If you have ever visited a convenience store in Hawaii, chances are, you have probably seen this odd little concoction for about $1-$2:
This beautiful, saran-wrapped gem is known as Spam Musubi (spam moo-soo-bee).
Today, I will explain Spam Musubi, its long history, its roots in Hawaii, and its many uses.
The History of Spam Musubi
Spam Musubi has its origins in Hawaii, during World War II. During that time, Hawaii was a territory of the United States (that’s a long story in itself). When Pearl Harbor was attacked by a surprise, aerial Japanese attack, the American military already had a strong military presence in Hawaii.
As the United States entered into War against Japan, more troops, units, and rations were deployed to Hawaii. One of those important rations was the classic can of Spam. At around 1080 calories per can, canned Spam has a labeled expiration date of 3 years, but unopened, can remain edible for years after that.
As the military stockade of Spam became overabundant during and after the war, Spam was made available to civilians. Thanks to the creative culinary minds of the locals, Spam was inserted into an existing Japanese snack (Hawaii has a large ethnic Japanese population) called onigiri.
Onigiri is a Japanese snack where rice is compacted and wrapped in nori, a black seaweed paper. Some furikake seasoning is usually added as well. For flavor, salmon, pickled plum, tuna, or other foods are topped or inserted into the rice.
Here are pictures of onigiri. Notice how similar it looks to Spam Musubi:
How does Spam fit in with onigiri? It’s because like onigiri, which has a pickled or salty flavor topping, Spam has a lot of salt and flavor in it (too much salt, actually… consider the Low Sodium version). Sautee the Spam with teriyaki sauce, and you have a an amazing, local version of onigiri!
How Spam Musubi’s Popularity Grew in Hawaii
Because of how tasty Spam Musubi was and because a majority of the population was already accustomed to eating rice, Spam Musubi grew in popularity.
Today, you can find Spam Musubi everywhere in Hawaii including gas stations, supermarkets, 7-11, delis, some liquor stores, ABC stores, local-style eateries, in many locations in the business district of Honolulu, and there is an eatery in Ala Moana Shopping Center and Waikiki that primarily sells musubis (Musubi Cafe Iyasume). And despite inflation over the years, the price of Spam Musubi has stayed relatively stable ($1-$2).
If you love Spam Musubi, you can show your appreciation for it by purchasing your own “I Love Spam Musubi” T-Shirt (link)!
Uses of Spam Musubi
Well, you can eat it. That’s it.
Spam Musubi is a simple, hand-held snack food, similar to a hot dog or burrito.
No, it is not a delicacy. No, it is not some chic food fad (link). No, I have never heard anyone call it “Hawaiian steak” (link). No, there is no cult following for it (link). No, we don’t use it for special occasions like this:
Do not listen to all these articles written by people who don’t live in Hawaii exaggerating the status of Spam Musubi — it’s just a great-tasting snack, and that’s it! So, go get one, or make one yourself!
Let me know what you think of Spam Musubi, especially if you’re from the mainland USA in the comments!