The American canned meat that’s undeniably Asian: four recipes with Spam | Australian food and drink

There are few food objects the world over as divisive as Spam, the small can of processed pork that conjures up both love or revulsion.

I’m a part of the Asian diaspora and for me, this very American product tastes like dwelling. The story of Spam in Asian communities is a shared story of resourcefulness and resilience. It’s usually troublesome to articulate to folks as they recoil in disgust, that Spam isn’t solely scrumptious however can also be seen very in a different way in our dad and mom’ dwelling international locations.

I share my love for the small, rectangular slab of canned pork with thousands and thousands of Asians and Pacific Islanders throughout the globe. The use of Spam is ingrained within the regional cuisines of the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, which can appear inconsistent with native cooking kinds, substances and strategies. So, how did this American tinned meat change into embraced by so many cuisines?

Spam and noodles, Spam and rice, Spam and eggs. Spam has a protracted historical past as a comfort product, a food ration, a luxurious merchandise and a leftover from US colonialism. It was created in 1937 by Hormel Meals as a manner of turning surplus pork shoulder into revenue, and to fill a spot available in the market for small parts of top quality deli meat with a protracted shelf life.


On the time, different firms had been utilizing waste merchandise and offcuts like pork noses to make their deli meat, so Spam’s comparative top quality and affordability made it a success with households struggling by the Nice Despair. Its lengthy shelf life and excessive protein content material additionally made it an excellent navy ration. That’s how Spam started its journey across the globe – as a wartime necessity. By the tip of the second world battle, the US authorities had purchased about 68,000 metric tonnes of it, to feed its military and as help for its allies.

Spam has a long history in Asia, where it was imported from the US and sometimes considered a luxury product because of its proximity to western culture
Spam has a protracted historical past in Asia, the place it was imported from the US and generally thought of a luxurious product due to its proximity to western tradition. {Photograph}: Alex Tai/SOPA Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

After the second world battle, Spam’s reputation waned in Europe, however remained vastly in style within the Asia-Pacific. Within the Philippines, Spam was an expensive commodity offered in retail shops at US military bases, with one tin usually costing virtually a median each day wage. Its worth and its overt “American-ness” was a big a part of its enchantment – having Spam or different imported canned items in your pantry turned a logo of affluence.

In Hong Kong, the place agricultural land (and due to this fact meat) was scarce and manufacturing was booming, cafes or cha chaan tengs cleverly mixed Chinese language cooking kinds with luxurious, imported meals like Spam, butter and cheese, creating Cantonese interpretations of western fare for manufacturing unit staff.

In Hawaii, the US navy launched Spam instead supply of protein when native folks misplaced entry to a significant a part of their weight loss program with restrictions on Japanese-American off-shore fishing in the course of the battle. It now types an intrinsic aspect of Hawaii delicacies.

The Korean battle took Spam farther east. US troopers bartered with Spam for info from native folks left hungry by wartime shortages. It was additionally smuggled out from military bases alongside with sausages, baked beans and different canned items. This era of shortage gave rise to the now quintessential budae jjigae or “military base stew”, the right amalgamation of Korean cooking and American substances.

I grew up in Singapore, consuming Spam as a part of an “economic system/curry rice” providing, with noodles or in fried rice, and at dwelling, the place my mum cooked it for us as a deal with. Spam is most scrumptious when merely fried in a pan – salty, gentle within the center, with crispy golden edges. It’s the right textural distinction. When diced and stir-fried into rice or eggs, it offers superb bursts of porky flavour. Simmered, it turns into exceedingly tender and absorbs the flavour of the broth, making it an excellent ingredient in a decadent, spicy stew.

Certain, Spam is a relic of American colonialism, nevertheless it’s additionally undeniably Asian. It’s a shining beacon of culinary innovation by hardship, and represents a fancy historical past throughout many cultures. It’s additionally completely scrumptious.

A plant-based different:

I do know encouraging the consumption of a mass-produced meat product comes with large moral and environmental points, however Asia’s love for Spam has additionally given rise to a superb plant-based luncheon meat product known as OmniPork. It options as a plant-based “Spam” in McDonald’s in Hong Kong and Macau, and is even out there in Australia. It appears and cooks identical to Spam does – so be happy to substitute it in to my favorite Spam recipes beneath.

This Korean war relic recipe is great for sharing
This Korean battle relic recipe is nice for sharing. {Photograph}: Rosheen Kaul/The Guardian

Military base stew (budae jjigae)

A wealthy, spicy relic from the Korean battle, budae jjigae is the right fusion of conventional Korean flavours with western substances. Korean stews or jjigae are usually served sharing-style on the desk over a conveyable range, however will also be cooked on the stovetop and dropped at the desk. This can be a great dish to take pleasure in with a bunch.

For this recipe, you’ll want gochujang and gochugaru, that are Korean pink pepper paste and flakes. Each could be present in properly stocked supermarkets and Asian grocers.

Prep 10 min
Cook dinner 15 min
Serves 4-6


For the stew
75g kimchi
½ can (170g) Spam,
4 cocktail frankfurt sausages or comparable, sliced
200g gentle tofu, sliced
2 spring onions, lower into 3cm lengths
2 king oyster mushrooms, cut up lengthwise
½ bunch enoki mushrooms, trimmed
500ml sizzling inventory, plus extra to prime up
1 slice American cheese
1 packet on the spot noodles
½ brown onion,
100g sliced rice truffles
1 tbsp baked beans
(optionally available)

For the sauce
3 tbsp gochugaru
2 tbsp gochujang
6 garlic cloves,
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp soju or comparable rice wine

Combine the substances for the sauce collectively in a small bowl and put aside.

Assemble the substances in a large, shallow saucepan in layers, beginning with the sliced brown onion, mushrooms, kimchi and sauce. Organize the spam, sausages, baked beans and tofu excessive, pour the inventory over the dish and deliver to a boil, lined on medium warmth. Permit to boil for four to 5 minutes.

Flip the warmth right down to a simmer, and add the rice truffles and on the spot noodles with out the flavour sachet. Take away the lid and proceed cooking. Prime with cheese and serve in particular person bowls. Add extra inventory to skinny the stew because it continues to cook dinner down.

Hong Kong-style Spam and egg macaroni soup

This east-meets-west fusion soup is fun and kid-friendly
This east-meets-west fusion soup is enjoyable and kid-friendly. {Photograph}: Rosheen Kaul/The Guardian

Macaroni soup and Spam sit amongst thick french toast, scrambled egg in pineapple buns, and dim sum as a part of Honk Kong’s distinctive breakfast providing. It’s fast and handy to arrange, kid-friendly and comforting.

Prep 10 min
Cook dinner 10 min
Serves 2

100g elbow macaroni
1cm ginger,
peeled and sliced
750ml rooster inventory
½ can (170g) Spam,
1 spring onion, sliced
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 eggs
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 bunch child bok choy, cut up lengthwise and blanched
Sesame oil, to serve

Warmth one tablespoon of vegetable oil in a medium saucepan, and stir-fry the sliced ginger till aromatic and golden (one to 2 minutes). Add the rooster inventory, soy sauce and oyster sauce and deliver to the boil. Add the macaroni and cook dinner for seven to eight minutes, following the packet directions.

Whereas the macaroni is cooking, warmth the remaining one tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and pan-fry the Spam till golden brown on each side. Take away the Spam and put aside, then fry the eggs in the identical pan.

To assemble, divide the macaroni and soup into two bowls, prime with slices of Spam, the bok choy, an egg every and sliced spring onions. Ladle extra soup excessive, sprinkle with a bit sesame oil, and serve.

Spam, potato and inexperienced chilli fritters

‘I can eat five or six in one sitting’: moreish fritters of Spam, potato, and chilli
‘I can eat 5 – 6 in a single sitting’: moreish fritters of Spam, potato, and chilli. {Photograph}: Rosheen Kaul/The Guardian

These potato fritters are enormously addictive. I can eat 5 – 6 in a single sitting earlier than the guilt kicks in. Use a very good all-rounder potato for this dish, like a desiree or dutch cream.

Prep 20 min
Cook dinner 20 min
Makes 14 fritters

1kg desiree potatoes, peeled
1 can Spam
1 egg,
½ bunch parsley, finely chopped
3 spring onions, inexperienced half solely, finely chopped
3 lengthy inexperienced chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
Salt and floor white pepper, to style
Vegetable oil, for frying

Reduce the potatoes into 3-4cm items and cook dinner in boiling water till tender.

Pressure and steam dry, mash and permit to chill briefly. Add the Spam and mash completely, then fold within the egg, spring onion, parsley and inexperienced chilli. Season with salt and white pepper to style.

In a heavy-bottom or nonstick frying pan warmth sufficient oil to succeed in 3cm in depth.

Form the combo into patties, 5cm in diameter, and place instantly and gently into the new oil. Fry for four to 5 minutes till golden brown and crisp, turning solely as soon as. Serve instantly.

Spam “sisig”

Sisig, a traditional Philippine dish with a military history, can be made easier with Spam
Sisig, a standard Philippine dish with a navy historical past, could be made simpler with Spam. {Photograph}: Rosheen Kaul/The Guardian

Sisig is a Philippine dish of crispy grilled and chopped pork (normally pig’s head and stomach) with rooster livers, in a shiny and acidic marinade.

Basic sisig options papaya, inexperienced mango, fish and different meats, however the fashionable selection took place from Filipinos cleverly repurposing extra pork from US Clark airbase in Pampanga. Conventional sisig requires a number of levels of cooking, however this recipe solely wants one. The flavourful dressing is the right match for the fatty, crispy meat. Serve on a scorching hotplate if in case you have one, with loads of steamed rice.

Prep 10 min
Cook dinner 15 min
Serves 4

2 cans (680g) Spam, lower into 2cm cube
½ pink onion, diced
2 birds eye chillies, sliced
1 inexperienced chilli, sliced
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp calamansi lime juice
, calamansi limes are generally out there on-line and from specialty grocers; for those who can’t discover them – and don’t have a pleasant Filipino neighbour to ask – this may be substituted for normal lime
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Black pepper
1 egg yolk,
optionally available

Warmth oil in a frying pan over medium warmth. Add the Spam and fry over medium-high warmth till the it’s crispy and golden.

Switch the crispy Spam right into a bowl and mix with the diced onion, chilli, fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar and season with black pepper to style. Warmth a scorching plate or pan till smoking, add a dab of butter and serve the sisig instantly on the hotplate.

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