Monday, May 11, 2009

The Hawaiian Love Affair with SPAM

Hawaiians absolutely love SPAM. And mainlanders, when they learn this surprising fact, always react with confusion and funny looks. I mean, really now, who eats SPAM?

Well, Hawaiians do. With a vengeance:

1) Citizens of Hawaii consume more SPAM per capita than any other state in the US.
2) SPAM is a legacy of GI rations from World War II. The canned meat found its way into the diets of local Hawaiians during and after the war, thanks to SPAM's low cost and the fact that it can be shipped long distances without refrigeration.
3) SPAM also became popular throughout many countries and territories throughout the Pacific, including Guam, the Mariana Islands, the Phillippines and even Korea.

4) SPAM is on the menus of both Burger King and McDonald's in Hawaii.
5) One of the more common ways to eat SPAM in Hawaii, Korea and the Philippines is
SPAM musubi: a slab of spam over rice, held together with a seaweed wrap.

Not only do Hawaiians love SPAM, but each year, Honolulu's Waikiki district hosts an annual street fair dedicated to SPAM. It takes place at the end of April and it celebrates Hawaiian culture, music and food. It's one of Waikiki's most popular community events.

All of the restaurants in the area serve SPAM-inspired foods, which get gobbled up by hungry tourists and locals...

...and there were temporary stages set up on each end of the festival, featuring dozens of performers showing off traditional and modern Hawaiian music and dance.

Yes, that's right, this beautiful hula dancer is wearing a SPAM hat on her head.

If you're not from here, it can be difficult to understand the love affair Hawaii has with SPAM. The other day we were trying to explain SPAM Jam to some Italian friends, who had asked us, "why would anyone host a street festival about unwanted email?" And in a preposterous twist of fate, a vegetarian friend was visiting us during this year's SPAM Jam. "What exactly is SPAM?" she asked us.

It is a bit difficult to explain isn't it? It's meat, sort of. It's pork, I guess. And it comes in a can. It's really salty. And they write haikus and Monty Python skits about it. Naturally, she wanted to see this festival for herself.

There's only one state in the Union that would have a festival dedicated to SPAM without a trace of self-consciousness or irony. And that, in a nutshell, is exactly why we love Hawaii.

An alternate version of this post appears on Casual Kitchen.

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