For most people, Spam is either the unwelcome clutter in their inboxes or a mystery meat. But in the Pacific Islands, it's no mystery at all. In Hawaii alone, seven million cans are sold each year, more than in any other state. Meanwhile, the world's first Spam restaurant, which opened in 2003 in the Philippines, now has multiple locations throughout the island country.
Introduced in 1937, Spam is a canned precooked meat product that was first served during World War II to U.S. soldiers and later shipped to Guam, Hawaii, Okinawa, the Philippines and other islands in the Pacific. By the end of the war, it was adopted into the local cuisines. Affordable, convenient and easily adaptable, Spam made its way into rice and noodle dishes and, of course, onto the breakfast table.
① Taste on Ellis (San Francisco, CA)
Chef Peter Ochoa grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it was on family trips to Hawaii to visit relatives where he developed a taste for Spam. The meat with eggs and Sriracha was the fuel that powered him through culinary school. At Taste on Ellis the San Francisco restaurant where he helms the kitchen, Ochoa serves a proprietary version of loco moco, a classic hangover breakfast food from Hawaii, mixing 80 percent ground beef with 20 percent Spam to form a burger, which sits atop a bed of rice with a fried egg and brown gravy. The highly seasoned Spam perfectly flavors the ground beef, Ochoa explains, and although he was initially worried people wouldn't go near the dish, it has become a hit. He admits it's not the healthiest meal, but, hey—it takes him back to his grandmother's table.
② Maharlika (New York, NY)
Nicole Ponseca, of the much-lauded Filipino restaurants Jeepney and Maharlika in NYC, has always wanted to bring Filipino food to a wider audience. While Spam is often used in the Philippines in silog, a breakfast dish with garlic rice and eggs, at Maharlika, she serves it in eggs Benigno, her take on a Benedict. The dish starts with a soft pandesal bun, which is topped with a slice of crispy Spam and poached eggs, and then smothered in a calamansi-lime Hollandaise sauce.
③ Trace (Seattle, WA)
Hawaiian-born chef Steven Ariel marries influences from the Pacific Northwest with those from his upbringing. When it comes to Spam, he says, "People either like it, or they don't." But he adds that skeptics often haven't had it the way he did growing up, in dishes like Spam musubi, a snack that resembles sushi topped with the canned meat.
Today at the restaurant, he makes a version of Spam from scratch, seasoning pork butt and fat with salt, onion powder, garlic powder and sugar; grinding and mixing it; and then cooking the pâté-like mixture slowly in a classic terrine mold. The house-made Spam goes into a breakfast sandwich with arugula, Tillamook cheddar and a fried egg, the baguette smeared with garlic aioli. The pepperiness of the arugula and the cheddar cut the richness of the Spam and oozing egg. So, Spam and eggs? Turns out it's not such a mystery after all.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco based writer, recipe developer and cookbook author who never says no to a warm donut. Follow her culinary escapades on instagram @cookingwithamy
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