How SPAM Won Over America’s Restaurants
According to Carolyn Wyman, author of the indispensable Spam: A Biography, there are three characteristics that consistently create hotbeds of Hormel miracle-meat obsession. The first is a current or former U.S. military presence, as the (pretty much) non-perishable product has played a huge role in feeding our armed forces. The second is extreme weather, hot or cold—ideal for that unflappable shelf life. The third: a natural predilection for pork.
Areas of the world that see these factors overlap—Hawaii, Guam, Alaska, South Korea, the Philippines—have become central hubs of international Spamdom, cultivating generation after generation of lifelong devotees (see: Spam Cognition Theory). And some of these outspoken fans, naturally, have married their unironic fondness for six-sided spiced pork shoulder with positions in the kitchen, fostering an unlikely and exuberant relationship between tinned supermarket meat and the realm of restaurants.
Originally marketed to American housewives as a no-fuss dinner alternative—”Tastes fine, saves time!” went an early radio jingle—Spam, introduced in 1937, has always held a close association with the home. And it’s the dinner table where those indoctrinated into the club early established their lasting Spam loyalty, particularly strong among the children of Asian immigrants.
“It’s something I grew up with, and the taste is homey and calming to me,” says Cristina Quackenbush, the Filipino-American chef/owner of New Orleans’ Milkfish, where diced Spam comes mixed into an egg-topped fried rice. “I make no excuses for it. I love it. It’s part of Filipino culture. I don’t eat processed food. But I do eat Spam.”