In a recent entry, I poked fun at a 1958 "Chinese" recipe printed by Good Housekeeping whose main ingredient was "luncheon meat." Sounds sketchy, right? How many Chinese restaurants have you known that featured fresh deli products straight from the wok?
Then a long-time floss reader, Brian, wrote in from Barcelona. "Luncheon ham (also known as Spam) is actually wildly popular with Asian people," he testified. "My Japanese grandmothers would go crazy for that...so Good Housekeeping may have been more authentic than they knew."
We quickly stuck up a trans-Atlantic correspondence about our shared love of Spam (and all the generic copycats it inspired)—and this story was born.
"¢ The epicenter of the Spam universe is Austin, Minnesota, home of a spam factory and a remarkable museum dedicated to the town's most famous product. Spam has such a worldwide following that Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia—to whom Rastafarians would dedicate many a song—once toured the plant.
"¢ Hormel invented Spam in 1937 and still makes it today. At first, the product had a less-than-charismatic name: "Hormel Spiced Ham."
"¢ If you think there's just one flavor of Spam, you're missing out on a world of flavor. There is also hickory-smoked Spam, hot and spicy Spam, garlic Spam, and—for the dieting Spam-lovers among us —"light" Spam. There's even a collector's edition Spam Golden Honey Grail.
"¢ Hormel sponsors an annual recipe contest called the "Great American Spam Championship," with cooks developing new recipes for this product. Some of the 2006 winners state by state: philly cheesesteak spamwich with garlic mayo (California), a-spam-agus risotto (Alabama), and a "romantic country salad for two" with pecan-crusted spam and sweet-and-sour dressing (Tennessee). Extra points, it seems, are given for creative puns.
"¢ In South Korea, Spam is considered an appropriate gift for a guest to give a host or vice versa—which beats the hell out of trying to choose a bottle of wine, doesn't it? In fact, Costco carries a Spam gift pack that will make a perfect holiday gift.
"¢ Hawaii consumes about 7 million cans of Spam per year, which comes out to 5 or 6 cans for every man, woman and child. That's a lot of sodium and gelatinous fat, which in turn is thought to contribute to Hawaii's obesity problem. One very popular snack item is the Spam musubi, as shown on the front of this collector's Spam can...
...[photo courtesy of pomai_05]. It's a traditional Japanese rice ball with a slice of Spam on top, wrapped in a belt of seaweed to keep that sodium-laden delicacy safely attached "“ a SEAtbelt, if you will.
"¢ Spam is so popular in some communities that it's infiltrated big chain restaurants. The McDonald's breakfast platter in Hawaii includes Spam. In San Francisco's Japan Town, Denny's serves a breakfast combo with Spam, two eggs, steamed rice, and kimchee. You can also substitute Vienna sausages for the Spam "“ or probably negotiate with the waitress to have both.