By Rochelle delaCruz
Everyone knows that the highest sales of Spam takes place in Hawai`i where you’ll find it in every local cupboard, picnic cooler and bento box. I once heard that Guam was catching up, but Guam …that one, single, solitary island competing with our seven inhabited… how can? Rumor has it that Spam arrived during World War II with the GIs, who also brought bubble gum and nylon stockings – all the good stuff. I know nothing about that; however, I do know that I love Spam. That jellied, salty, rubbery loaf that is the perfect compliment to sticky, bland rice. And pink to boot! Who doesn’t love Spam?
The rest of the U.S., apparently. People make fun of Hawai`i’s fondness for Spam, forgetting that it originated in Minnesota. As for the name, most people think it comes from a combination of spice and ham. My research even uncovered that some French people had a role in its development, but who’s going to believe that?
In Seattle, Spam used to be honored at least for one day out of the year. Every Fat Tuesday in February, in Pioneer Square, there was a Spam-carving contest. There we saw our beloved Spam in the shape of…a Volkswagen, the Space Needle, Elvis. Everyone had a grand time judging the “art” except me, because all I could think about were all the Spam musubis that never were and never will be. Eventually that contest fell by the wayside and now, there is nothing in Seattle that puts Spam on a pedestal.
When my nephew came up from Hilo to attend college in the Northwest, we met him at the airport. He had no suitcase but instead, one large box which we had to break down in order to get all of its contents into our car. In it, among the basic items of clothing and bedding, was an automatic rice cooker and a dozen cans of Spam.
“Eh Brudda. Get Spam in Seattle,” I informed him.
“I know Auntie, but no can buy ‘um on sale up here the way I can in Hilo.”
Hmmmm….he was right! In Hilo, Spam is often a loss leader in the markets but in Seattle, Spam never goes on sale.
My cousin once gave me her recipe for Spam:
“First you peel the can, pop the Spam in one small baking dish and stick some cloves on top. Then open one can crush pineapple and spread on the Spam. Mix some brown sugar in with the pineapple juice, a little bit of shoyu, and pour over. Cover with foil and bake 350 degrees for 20 minutes.”
`Ono. Pineapple-glazed Spam. But only for special occasions.
I was on the tenure committee for one of my colleagues at our college in Seattle. When she received her tenure, she gave members of her committee little gifts to thank us for seeing her through. She’s from California but somehow knew about Hawai`i ’s fondness for Spam, so me she presented with a small box filled with Spam: regular, lite, 8 oz, 12 oz, unsalted – every variety.
Her eyes were dancing and her lips twitching when I thanked her.
A few months later during one of our endless department meetings on curriculum design or something, the Spam giver leaned over and in a low voice, asked, “So what did you do with all that Spam?”
I looked at her quizzically. “Hah? Well, we ate ‘em. What else?”
She gasped. “You ate them? But I didn’t mean for you to EAT them. It was a joke!”
Look. Where I come from, Spam is no joke.
For an audio version of Spam, click here.
Here’s another family favorite:
SPAM Fried Rice
1 pot day-old rice
3-4 slices SPAM (half a can or more depending on amount of rice)
Harm ha (Chinese shrimp sauce- optional)
Cube the SPAM and fry in a deep pan until brown. If not enough oil comes out, then add a little more. If you like harm ha, now is the time to fry maybe a teaspoon with the SPAM for a minute (make sure your stove ventilation fan is working.) Add your cold rice and stir to heat it up. Beat eggs in a separate bowl and pour over the rice, stirring to make sure rice gets coated. Here you can add other ingredients – mushrooms are my favorite. Season with shoyu and black pepper. Chop up a bunch of green onion and add to rice. Stir and serve.
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