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Classics From Hawaii, Japan Collide In Spam Sushi

Miura's finished product: Spam sushi.
Neva Grant/NPR
Miura's finished product: Spam sushi.
Hawaiian cookbook author Muriel Miura makes Spam sushi.
Neva Grant/NPR /
Hawaiian cookbook author Muriel Miura makes Spam sushi.
Miura creating a "maki" sushi roll, with sticky rice and Spam, wrapped in nori, the flat, dry seaweed wrapping.
Neva Grant/NPR /
Miura creating a "maki" sushi roll, with sticky rice and Spam, wrapped in nori, the flat, dry seaweed wrapping.

When people think of sushi, sticky rice, crab meat and seaweed wrappers might come to mind. But Spam?

This meat-in-a-can is a sushi staple for Hawaiian cookbook author Muriel Miura. In fact, Miura recently came out with a new cookbook entirely devoted to the oft-derided pork product, Hawaii Cooks with Spam.

Her ode to Spam takes foodies around the world with recipes like Spam pancit from the Philippines, a Korean dish of Spam with rice and Spam tacos.

She also has dishes imported from the mainland, including a hearty casserole of rice, garlic and hot sauce called – what else? – Spambalaya.

Tastes Like Home

More Spam per capita is sold in Hawaii than anywhere else in the United States. Grocery stores in the Aloha State cater to their customers with a wide variety of the product: bacon Spam, turkey Spam, hot and spicy.

Miura recalls when she was first introduced to the processed meat.

She was a young girl in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was bombed. During the war, the military shipped tons of Spam to Hawaii. It was cheap, kept well in the heat, and for Hawaiians, pretty soon it began to taste like home.

"This is the meat for everybody," says Miura. "It's the favorite meat source for people in Hawaii now."

Spam Sushi

Miura, who is Japanese-American, has her kitchen set up to demonstrate how she makes a maki sushi roll. Maki is sushi wrapped in a seaweed sheet, called nori. California rolls are a kind of maki that calls for crab. Miura's maki, however, uses around Spam.

"I have some steamed rice... seasoned with vinegar and sugar," says Miura. "Some homemakers add mirin, the Japanese sweet wine."

Miura covers the flat piece of nori with rice, and then coats the rice in mayonnaise. She says people in Hawaii put mayo on everything.

"And the Japanese like to have mayo with their cucumbers," she notes. Sliced cucumber is the next ingredient to go into her sushi roll, followed by spicy wasabi paste, and then, finally: "I put two strips of Spam right across," says Miura.

She rolls the ingredients together into a fat caterpillar of nori with all the ingredients inside.

Miura suggests that after slicing it up into rolls you say "Itadakimasu," which means "thank you for this meal" in Japanese.

The taste of Spam is not detectible in Miura's roll. An unwitting diner might think it was a chewy bit of avocado or maybe a very pink piece of egg.

To cleanse the palate afterward, Miura suggests a slice of pickled ginger. She says the roll can also be made with ginger inside, next to the Spam.

Spam with ginger and mirin with mayo on seaweed: They are less Japanese classics and more American hybrids.

Critics may say that Americans don't really live in a melting pot, but we sure do eat out of one.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Neva Grant