Spam Sushi

Barack Obama Likes This
Hawaiian Comfort Food

“Some of these throwback dishes were best left in the past.” — Kate Bernot

“In  Hawaii, Spam Nigiri is ubiquitous.  You can get it at any 7-11.” — Ivan Lee

I

Spam

t’s a bit like Loco Moco or a couple of other Hawaiian favorites. If you grew up eating them, you probably still crave them. Hawaiian comfort food. At least, that’s what Barack Obama did — on a trip to Hawaii after his election in 2008, he was seen enjoying Spam Sushi. [1]

Spam Sushi is not exactly sushi in the usual sense of the word. It’s basically a piece of Spam integrated with rice in a way that looks sushi-like.

You’ll see them everywhere in the Islands, often at the check-out counters in convenience stores. [2]

Legacy of the American Military: Spam is not perhaps an immediate association with materials used by Pacific Rim cooks.  But it does have a minor niche.  Wherever the American military went in the Second World War, Spam went with them.

Since then, Spam became a local food in places like Okinawa, Korea and parts of Southeast Asia where American troops went, as well as Hawaii. [3]

Spam has even been integrated into several local cuisines, notably in Hawaii, in the form of Spam Sushi, Spam Nigiri or Spam Musubi, to use its several names.

In Spam Nigiri, a grilled slice of Spam is pressed over rice in the same way a piece of tuna might be wrapped around sushi rice. We then have Spam Nigiri. A strip of nori or seaweed can then be wrapped around the whole thing, like a normal sushi presentation.. It then becomes Spam Musubi.

Spam Nigiri is popular in convenience stores in Hawaii.  You may run into it in other places —

In North America, the Mitsuwa Market chain has featured Deluxe Spam Nigiri in its sushi counters. And the supermarket’s customers rave about the fact that they can get the special molds used to make Spam Sushi at the store. [4]

In Obama’s home town of Chicago — not exactly a bastion of Hawaiian cuisine — displaced Hawaiians and people homesick for the Islands can get Spam Musubi in several places like Ivan Lee’s Aloha Eats.  In Chicago’s luxury Hotel Dana, the Restaurant Argent has featured Spam Nigiri on its menu, for $5 a serving. [5,6]

More Novel than Anything Else: Food writer Kate Bernot said, “It’s as salty as you’d expect. Unfortunately, the presentation is more novel than anything else.”

In spite of its niche status in the Pacific Rim, Spam Nigiri does have high levels of sodium and fat.  There are concerns for the health-conscious, except in small quantities. And gourmets might prefer to eat regular sushi.

But Spam and its adaptation in a sushi-like Spam  Nigiri are interesting artifacts of Fusion cooking in the Pacific Rim.  Spam Sushi, in the final analysis, can’t be judged by the normal standards of sushi.  It has to be understood in the framework of nostalgia and the familiar.

For Further Information:
[1] “Barack Obama Snacks on Hawaiian Spam Sushi,” People, December 22, 2008.-http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20248609,00.html-
[2] “Spam Musubi,” article, Wikipedia -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spam_musubi-
[3] “Cuisine of Hawaii,” article, Wikipedia. —   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisine_of_Hawaii
[4] Mitsuwa Marketplace, “They have Spam musubi,” —   http://www.foodspotting.com/reviews/73184
[5] Bill Daley, “Obama Fest,Chicago Tribune, February 16, 2009
[6 ] Kate Bernot, “”Do the time warp; Does the historic theme at new River North spot Argent deliver?” Chicago RedEye, May 18, 2012

Hawaii - Waianae Supermarket

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