Along with slow-roasted kalua pig and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, Spam musubi just might be Hawaii’s most famous food.
What is it? It’s an island concoction with a fervent following or extreme distaste, depending on a diner’s attitude toward canned meat. Spam musubi, when made the Hawaiian way, looks like a square log of rice topped with sliced Spam and wrapped with a ribbon of dried seaweed. The flavoring is simple, usually just a teriyaki glaze, although fancier versions might come with the Japanese seasoning blend furikake or a layer of scrambled eggs.
On Saturday, it will be one of a number of dishes served at the Tacoma Buddhist Temple’s Bon Odori celebration, a folk dance festival at the Tacoma temple (read more in this story). Temple volunteers will make 300 Spam musubi Saturday. There are plenty of other foods to enjoy, too.
The origins are murky, but Lakewood resident Patti Wong, who will cook the Spam musubi at the event, said she’s read that musubi (pronounced moo-soo-bee) was created by a mom for her kids. Lore has it that the family eventually sold the musubi at a market, and from there, it became a household and restaurant staple in Hawaii.
So how exactly did Spam become such an island staple? Tacoma Buddhist Temple member June Akita offered a bit of background via email, “Spam was the standard K-ration offered to our U.S. soldiers in World War II. Since it does not need to be refrigerated and can be eaten right out of the can, it fared well on the battlefields. The Hawaiian soldiers took the idea home and that is where it has bloomed into the specialty that it is today. They say the average Hawaiian eats 12 cans of Spam a year. Hawaii is second to Guam in Spam consumption.”
At Saturday’s event, Wong said she and her crew of helpers will make the Spam musubi to order using molds to press the rice. They’ll use a teriyaki glaze, but they also will make a version without the glaze for gluten-free diners. They also will make a vegetarian version.
Plain ol’ Spam will be used Saturday, but Wong said if she’s making Spam at home, she’ll often sample some of the lesser-known Spams.
“Don’t buy the turkey – that is awful,” said Wong, who grew up in Hawaii. Black pepper is a distant second to the hot and spicy and roasted garlic varieties of Spam. Spam, she said, is not something she eats often because of the sodium and fat content, but it’s an occasional treat.
The Bon Odori festival is as much about the food as the entertainment. Also for sale will be somen noodles ($3), an unagi (eel) bowl ($8), a teriyaki bowl ($8), a chili bowl ($5) and an assortment of Japanese pastries, pies and kori (crushed, flavored ice). There also will be a beer garden for ages 21 and older.
READ MORE: Find out more about the Bon Odori festival in this story.
Tacoma Bon Odori
What: Japanese folk dance festival
When: 5-9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013
Where: Tacoma Buddhist Temple, 1717 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma
Information: tacoma bt.org, 253-627-1417
More on SPAM
Can’t make it to Saturday’s Bon Odori festival? Here’s where to buy spam musubi anytime.
Aloha Hawaiian Grill, 4227 S. Meridian Ave., Puyallup, 253-445-8008, $2
L & L Barbecue, 10417 Gravelly Lake Dr., Lakewood, 253-588-8296, $2.25