As a first time visitor to Hawaii you may be surprised by the popularity of SPAM. Not the annoying email type spam, but the odd ham substance that has to be coaxed out of its can like jello from a mold. If you’re not familiar, SPAM is a trademarked canned meat product that is a mixture of pork shoulder, ham, sugar and salt.
It was first introduced to the Hawaiian islands by American soldiers during World War II when the manufacturer provided cans to American and Allied troops. Not needing refrigeration made it a portable meat that was useful food source during the war. This was especially important for places such as Hawaii that had trouble getting fresh meat. The Hawaiian natives took a liking to it and to this day it remains an integral part of the local cuisine.
Dubbed the “Hawaiian steak” you’ll find it everywhere on the islands from the menus of high-end restaurants to fast food places such as McDonald’s and Burger King. In the grocery stores it can be seen taking up entire aisles. It’s used in sandwiches, as a side at breakfast with eggs, tossed in a stir fry or with macaroni and cheese and added to soups. There’s no end to the dishes that have been created with it. The residents of Hawaii consume more Spam than anywhere else in the world, millions of cans per year!
The large Asian influence on the Hawaiian diet may be another reason SPAM is so popular. It’s similar to the salted pork used in a lot of Asian cooking. There’s even SPAM sushi! It’s one islands most popular uses of the product. It’s called SPAM Musubi, a slice of teriyaki fried SPAM placed on rice and a wrap of nori seaweed. You’ll find it everywhere including convenience stores.
Many places around the world have signature food celebrations so naturally there is Spam festival held each year in Hawaii. It’s called the SPAM Jam. It’s held in the heart of Waikiki on Kalakaua Avenue. The street is closed to vehicle traffic to allow for stages that provide an evening of free family entertainment. Vendors are set up offering various types of Spam dishes to try.