One tidbit of information that seems to get around is that people in Hawaii really like SPAM. And it’s true: about 6 million cans of SPAM are eaten each year in Hawaii (source). That’s around 5 cans per person in Hawaii.
The amount of SPAM eaten here is no joke – when SPAM goes on sale for around $1.79/can, I always see empty shelves at the grocery store. Purchase limits are usually 5 cans, otherwise stores would run into constant shortages.
But why do Hawaiians like SPAM so much? Isn’t it poor man’s food? Doesn’t it taste terrible? Here are 3 reasons why Hawaiians love SPAM.
1. SPAM and Hawaii share a long history together.
After World War II, there was a large military presence in Hawaii. The government needed to feed a lot of soldiers everyday, but it was extremely difficult to get fresh meat out to Hawaii. So, the soldiers ended up being fed a lot of SPAM, which is cheap and non-perishable (SPAM is canned and has a shelf-life of approximately a bajillion years). So much SPAM was shipped to Hawaii that many cans ended up being sold in stores to locals.
What made it so popular though?
At the time, Hawaii had a huge population of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino migrant workers, all of whom had various methods of incorporating SPAM meat into their own cultural dishes. The resulting SPAM dishes were so good that the popularity of SPAM exploded in Hawaii.
2. SPAM is not poor people’s food in Hawaii.
Any mainlander will tell you that SPAM is what they eat when they’re trying to save money or have nothing else to eat. You see, SPAM is an inferior good, a product that people usually only buy if they’re poor or if the economy is bad. Because of this, there is a negative stigma attached with eating SPAM. Eating SPAM is the same as drinking 40oz malt liquor beverages or shopping for clothes at a second-hand store – people think you’re poor or low-class.
In Hawaii, SPAM is not seen in a bad light at all. Although it is a cheap and low-quality meat, SPAM is still eaten by people both rich and poor, old and young. SPAM is part of the Hawaii’s culinary tradition and it’s appeal has no boundaries in Hawaii.
3. We know how to eat SPAM properly here in Hawaii.
I remember a guy from Georgia once told me that he hated SPAM, but ate it frequently in college to save money. I asked him how he prepared it. Do you know what he told me?
“I just ate it right out of the can.”
DO NOT DO THIS. This is exactly why so many people think SPAM is horrible.
SPAM is not meant to be eaten right out of the can, just as hot dogs are not meant to eaten right out of the package. If you eat SPAM right out of the can, it will taste like a soft, salty mess. We locals, the professional SPAM eaters, all know that proper consumption of SPAM requires cooking first.
What cooking does to fat in meat
If you’ve ever gone steak shopping (who hasn’t?), you know that it’s important to find a cut of steak with a good amount of fat on it (also called “marbling”). This is because when the steak is cooking, it is the fat that keeps the meat moist, tender, and most importantly, it adds a lot of flavor into the steak.
SPAM is similar in that it has a lot of fat as well, and it is only through cooking with fire that the delicious flavor and crimson-red coating of SPAM will come out.
I hope this gives you an insight into the mind of the Hawaiian locals. If this post gave you inspiration to give SPAM another chance, try cooking it and telling us how it was!