Wednesday, February 20, 2008

SPAM

After gaining popularity in the United States during World War II, SPAM, the much maligned Hormel Foods processed meat, made its way into API cuisine, most notably in Hawaii and South Korea. Although "the meat that helped [the US] win wars in the 20th century now feels dated and nearly extinct in the 21st," SPAM has become standard fare in Asian kitchens, both in the States and abroad. Hawaii alone consumes 6.7 million cans of SPAM each year--more than any other state--earning the pork-shoulder/ham product the moniker "Hawaiian steak." The tin-canned meat has become so popular in Hawaii that the fast-food giants McDonalds and Burger King have included SPAM on their menu specifically for the Aloha State.


How is it that this very All-American product, produced in Austin, Minnesota (a.k.a. SPAM Town) by the Hormel Foods Corporation has become an uniquely Asian phenomenon? Web-research reveals that much of SPAMs popularity is seen in relation to its connection to the Asian/Asian American community. UrbanDictionary.com, a user-submission based colloquial language reference website, defines SPAM as "South Pacific Asian Meat." On 8bitjoystick.com, a blogger suggests that SPAM has become popular in API cuisine because it "reminds me of Tofu made of meat."

Interestingly, SPAMs inclusion in the API diet often shows no tie to the meat's American origin and instead is often incorporated into dishes in a specifically "Asian" manner. In Hawaii, SPAM is popularly used to make SPAM musubi, a Japanese inspired onigiri-like dish. SPAM entered South Korean cuisine via the Korean War and was often used as a cheap source of protein in more traditional soups and stews, creating such still-popular dishes as budae jjigae (also known as Johnson Tang, after US President Lyndon B. Johnson).

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