It’s a ubiquitous feature of local Hawaii life that I readily feign disgust when I’m with my Mainland friends and family—but secretly, with great shame, yearn for it with such utter passion. How could a seaweed-wrapped block of sticky white rice and a slice of luncheon meat become such an idol in the Hawaii food world? The answer is found in our cultural “mix plate” identity and plantation labor roots.
I need to be proud of those roots, that heritage. That is why today, I will put my shame aside and finally come out of the closet: “My name is Gerry. And I love Spam.”
It might be the native Honoluluan that I am that speaks these words, but I hope that others would follow me out of the closet, too, and summon the bravery to speak truth to power: “Spam is good. We should eat it. And enjoy it. For God hath sent us manna in a blue and yellow aluminum can.”
Spam, among other potted meats like corned beef and Vienna sausage links, became popular among plantation laborer households. It was affordable and lasted on the shelf for a long time. But when World War II came around, troops brought even more of the canned goodness and a new generation developed a taste for it. Local Japanese Americans took the Spam, rice, sheets of nori, and turned it into the popular convenience snack—which we still share and enjoy today.
You can find it everywhere in Hawaii—at the baseball field and the football stadium, at the bait shop and pier, at the corner grocer, the countless 7-Eleven and ABC Stores in the tourist districts. My friends and I even enjoyed it after prom. These days, there’s a whole festival devoted to Spam each April or May—the Waikiki Spam Jam.
Yes, there are places in Chicago where I can get it when I need a quick fix—like Aloha Eats in Lincoln Park. I make it at home sometimes when I’m homesick for the flavors of my Honolulu. And you can, too.
- 1 can of Spam or any luncheon meat
- 3 cups of cooked white or brown sticky sushi rice
- Soy sauce
- Brown sugar
- Vegetable oil
- 1 package of nori sheets
- Finger bowl of water
- Slice the Spam or luncheon meat to desired thickness (about 8 good slices)
- Marinate in a mixture of soy sauce and a touch of brown sugar for a couple minutes
- Sear in a frying pan with a little oil; fry to desired crispness
- Add marinade into pan and let caramelize
- Press an inch or two of cooked rice tightly into a musubi mold or use empty Spam can
- Add slice of Spam to each block of rice
- Cut sheet of nori to appropriate size (enough to wrap around rice and Spam)
- Wrap and press (use a sheet of saran wrap to help; use water to seal nori together)
- Keep in saran wrap to store or eat immediately