Spam Musubi, The "Sandwich" of Hawaii [SOURCE]
It's no secret that Spam is one of the biggest selling "meat" products in the islands of Hawaii. In fact, we've taken it and turned it into our version of a seaweed sandwich! If you haven't heard of this uniquely Hawaiian phenomenon yet, this post in the "Cooking Hawaiian-style Comfort Food" series is for you.
The History of Spam in Hawaii
The history of Spam in the Hawaiian Islands goes back to the days of World War II when army rations were apportioned out to both the soldiers serving there, as well as the locals living there. From that point in history on, it was fully accepted by the locals in Hawaii as a perfectly acceptable and edible choice for regular every day consumption.
Is "Local Food" the Same as "Hawaiian Food"?
It's important, however, to note that there is a distinct difference between "Local Food", as modern Hawaii cuisine is referred to colloquially in the islands, and "Hawaiian Food", the latter being specific to the cooking techniques of the Native Hawaiian/Polynesian people. Hawaiian Food is a part of Local Food, but Local Food is not necessarily Hawaiian Food.
However, all food are accepted, embraced and enjoyed in Hawaii!
Below is just a sampling of the different forms that spam can be found in throughout Local Food dishes in Hawaii. As you can see, we have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with eggs, gravy, rice, macaroni salad, fruits, vegetables and as a side or a main dish.
You can even order Spam, rice and eggs in McDonalds! Yes, that's how obsessed we are.
A Visual Tour of How Locals in hawaii Cook Spam
As I scoured Creative Commons and compiled these pictures for this post I found my mouth watering for all of these dishes! That's how much we Hawaii Locals are programmed to LOVE this canned product.
The Hawaiian Musubi, Where Spam is King
Probably the most common form of Spam consumption in Hawaii can be found in a tightly wrapped bundle of steamed rice, nori* and a slice of spam. This beloved little bite size delight is something we call SPAM MUSUBI.
The word musubi is a Japanese loan word to our Hawaii Pidgin English vocabulary, and refers to traditional wrapping of a seasoned rice ball with a sheet of crispy nori. Hawaii Locals have taken it the next step by throwing in there a slice of the American canned leftover meat!
Living in Hawaii, I rarely if ever ate a sandwich. For luncheons, picnics at the beach or when going hiking, Spam musubi was always our go to snack. All though it's more like a "Spam sushi", to me the Spam musubi is the quintessential "sandwich" of the Hawaiian Islands.
*Japanese-style seasoned roasted sheets of seaweed, a common childhood snack in Hawaii
Different Flavors of SPAM in Hawaii [SOURCE]
The process of making spam musubi is pretty simple, and something that many Hawaii expats have mastered due to the fact that we just can't let go of our love for this snack!
I tried to break down the ingredients and step-by-step process of how you can make spam musubi for yourself below...
1 Can Spam, Sliced and Pan-Fried
Surprisingly enough, spam itself comes in a variety of flavor choices, such as "Bacon", "Lite" or "Mild", "Garlic", "Spicy" and even a flavor profile called "Hawaii".
Typically, I would just use regular, good ol' fashioned traditional flavored Spam. Portion the block of spam out into even slices of your personally desired thickness. I like to keep mine thin for maximum crispiness.
Fry it up as it is, with no seasoning, if you want to keep the flavor simple and clean.
However, to give it a more teriyaki-style, I like to dust my spam slices with some cane sugar before frying to give it a nice sweet glaze to cut into the saltiness. When pressed into the white rice, this glaze creates a delicious teriyaki effect.
1 Package of Fresh & Crispy Nori Sheets
Nori is another one of those ingredients that come in many different flavors. In addition, there are differing sizes to choose from.
Most commonly, spam musubi makers in Hawaii use nori sheets that are the same width as the spam itself, keeping the entire ball of rice and meat uniform and held together tightly.
Additionally, thinner more narrow strips of nori, about a third the width of the spam and rice ball, can be used for a more visually appealing presentation.
Side note: The fresh nori sheets should be crispy to the touch and bright green in color. If your nori is purplish in color, or soft and pliable, then it is stale and unusable. You can try roasting it quickly over a small flame, but for all intents and purposes, your nori is a dud.
1 Pot of Steamed White Rice (Furikake^ Optional)
Steam a pot of white rice. Sounds simple enough, right? Well it can be. Or you could go for a more elaborate setup.
Some people will add a touch of sushi vinegar to their steamed white rice to give it a nice Asian inspired kick. I personally don't like the contrast in vinegar, salty and sweet that it creates, but to each his own. If adding any kind of sauce to the rice, I would normally stick to a little bit of shoyu#.
More commonly, we will add a dash (or even a huge lump) of furikake to the freshly steamed rice. The blend of bonito flakes, rock salt, nori strips and sesame seeds perfectly enhances the flavor of spam and rice, and in a small way elevates the simple 'three-ingredient" block of food to a more enjoyable experience.
1 Plastic Musubi Maker (Or Empty Spam Can)
An essential to making perfectly shaped and beautifully firm spam musubi is the a musubi maker. They are most commonly available in durable plastic.
It's a simple contraption really, an open bottom plastic box the width and length of a slice of spam, with a plastic presser to push down the rice and spam.
Simply place the box part on a sheet of nori, fill it with three layers of rice, spam and then rice again, and press it down tightly with the presser.
Remove the box while still holding the rice and spam down with the presser, and then gently peel of the presser.
If you don't have a musubi maker and you're desperate, you can always use the empty spam can to form the rice in the perfect shape to fit your nori sheet. This technique can be tricky to master, and almost never comes out looking as nice and compact as when you use a real musubi maker.
After you have your beautifully layered ball of rice and spam sitting on your sheet of crispy nori, roll the nori around the rice ball and seal the edges tightly with some fresh cold water.
And there you have it, a crispy, chewy, sweet and salty ball of spam musubi goodness!
^Japanese seasoning with bonito flakes, commonly used in local Hawaii dishes
#Hawaii Pidgin word for soy sauce, a Japanese loanword
See How Spam Musubi is Made!
Recently, I shared a video on my Facebook Page of local Maui girl and touring musician, Anuhea, as she takes a break from her US tours to stop in and make a spam musubi with the guys at Musubi TV and a chef who formerly lived and worked in Hawaii. Check it out below!
As you can see from the video alone, there is a full creative process to making this simple Hawaii treat. Making spam musubi has turned into a growing cooking art form that continues to evolve.
More and more chefs that have been influenced by Hawaiian tastebuds are beginning to explore the possibilities of how they can make full use of this simple technique that began in Japan, was adopted by Hawaii Locals, and turned into a cultural craze.
Check out these items for a killer kitchen setup:
I'm JR. I come from a long line of adventurers, some were nomadic explorers of the sea and others wandering cultivators of the earth. Ultimately, this legacy of drifters has deeply affected my view of travel. Read more...