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Spam Musubi

For all the many times I’ve been to Hawaii, I never had Spam musubi there. Not sure how that’s possible, yet here we are. This was a request from my older son and now I’m hooked. Spam musubi is delish, but yes, you must get past the Spam part to fully embrace it and its incredible layering of flavors. Pan-fired, teriyaki glazed Spam, wrapped in nori seaweed with white rice and furikake, creating the perfect sweet-savory handheld treat. Spam musubi is a timeless Hawaiian tradition and a satisfying comfort food for those who have been raised with it.

The Backstory of Spam Musubi

Musubi in its simple terms is a Japanese rice ball. Also known as “onigiri” or “omusubi”, this classic comfort food is popular in Japan due to its portability. Spam musubi is Hawaii’s take on this well-known Japanese food made with local ingredients.

Barbara Funamaura, a Japanese-American woman living in Hawaii, is credited with inventing Spam musubi around the 1940s. Her creation took the beloved Japanese rice ball and used Spam (a popular ingredient in Hawaii at the time) as the musubi filling. Spam musubi quickly became a favorite dish among locals and one that reflects the unique blend of cultures on the Hawaiian islands. Spam musubi is considered an iconic part of Hawaiian food culture enjoyed by locals (and tourists) any time of any day.

Spam musubi

Not Sushi

Many people will describe Spam musubi as “Spam sushi” or “sushi made with Spam”, but that is false. While musubi may share some basic characteristics with sushi, it’s a completely different food and deserving of that recognition. Perhaps the biggest difference many don’t realize is that Spam musubi uses plain steamed rice rather than sushi rice which is made with rice seasoned with vinegar, salt, & sugar.

Spam

If you’ve spent time in Hawaii you will already know that Spam is a celebrated ingredient on all the islands. It is a popular add-on for many local Hawaiian dishes, and so popular that one can grab a Spam musubi at local airports or even order Spam & eggs on the breakfast menu at McDonald’s.

Created by Hormel Foods in 1937, Spam was sold around the world as a convenient, protein-packed food for soldiers in World War II. Spam first arrived in Hawaii with the American military after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Locals quickly became enamored of the rich, salty flavor & unbeatable convenience. Spam has been an iconic ingredient in the local Hawaiian food scene ever since.

Spam musubi

Tips + Tricks to Making Spam Musubi

  • Spam to Rice Ration: The spam should not be too thick or too thin.
  • Best Rice To Use: Either short-grain or medium-grain white rice is best for making spam musubi.  Musubi rice needs to have a light yet slightly sticky texture. Handle the rice carefully and do not flatten it.
  • Musubi Molds: Molds can be helpful but not required. Truthfully, I use a sushi roller and although a bit trickier, can work just as well.

Spam musubi

Spam

The lore behind the name Spam varies if you read about it. Hormel claimed the all-pork product was named for a combination of the words “spice” and “ham,”. The confusion has led some to speculate that Spam is an acronym for “Shoulder of Pork and Ham”. But the company gives Kenneth Daigneau, the brother of a Hormel VP, credit for naming the product.

My uncle, and his kids who relocated to Maui, embraced Spam musubi early on. Whether you love Spam it, love to hate it, or you’ve never tried it, now’s the time to give this quintessential Hawaiian classic comfort food, a try, it’s delightful and my son agrees.

About the Author

Andrea Potischman

I am a professionally trained NYC chef turned CA mom and food blogger. I post about real food, with doable ingredient lists that are family friendly.

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