Ukuleles, Grass Skirts and…Spam?

What comes to mind when you think of quintessential Hawaiian flavors? Pineapple, coconut, maybe poi? Well, add Spam–that salty, slightly greasy, canned “meat product” from Hormel Foods of Austin, Minnesota–to the list.

Hawaiians consume more Spam per capita than any other place on the planet, with an average consumption of more than twelve cans per person every year! Hawaiian grocery stores have entire aisles stacked high with the iconic blue cans, and you may be surprised to find unique flavors that were created especially for island tastes, including Honey Spam, Spam with Bacon (seems redundant) and Hot and Spicy Spam.

can of Spam

photo courtesy of Hormel Foods

Spam first came to Hawaii after World War II, when meat was expensive and lack of refrigeration made it difficult to transport from the mainland. The canned meat, which didn’t spoil even in the heat of the tropics, had been a staple in military rations and quickly caught on with island cooks as a substitute for ham, bacon and other hard-to-get pork products.

Every year in April, Waikiki hosts the annual Waikiki Spam Jam festival. The weekend festival runs for several blocks down Waikiki’s main street, Kalakaua Avenue and includes live entertainment, Spam-themed merchandise for sale, and food booths—most featuring creative uses for the well-loved meat mélange. This year’s surprise new treat was (drumroll, please) Spam cheesecake!


Waikiki, the home of the Spam Jam Festival

The festival benefits the Hawaii Food Bank and festival-goers are urged to bring food donations (Spam’s always a favorite contribution). In 2012, the festival collected 2,200 pounds of food and almost $25,000 for the food bank.

So, if you want to throw a backyard luau, don’t forget the Spam! Here are a couple of recipes to get you going.

SPAM MUSABI (similar to sushi)
2 slices Spam Classic
3 oz. cooked short-grain rice (such as Cal-Rose)
1 Tbl. ginger sesame sauce (such as House of Tsang Sweet Ginger Sesame Sauce or Sam Choy’s Cooking Sauce)
1 sheet nori (black dried seaweed, the kind used for sushi)

a musabi press

Spam Musabi Press (available from

Fry the Spam on both sides until lightly browned and crisp
Place the rice in a musabi press or a small can.
Drizzle the sauce on top of the rice.
Cut a piece of the Spam to fit the size of the musabi press or can you are using and lay it on top of the seasoned rice.
Press down on the rice and Spam until it is a compact square.
Remove the block from the press.
Lay the nori, shiny side up, and top with the Spam mixture. Wrap it around the Spam mixture.  Cut each musabi in half (to make it bite-size).

Your Spam musabi should look something like this:

Spam musabi

Recipe and photo courtesy of Hormel Foods

 An even easier luau favorite is the HAWAIIAN SPAM-BURGER.

One 12 oz. can Spam (any flavor) cut into 4 slices
Sliced pineapple rounds (8 oz. can or fresh)
Bell pepper sliced into thick rounds
One Tbl. prepared mustard (any kind)
3 Tbl. Mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, chopped
Four slices Swiss cheese (if desired)
Four hamburger buns
Lettuce leaves

Prepare your barbeque grill for cooking burgers.
Grill the Spam, pineapple rounds and green pepper 5 to 7 minutes, or until heated and beginning to char.
Stir together the mustard, mayo and chopped garlic.
Spread mustard mixture on both sides of buns.
Fill each bun with Spam, pineapple slice, green pepper slices, and cheese. Add lettuce.

A Spam burger with pineapple ring

Recipe and photo courtesy of Hormel Foods

Have you every had any of these Hawaiian delicacies? Do you know any other unusual Spam recipes?

Posted by JoAnn Bassett. Joann is the author of the Islands of Aloha Mystery Series, cozy mysteries set in the Hawaiian Islands. She’s a wink-and-nod fan of Spam, but admits she’s got a ways to go in perfecting her musabi technique. You can follow her progress (and see lots of photos of her “research” trips to Hawaii) on her Facebook page as she writes book five of the series.

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27 thoughts on “Ukuleles, Grass Skirts and…Spam?

  1. Pingback: Review Roundup: Rising From The Ashes | Catie Rhodes

  2. Rebecca Cantrell

    I miss spam musubi here in Berlin! It took a while to acquire the taste for it, but I sure did. And, if you make it yourself with tamari sauce, it’s gluten-free. Not for everyday, but a great fast food snack for those of us who are allergic to wheat.

    Great with tamari sauce and a dash of wasabi!

    1. JoAnn

      Hi Rebecca,
      Yeah, maybe that’s why it’s so popular in Hawaii. Once you get a taste for it, it’s hard to forget! Thanks for your message. Did you notice you can get a nifty little musabi press from I wonder if they’ll ship it to Berlin?

  3. JoAnn

    Yeah, it’s amazing. But somehow it tastes “right” in Hawaii! Must be the lovely pairing of Spam with local flavors like pineapple and rice. Whatever it is, it works. Thanks for checking in, Catie!

  4. Deborah Dale

    So happy to hear from you Joanne…. Mahalo for posting; I love living on Maui and your books are fabulous… not a fan of Spam but understand it’s history here… Aloha

    1. JoAnn Bassett Post author

      Aloha Deborah, Mahalo for your comment. I REALLY appreciate your support of the “Islands of Aloha” series. It means a lot to me when locals such as yourself enjoy the books! (I’m not a big Spam fan, either, but I love how people have found creative ways to use it).

    1. JoAnn Bassett Post author

      I’ve gotta get the one of those little musabi presses! Seriously. Thanks for stopping by, Diana!

    1. JoAnn Bassett Post author

      No biggie on the name, Deborah. I’m sure people spell your name many different ways, as well. As long as it’s said with “aloha” it’s all good, right?

    1. JoAnn Bassett Post author

      Erin, Be sure to try the Spam musabi at a sushi place. It’s probably less scary than the raw fish!!

    1. JoAnn Bassett Post author

      Aloha Joanne! We’ll have to decide who’s spelling their name incorrectly one of these days, ha! ha!

    1. JoAnn Bassett Post author

      Yeah. Like I said, once you get a hankerin’ you got a hankerin’… Thanks for checking in Claudie!

  5. K.B. Owen

    JoAnn, what a fun and informative post! I had no idea Spam was so popular there. Love how Amazon finds every niche available – a Spam musabi press…wow! 😉

  6. Carolyn Ronald

    JoAnn, when I worked at Chevron we had a Spam celebration. Each department came up with a Spam recipe and sold their Spam cuisine during the lunch hour to the other employees. All proceeds went to charity. It was fascinating the various recipes people came up with. Some of them were actually pretty good.

    Looking forward to seeing you guys.

    1. JoAnn Bassett Post author

      Wow! That sounds like fun. I would love to see what people can do with canned meat! Maybe that’s an idea we can bring to QC. Anyway, looking forward to seeing you and Bill too!


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