There are few food items across the world as divisive as Spam, the small can of processed pork that inspires either love or revulsion.
I’m part of the Asian diaspora and for me, this very American product tastes like home. The story of Spam in Asian communities is a shared story of resourcefulness and resilience. It’s often difficult to articulate to people as they recoil in disgust, that Spam is not only delicious but is also viewed very differently in our parents’ home countries.
I share my love for the small, rectangular slab of canned pork with millions of Asians and Pacific Islanders across the globe. The use of Spam is ingrained in the regional cuisines of the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, which may seem inconsistent with local cooking styles, ingredients and techniques. So, how did this American tinned meat become embraced by so many cuisines?
Spam and noodles, Spam and rice, Spam and eggs. Spam has a long history as a convenience product, a food ration, a luxury item and a leftover from US colonialism. It was created in 1937 by Hormel Foods as a way of turning surplus pork shoulder into profit, and to fill a gap in the market for small portions of high quality deli meat with a long shelf life.
At the time, other companies were using waste products and offcuts like pork noses to make their deli meat, so Spam’s comparative high quality and affordability made it a hit with families struggling through the Great Depression. Its long shelf life and high protein content also made it an ideal military ration. That’s how Spam began its journey around the globe – as a wartime necessity. By the end of the second world war, the US government had bought about 68,000 metric tonnes of it, to feed its army and as aid for its allies.
After the second world war, Spam’s