Just about everyone knows - Hawaii has a Spam problem. Now, just to be clear - most locals would define it as the opposite of a problem - more of a gift to the world. Moreover, we’re not talking about unwanted emails - we are talking about the potted meat pork product. Here are a couple of facts that you’ll probably hear your taxi driver, a tour guide, or a hotel worker say with interest:
- The state of Hawaii consumes more Spam than all the other states combined.
- Hawaii is the only state where you can get Spam, eggs, and rice for breakfast --at McDonalds!
- In Hawaii there are twelve varieties of Spam
- There is a hidden and dark Spam underworld in Hawaii.
Are they true? Let’s explore that....
Hawaii was introduced to Spam in the 1940s when it was brought by the U.S. Military to feed troops on the island of Oahu. The troops didn’t like it, but the locals - big fans of pork and ‘suffering’ from pork rationing - were crazy about it. Legend has it that Navy cooks would trade it on the black market for everything from cigarettes to prostitutes.
After the war, Hormel, based in Wisconsin noticed that they were selling more spam in Hawaii than anywhere else. They decided to make Hawaii the Spam test kitchen and introduced a wide variety of flavors including Portuguese Sausage, Siracha, Spicy Spam, Terriyaki Spam, Low Sodium Spam, Turkey Spam, Smoked Spam, Spam Tocino, Spam Chorizo, Spam with Cheese, Spam BBQ, and even Golden Honey Grail Spam and French Garlic Spam - in total there have been fifteen varieties of the ubiquitous potted meat.
There are more than 6-million cans of spam consumed annually in Hawaii. That comes out to about 5 cans per person. No other state comes even close to that.
So how do the locals eat it? Many ways. Among them - Spam, eggs, and rice (Yes, McDonalds serves it) where the Spam is sliced and fried, but by far the most popular method is the Spam Musubi - often called ‘Spam Sushi’ by visitors. A slab of rice, a slice of spam, and all wrapped in a strip of nori (seaweed). This is the working person’s quick snack in Hawaii and you will find it in 7-11 with the other fast foods.
Now, as to the dark and dangerous Spam underworld - it’s true that during the war Spam could be traded on the black market for just about anything - and to some extent that continues today. Most shops limit Spam purchases to five cans per visit in order to keep shelves full and customers returning. In 2017 and 2018, there were some major issues with shoplifters stealing Spam to sell for easy cash that could be turned into drugs or booze - so a black market still sort of exists. Many shopkeepers began putting Spam behind the counters to prevent this theft. The truth is that the stories were exaggerated by the media - but have a little bit of truth to them.
So, let’s get some Spam!