SPAM: Food of My Youth

The SPAM (it’s a bánh mì with SPAM)

SPAM: chopped pork and ham in a can. It’s probably not something you ever expected to read about on this blog, or many other food blogs, to be fair but hold your horses right there reader, because I’ve a few things I want to say about it. Let’s take some time to enter the realms of guilty pleasure, to put aside all thoughts of pork as you generally know it and (if your family was anything like mine), to cast your minds back towards the flavours of childhood.

Maybe you are turning up your nose right now, before wistfully reminiscing about the sophisticated little you tugging on your granny’s starched apron strings while she whisked resplendent glossy meringues and taught you all the secrets of perfect pickles. Well while you did that, I was eating SPAM (actually, my nan made stellar pickles and my parents are great cooks but that’s not the point); for me and my childish palate, highlights were salty chopped pig from a tin, and Mr. Brain’s faggots.

As I got older I turned my back on SPAM, deciding I’d grown out of it; I was embarrassed to admit it had ever passed my lips. It was like ditching an old mate because you moved up to big school and decided they’re not good enough to fit in with the cool kids. Harsh. It’s only in recent years I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s OK to eat something and damn well enjoy it once in a while, even if you know deep down it’s pretty wrong.

SPAM is meat in a can; let’s think about what that means. I’m aware that it doesn’t contain the finest cuts of rare breed swine with a royal blood line and that what it does contain is salty as hell, conceals a significant proportion of your daily fat intake and slides out of the can with an alarming jelly-lubed slurp. There’s no denying though, that on certain days in certain ways, I’ll chomp my way down memory lane and like it.

And you know what? It’s amazing how many people share in my occasional appreciation. Simon Majumdar for example, revelled in his opportunity to judge at the SPAM cook of the year awards, while my good friend Lizzie introduced me to one of her family’s favourite ways to eat it. Su-Lin serves up a classic SPAM, egg and rice, Sunflower makes some stonking Chinese pancakes and the Hawaiians are mad for SPAM Musubi.

When the people at SPAM offered to send me a cooking set, I accepted with the enthusiasm of the ten year old me. In it were such treasures as a SPAM apron; a SPAM oven glove; two pens (appropriately embellished, obviously); a cook book; a spatula and of course, a tin of SPAM. In return for this gift, the official people have asked me to come up with a recipe. I thought about the best way to use it. It’s a luncheon meat and the only really acceptable time to eat luncheon meat for me is in either something Chinese-style or in a dish similarly spiced, funked and/or pickled…

Enter the SPAM mi (that’s a bánh mì using – you’ve guessed it – SPAM). I smothered slices with a mixture of crushed garlic, black pepper, fish sauce and sesame oil before frying until crisp and stuffing into warmed baguette piled high with familiar bánh mì garnishes. It really hit the spot.

The taste and smell of the pink fried slices transported me back in time almost instantly, but my own personal history with the mystery meat is minuscule compared to the bigger picture. World War II troops practically lived on the stuff and in Hawaii, they still do the same today, feeling sufficiently passionate to celebrate it with the annual Waikiki SPAM Jam festival. It’s even on the menu at Maccy D’s. There’s a fan club, an outrageously famous comedy sketch, a cook book and a museum. While I probably limit my own consumption to a couple of tins per year, it’s a guilty pleasure that I’m happy to embrace because let’s face it, sometimes only the saline whack of a low budget cured pork product will do.

SPAM mi

340g SPAM (can size), cut into 1cm slices
2 tablespoons coarse, crushed black pepper
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 large clove crushed garlic

Garnish

Coriander leaves
Mint leaves
Sliced red chilli
Thinly sliced red onion or spring onion
Mayonnaise
Thin, de-seeded cucumber slices
Carrot and daikon pickle (there are loads of recipes out there – it’s really about adjusting to taste. Here’s one from Viet World Kitchen).

Baguette (to stuff it all into. Apparently the best ones are made from rice flour but I’ve never found one so I just use a normal one and scoop out a bit of the insides if it’s really dense).

For the SPAM, mix the pepper, fish sauce, sesame oil and garlic together well then rub over the SPAM slices and allow to marinate for an hour. After this time, fry the slices in a small amount of vegetable oil until golden and crisp on both sides. Drain on kitchen paper.

To build, lightly warm your baguette in the oven and then smear on the mayo, add the SPAM and all your other ingredients as desired.

Category: Guilty Pleasures, Meat, Sandwiches | Tags: , , , , , 18 comments »

18 Responses to “SPAM: Food of My Youth”

  1. Su-Lin

    This sounds like a winner! :D What a great ingredient in banh mi – it’s not that far off from some of the Vietnamese sausages.

  2. Lizzie

    Brilliant brilliant brilliant. I LOVE Spamand I am unashamed. That looks like a cracking recipe.

    The South East Asians love it too, it’s always available as noodle toppings in the cafes. Embrace the SPAM (not literally though – can you imagine?)

  3. Helen

    I remember having to force it down at school, how I hated it. Now if someone made me a corned beef fritter or hash I would be delighted. YOur baguette does look lovely however!

    it was very interesting watching Heston cook with it for his 1970s feast.

  4. Gourmet Chick

    I have too many bad memories of spam, I am really not sure if I could go there – but you do make it look as appetising as it could be

  5. Trissa

    I can’t say I ate a lot of spam while growing up – my Mom thought it was toxic but I’ll say this – my husband will love this!

  6. James

    Spam spam spam spam spam spam spam spam….. ahhhhhh comfort food.

    Recently rejuvinated my liking for it too. Gran would cook it for breakfast with fry up – traditional yorkshire fare. Other grandmother would make it into luncheon meat pie – minced spam & onion & garden sage inside Aunt Margaret’s cousin’s pastry. Always requested for any birthday/ anniversary etc & babtism party too – just so moreish. Had both versions in the last month – nostalgic food keeps the memories alive.

    Can’t wait to see this recipe/ photo in an advertising campaign……

  7. Katrina

    wow that actually looks and sounds appealing! I will admit I’ve never even tried Spam but if I ever find a can of Spam in my pantry, I’m coming back to this recipe and trying it right quick

  8. Dave

    Ahhhhhh spam, a childhood favourite …..

    Haven’t eaten it since I was about 10. I wonder how it would taste now ..

  9. gastrogeek

    Helen I applaud you. When I was at Uni living in halls and that, I spent a year wondering what the strange smell in our shared kitchen was, only to discover that some cretin had deep fried an entire tin shaped piece of spam and inexplicably hidden it down the back of a radiator. I therefore appreciate what you’ve done here, it’s gone a long way towards restoring my relationship with this completely haram tinned “meat”.

  10. Sharmila

    I never really ate Spam as a child (veggie Indian mother strikes again), but I have always had a lot of goodwill towards it. If all those East and South East Asians like it, it can’t be wrong, right?

    My boyfriend also has a lot of time for Spam, having previously gone out with a girl from Singapore. We are now both Spam admirers.

  11. Caitlin @ Roaming Tales

    I think it’s all about taste memory. If you grew up with spam I can understand the nostalgia factor and how it might be a comfort food.

    If you didn’t grow up with it, then I can assure you that it tastes absolutely foul and has no redeeming features whatsoever. I never had spam as a child. I’ve only had it once as an adult and I never will again. Sorry!

    Then again, I love vegemite. I’m sure that’s a taste an adult could never acquire (unless they grew up with something similar like marmite). It’s all about taste memory. Though, unlike spam, vegemite is actually good for you too!

  12. Katie

    I love pork products, but I’m afraid I have to draw the line at Spam. Completely foul and greasy… your blinged up version looks amazing but I don’t think I’ll be giving that one a whirl.

  13. hengki b.p.

    it looks very tastefully. I will try. For to find out porkham in my country is very hard, do you think I can replace porkham with smoked beef?

  14. Jeanne @ CookSister!

    LOL – we were just talking over the weekend about how lunch on a school day for kids in South Africa was often scrambled eggs and fried polony slices (polony being a luncheon meat not a million miles from Spam I suspect…). We thought it was the height of deliciousness and sophistication, up there with cubes of cheese and chunks or cerise Vienna sausages on cocktail sticks ;-)

  15. Helen

    Hengki – Try it!

  16. nick baines

    I haven’t had Spam in years. Was fed far too much at a young age and I try to put it to the back of my memory. You have made it look incredibly apetising and I might, just might be tempted to go back to a tin.

  17. bella smyth

    get a tin of spam
    1 onion
    2oz grated cheese
    1 egg
    bread crumbs

    sqish with a fork the spam chopped onion and cheese,
    rool in to balls
    roll in egg and breadcrums
    fry till golden yummy

    can also use any veg ect :)

  18. alice

    oh mine…this is a yummy recipe, I love spam!


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