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Why is SPAM® So Popular in Hawaii?

Sliced SPAM®.
Asian style stir-fry made with SPAM® is a dish commonly served in Hawaii.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2014
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The visitor to Hawaii may be surprised or perplexed by why SPAM® is popular in Hawaii. You’ll find it in restaurants all over, and stacked high in local grocery stores. It makes its way into Asian cuisine, is served in sandwiches, and may be stir-fried with a variety of vegetables. The reasons for why SPAM® is popular in Hawaii are numerous, and some of them far-fetched. What can be gleaned is that Hawaii remains one of the largest by state consumers of SPAM®, with people eating roughly 5.6 cans of SPAM® per year on average.

The principle explanation for why SPAM® is popular in Hawaii is that is portable, durable meat that does not require any type of refrigeration. It was first introduced during WWII by American soldiers to Hawaiian natives, who quickly adopted it as an important part of their diet. In the Hawaiian islands where the weather quickly changes, and especially during wartime, the ability to have portable meat products that can be used in case of emergency was especially desirable.

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With Asian influence on Hawaiian cuisine, SPAM® is popular in Hawaii also because it goes well with numerous Asian foods. A quick stir-fry of SPAM® and veggies, or SPAM® sushi is relatively standard. It’s not that much different than the salted pork used in many Asian foods, since it is in fact pork shoulder and ham combined. Therefore it works as a good substitute for fresher and non-canned alternatives. This at least explains in part why SPAM® is popular in Hawaii.

Having worked its way into a variety of Hawaiian cuisine, it remains a mainstay of the Hawaiian culture. Early Hawaiians in the WWII era remarked on its usefulness and quickly developed recipes incorporating it. This resulted in kids who were raised eating lots of SPAM®. We all see foods in different cultures that we might not be fond of, unless we were raised eating it. If you introduce a food to a child early, chances are they’ll remain fond of it, though not every Hawaiian eats SPAM®.

Thus SPAM® is popular in Hawaii because it is so widely used, and many simply love it. For many it evokes the food of their childhood, and its uses are clearly multiple. New recipes for SPAM® are greatly welcomed, and SPAM® has worked its way into a variety of dishes. It makes for excellent breakfast, lunch or dinner food and requires minimal care. Like poi, another popular Hawaiian mainstay, not so popular in other states, SPAM® is popular in Hawaii and likely to remain so because of its common use.

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anon292785
Post 6

Just got back from Hawaii and had my picture made with multiple SPAM cans. I was fed too much SPAM as a poor child, and would not eat it now if you paid me, and no Vienna Sausage either.

anon269857
Post 4

I have a lot of relatives that grew up on the islands during World War II. According to them, Spam got it popularity during the war years when almost half the island was occupied by US military, AF, Army, Navy, USMC.

During that time. many types of food were hard to come by more than in the states from what they say. Fish was easy if you could fish or knew some good some fishermen. Chicken was the next thing you could get. Pork? That was quite a bit harder and beef, they said, was just about a no-way thing. Now with all those military personnel on the island, regular supply shipments were getting there all the time and one of the things make available to the civilians was Spam. Well, if the only real meat you're getting is in a can you start finding ways to use it. Fried spam, spam musubi, spam rolls, noodles and spam, spam sandwiches, and history is made.

After the war, a lot of people had developed a taste for the canned meat and to this day Hawaiians consider themselves the spam eating capital of the US.

anon167919
Post 3

Tried Spam Musubis (Spam on rice with nori wrap) for first time in Hawaii last year. Excellent. You get the feeling it will get you through the day - and it will. Forget the snooty folks who regard Spam with disdain. Life is short and they are the ones missing out.

anon25924
Post 2

Something missing from the article is the fact that Hawaii has NO large native mammals. Hogs that became feral were brought with the original Polynesian settlers and represented the only major meat source in the early Hawaiian diet. So it's not surprising that a canned pork product would become popular during WWII, when meat was once again a scarce commodity.

anon22676
Post 1

Poi is not as mainstream in Hawaii as you seem to believe. However, as a native of Oahu I will vouch for your credibility on Spam; adding that Spam Musubis are the preferred vehicle for Spam consumption.

Spam Mususbi = A rectangle of white rice (aprox. 3.75" x 2" x 2"), with a piece of Spam on top (usually soaked in shoyu sauce and sugar), wrapped in a large piece of nori (dried seaweed).

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