Doesn’t matter if it’s dipped in ketchup, scrambled with eggs or fried rice, or just the meat by itself in a bento– all of it, so ono. Broke da mout’. Ask any person from the mainland if they eat it on a daily basis, and they will give you a look of disgust and exclaim, “Do I look poor to you?!” Spam is considered solely lower class food in almost every other state. Ask any Hawai‘i local if they like spam, and he will either 1) give you stink eye and assume you’re a tourist for asking the question, or 2) at some point in his answer mention how good the 7-11 spam musubis or Zip-pac are.
But why and how did only Hawaii locals end up falling head over heels in love with such a simple food?
Hawai‘i and spam first crossed paths in the 1940s, during WWII, as a food ration because the meat didn’t have to be refrigerated and had an unbelievably long shelf life. It was originally called “special army meat,” which is where the common name “Spam” comes from. Because of the huge military presence on the islands, especially O‘ahu, millions of pounds were shipped over to soldiers in a span of about four years. So many cans, in fact, that the extras made their way into local grocery stores and food shops. Guam experienced a very similar phenomenon and similar results as well.
At this point in history, the ethnic diversity of O‘ahu mainly consisted of Filipinos, Chinese, and Japanese. Each of these brought their own culturally specific ideas of incorporating spam into the creation of some ono grindz, since spam was already used in the cooking of some Asian countries. The cheap price and irresistible flavor of these foods caused spam to explode in popularity all over the island. We don’t think much of it, but our McDonald’s food chains are the only ones in America who have spam dishes on the menu, much less being among the most popular breakfast items. It’s not poor people food; it’s culinary tradition. People from the mainland don’t care for it because they don’t know how to prepare it properly. That, or they say it has too much sodium in it, or it’s too processed. But there are some equally unhealthy foods that are just as popular throughout the states, such as bologna or mayonnaise…so an argument of comparison can be hard to make.
Frying slices plain or in teriyaki sauce and eating with rice and furikake (dried seaweed seasoning) is one of the most basic ways to cook spam. And, it’s also the most delicious. The simplicity of preparing such a tasty dish highlights part of the unique culinary culture of Hawai‘i.