes, and more. Many McDonald’s franchises there offer SPAM burgers and scrambled eggs with SPAM, and most restaurants offer at least one item with SPAM.
Hawaiian SPAM Musubi
Here’s how I came to like and understand SPAM: my husband. Each morning on our Hawaii trip, we’d walk to the local Island Gourmet market which sells Hawaiian foods, products, and memorabilia. On the first morning he picked up a few packages of cooked foods including SPAM musubi. I didn’t want to taste it. He cajoled. I acquiesced. I experienced a revelation.
Biting into the SPAM musubi is a full-on sensory experience. The paper-tissue thin, black Nori, which tastes and smells like the ocean, contrasts deliciously with the sticky, chewy, white rice and slightly salty, very hammy SPAM. That’s right— if you like ham, you’ll like SPAM. I took a second bite, then a third, then told my husband he had to go back inside the store to buy himself another one. This SPAM musubi was mine. Turns out SPAM musubi is a wildly popular Hawaiian snack. I spotted it in many markets and even at several convenience stores in those square glass heated cases that store hot pretzels and hot dogs.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering if SPAM is just a Hawaiian thing, SPAM.com, the official SPAM website, says that it has sold over 7 billion cans. I’d say that makes the mystery meat pretty popular. Take that, Mom.