Originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, Rowan is a performer and theater technician committed to using art as a vehicle for social change. He has been working with Interfaith Philadelphia since January on the Crafting Community Project, using his skills as an artist to foster interfaith and intercultural understanding. Rowan selected this recipe to share, as it has been a way for him to connect with his upbringing and survive during this pandemic.
Growing up in Honolulu, Hawai’i, Spam musubi were a staple of every bake sale, picnic, and sporting event. They were sold at every convenience store or grocery deli, covered in plastic wrap and ready to be taken to the beach or picked up as an after school snack. Everyone knew of one or two aunties that made them best.
As a kid, my family would make spam musubi using a special plastic mold to shape the rice. Since I didn’t have one moving out east, I came up with this simple method instead. I’ve also seen some folks line the spam can with plastic and use that as a mold for the rice too! At its simplest, spam musubi is sautéed spam and rice wrapped in seaweed and there’s no real “wrong” way to make it.
I didn’t actually like spam as a kid, so I would often pull the spam off and give it to a friend and continue to munch on the yummy seasoned rice underneath. It wasn’t until my early 20’s when I was facing food insecurity that I began to turn to spam as a cheap, and surprisingly delicious, form of protein. Now I make spam musubi for my friends and housemates when they go out to protests--a quick and easy snack that allows me to share a taste of home with the people I love in Philly.
Spam was popularized in Hawai’i during WWII when the islands were unfortunately used as a US military base. My grandmother’s generation grew up eating Spam due to wartime food shortages. Eating Spam during difficult times reminds me of my grandparent’s resilience and the wisdom that things will always pass.
One thing to note when talking about food from Hawai’i: Hawai’i was a sovereign and internationally recognized kingdom until it was illegally overthrown by American businessmen in 1893. Only the indigenous people of Hawai’i are Hawaiian (in contrast with PA residents who are “Pennsylvanians”). All other settlers to Hawai’i, no matter how long their families have been there refer to themselves as “locals” rather than Hawaiian. Spam musubi is therefore a local dish of Hawaii and is not considered “Hawaiian” food.
Spam Musubi Recipe
- 2 cups of short grain white rice (Also called sushi rice. I get mine from Hung Vuong Market)
- 1 can of spam
- 1 tbs sugar
- 2 tbs shoyu (soy sauce/tamari)
- 1 pack sushi nori (sheets of seaweed, easily found at Hung Vuong)
- Oil for cooking (I use sesame for more flavor)
- 1 tsp garlic
- furikake (seaweed rice seasoning that I thought of as "rice sprinkles" as a kid)
1. Cook rice as directed on the package. I find that using a rice cooker works best but the stovetop method will do.
2. Mix shoyu and sugar together
3. Cut Spam into 6 equal pieces. Keep the spam can nearby.
4. Soak the Spam in the shoyu mixture for 10-15 minutes. I find putting all the ingredients into a plastic bag helpful, but use whatever container works best to make sure the spam is coated.
5. Heat a pan with about a spoonful of oil on medium heat. Add the garlic to the pan to brown if you are using it.
6. Add the slices of spam to the pan. Cook for a few minutes on each side until lightly browned.
7. Line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper. This prevents the rice from sticking to the pan.
8. Scoop the rice into one side of the pan and press to form an even 1-2 inch layer of rice. This should be the surface area of about 6 pieces of spam. If you want, you can measure with the spam can to make sure your spam will fit.
9. If you have furikake, sprinkle it over the rice to your taste.
10. Place all six pieces of spam atop the rice in a single layer.
11. Cut around the spam to form six even spam and rice units.
12. Use scissors to cut the nori sheets into thirds
13. On a surface covered in plastic wrap or parchment paper, (I usually just use the other side of my baking pan) place a cut piece of nori.
14. Using a spatula or rice scooper, take one spam-rice unit and place it atop the nori piece. Wrap the spam and rice in the nori. There is no wrong way to do this.
15. Repeat step 14 for the rest of the spam-rice units.
16. Serve and enjoy fresh or wrap individually to eat on the go!
To learn more about how recipes like Rowan’s are being shared through the Crafting Community Project, visit https://www.interfaithphiladelphia.org/cookbook.