Photo: Ron Paul
WHEN I WAS A KID, my Chinese dad used to make me instant noodles with Spam and egg on top as an after-school snack. I loved the hot and savory soup, and always saved the perfect little rectangle of bologna-tasting meat with a gelatinous glaze for last. As I grew older and discovered the foodie scene, I shunned the canned meat as the very worst kind of processed food. Admitting to liking Spam was as bad as liking Big Macs or Cheeze Whiz among my Whole Foods-shopping, organic-wine-growing foodie friends.
But now, through my travels, I’m rediscovering the joys of Hormel’s treasure in a tin can. And I’m realizing that it’s not at all stigmatized in many parts of the world. No, it’s not the healthiest thing to eat out there, and yes, you might as well shoot the sodium right into your blood stream. But a little taste of Spam can be surprisingly yummy and comforting. It’s especially popular in Asia and the Pacific Islands. Look out for these “foodie” dishes the next time you’re traveling.
1. Spam musubi
This is said to be one of Hawaii-born President Obama’s favorite dishes. It’s simply cooked rice and grilled Spam wrapped with dried seaweed — a reflection of Hawaii’s Asian and Western influences. You can find it anywhere on the islands, and it makes a very satisfying post-surf snack.
1 can of Spam
2 cups of cooked rice
2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
4 sheets of nori, cut in half
Cut Spam into eight equal pieces and fry until crisp on the outside. Add the sweet soy sauce to the pan, coat each piece, turn heat down to low. Wait until the soy sauce thickens. Place nori sheet down on a cutting board, scoop a generous amount of rice and pack it down. Add a slice of Spam and another layer of rice, packing it down. Wrap the nori around the rice and seal the edges with a bit of water.
2. Budae jigae, or Korean army stew
Food was scarce in Seoul after the Korean War. Resourceful cooks made use of surplus foods, including our very favorite meat in a can. Spam was mixed into a spicy soup flavored with kimchi and red chili paste. The dish is also called Johnson Tang, named after President Lyndon B. Johnson and tang, a word meaning soup. Have it with lots of rice and an OB beer.
3. Beer-battered Spam fries
Served at Maharlika in NYC, which specializes in Filipino cuisine, these fries have a crispy outside and a chewy, oily inside. Try them with banana sauce, the ketchup of the Philippines, and you won’t be able to stop after just one fry.
4. Goya champuru, or bitter melon and Spam stir fry
This is a recipe from Okinawa, which comprises the southernmost islands of Japan. The bitter taste of the vegetable, which originates in China, marries beautifully with the salty, fatty taste of the canned meat that became common in this area after the US military set up a base on the islands. Given that Okinawa has more people aged 100 and over than any other region in the world, maybe this dish holds the secret to longevity.
5. Spam loco moco
Popular throughout the Pacific islands, this includes rice topped with a slice of Spam and an egg, all smothered in brown gravy. Be prepared for a serious food coma.
Hot prepared gravy
Hot pepper sauce
Cut up a few pieces of Spam and fry to your liking. Fry egg (sunny-side up or over easy) in the grease left over. Assemble this dish by putting a bed of cooked rice in a large bowl, top with Spam, fried egg, and 1 to 2 ladles of hot gravy. Add hot pepper sauce, ketchup, or soy sauce to taste.
Want more Spam recipes? Find them here. Still can’t get enough of the stuff? Check out the annual Waikiki Spam Jam, during which several of Honolulu’s finest restaurants serve up some pretty creative dishes that would tempt any serious foodie. Give Spam another try. You may be surprised.