Tuesday, January 25, 2011

SPAMtacular - A Word on SPAM in Hawaii

This week, we’re going to talk SPAM.  Not the spam that promises miracle diets, free iPads, and “natural male enhancement,” SPAM, the Hormel-brand luncheon meat product (yes, Hormel insists that you spell it in all capitals).

You may have heard that people from Hawaii have an unusual predilection for SPAM and dismissed it as a silly stereotype, but if there’s one generalization about locals that hits the mark, this is it: we love our SPAM.

“Eww” would be a succinct summary of the reactions I get from mainlanders, who, from what I gather, associate SPAM with poverty, wartime rationing, and school lunch “mystery meat.”  Locals, on the other hand, typically view SPAM as a comfort food that harkens back to a simpler time, perhaps fondly recalling family dinners and field trip home lunches enjoyed with SPAM.

Stir-fried SPAM and green beans.  Simple and delicious!
By the numbers, Hawaii consumes around 7 million cans of SPAM (that’s nearly 6 cans per resident) every year, more than any other state in the U.S.!  Just ask McDonald’s or Burger King, both of which offer SPAM based dishes on their permanent menus!

So what’s actually in SPAM?  Is SPAM really an acronym for Spare Parts of American Meat?  Our friends over at The Straight Dope shed some light on some urban myths and common misconceptions (spoilers: SPAM is a mixture of ham and pork, and SPAM is short for “spiced ham”), but the real answer is: who cares?  Forget about the silly rumors, dive into the world of SPAM and let your tongue be the judge!

And what better way to learn the joys of SPAM than with the quintessential SPAM dish of choice in Hawaii: the SPAM Musubi!

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of enjoying one, a SPAM musubi consists of a hearty slab of SPAM and a generous hunk of rice wrapped in nori (Japanese-style roasted seaweed).  You may be forgiven for thinking that it vaguely resembles sushi because it borrows heavily from Japanese onigiri-style rice balls, but I can assure you that SPAM musubi is as local as you can get.  Here's a quick and easy guide to making one for yourself:

What you'll need:
-Musubi mold (can be found at Japanese market like Marukai, Nijiya Market, or Mitsuwa)
-1 can of SPAM (low sodium or lite are both fine choices if you're watching your diet)
-3 cups of cooked white rice
-1 package nori (readily available the Asian foods aisle of most supermarkets)
-Teriyaki marinade (optional)

1. Slice SPAM into slabs of desired thickness (usually 10-12 slices per can) and lightly pan fry (optional, dip each slice into teriyaki marinade beforehand for extra flavor).

2. Fill musubi mold with rice and lay cooked SPAM flat on top.

3. Remove mold and carefully wrap nori around musubi.

Makes 10-12 musubis.  Eat them fresh or make like the locals and saran-wrap them for a tasty snack on the go!

So leave your preconceptions at the door, try a musubi or two, and you might just see why locals are crazy about SPAM!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Local Food - An Introduction

Welcome to Broke Da Mouth, a blog dedicated to local (Hawaiian) cuisine and the people who eat it!

I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised on some of the finest food in the entire world.  18 years and a 6-hour flight later, I was a fledgling college student in San Diego thrust into a world where people eat chili without rice, faces scrunch up at the mere mention of Spam, and L&L passes itself as “Hawaiian Barbeque.”  My college days have been an adventure, a whirlwind of meeting new people, trying new food, and developing as an amateur cook, and I hope to use this blog to share some of the many insights, experiences, and of course, recipes I have picked up over the past few years.

So whether you’re a seasoned local, a curious mainlander, a cooking enthusiast, or just a broke, hungry college student, there’s something here for you.

You may be wondering what I mean when I refer to “locals” and “local” food, and why I seem to be avoiding the word “Hawaiian,” which brings us to lesson number one in interacting with someone from Hawaii: “Local” vs. “Hawaiian”

When talking to someone from Hawaii, “Hawaiian” always implies a direct connection to the indigenous people of Hawaii.  Thus, “Hawaiian food” should only be used to refer to a dish that originates from traditional native Hawaiian culture, and a “Hawaiian (person)” should only be used to describe someone who is ethnically Hawaiian, or of native Hawaiian descent.

Hawaiians (despite my stereotypical stock photo, please note that Hawaiians do not all dress like this, nor necessarily dance hula)
Hawaiian Food (clockwise from upper left: lau lau, squid luau, lomi salmon, poi, kalua pig)

On the other hand, the term “local” can be used more loosely to refer to anything related to the present-day cultural landscape of Hawaii.  Thus, “local food” can refer to any dish that is widely enjoyed in Hawaii and unique to the islands, regardless of where it traditionally originated from, and a “local (person)” can be used to describe anyone who has lived in Hawaii for long enough to embrace the culture.

Locals (Asian, Caucasian, doesn't matter, all born and raised in Hawaii)
Local Food (Loco Moco: sunny side up egg and hamburger patty with brown gravy over rice, a local favorite!)
Of course, Hawaiian food is a significant subset of local food, and Hawaiians are almost always also locals, but there is a distinction to be made, and it's one of those things that locals feel compelled to correct when they are mistakenly labeled Hawaiian.

Still can't quite wrap your head around the essence of "local" food?  Well then check out this list of local recipes compiled by the University of Hawaii.  You'll notice offerings from all kinds of different cultures: Hawaiian, American, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese; but you'll also see dishes that mix and match different styles, blurring the lines between ethnic traditions and creating uniquely local combinations.

So how can you identify local food if it transcends standard food categorization?  Most locals will agree that it is something that you just know from having grown up around it, but here's how I like to think about it: imagine you're in your swimwear and rubber slippers sitting in a folding chair under the shade of a banyan tree at a beach-side potluck surrounded by your closest friends and family.  If it's something that you would make at home and share with your loved ones at this little get-together, it's probably local food.

Local food is simple, down-to-earth, and is never above being served on paper plates.  It doesn't have to be flashy or colorful, nor does it have to be complex or difficult to make, it just has to taste good.  Local food is not what you would cook to impress your new girlfriend, but something you might make for your wife and children on an ordinary weekday night.  This homely and unassuming nature is the essence of local cuisine.

That's all for this week!  Whether you're licking your lips in anticipation or still trying to work out what local food is, be sure to tune in next week when we'll get down to the nuts and bolts with a highlight on a very special cornerstone of local cuisine!