Spam: a horrible, horrible Hawaiian delicacy

Peter Nowak steels his stomach in the name of research

McDonald's Spam platter is a delicacy in Hawaii. And the new star of my nightmares.

McDonald’s Spam platter is a delicacy in Hawaii. And the new star of my nightmares.

I’ve eaten a lot of crap for this blog. As a guy who wrote a book that’s one-third about how fast food has contributed to technological advancement, I’ve strangely felt it my duty to keep up on the latest developments in the field. That includes sampling a lot of weird, unique and often gross fast-food concoctions.

In Sex, Bombs and Burgers, I spend some time explaining the origin and spread of Spam – the canned meat, not the email – and its ties to food technology and the history of war. The product was invented in the 1930s by Jay Hormel of the Hormel meat empire in an effort to use up the unwanted parts of pigs. Surprisingly, this canned Franken-meat didn’t sell well – until the Second World War broke out, whereupon it became the perfect food for troops: high in calories, completely portable and virtually indestructible (and unperishable).

Spam was shipped by the ton to the Pacific Islands, where American troops ate it up. It also filtered into the general populace and has since become enshrined as local cuisine. Islanders have come up with numerous new ways of eating the canned meat – small slices are placed on top of rice in a sushi-style musubi, or it’s cooked like sausage and served along with rice and eggs in breakfast platters.

As such, they eat lots of it. In Hawaii, where I spent the past two weeks on vacation, the average person eats the equivalent of six cans a year.

Having written about all this, I felt duty-bound to try it, even though the very thought of Spam sends waves of revulsion through my belly. I haven’t had it since I was a kid and really, the idea of meat in a can still seems like one of humanity’s most unnatural inventions.

Nevertheless, earlier this week I sauntered into a McDonald’s for breakfast and boldly ordered the Spam, eggs and rice platter. The cashier didn’t bat an eye. Obviously, a lot of people do this on a regular basis.

At a glance, the tray didn’t look too dissimilar from a regular McDonald’s breakfast. The differences only became apparent upon closer inspection. The yellow, square dollop of “scrambled eggs” were normal enough, but the round scoop of sticky white rice was new. Of course, the real star of the show were the two small rectangles of cooked Spam, which could easily be mistaken for ham or sausage.

I bit into the eggs first. Yup. Standard-issue McDonald’s eggs: flavourless, with a bit of rubberiness to their texture.

The rice was next. Yup, it was rice alright. Not even Mickey D’s can screw up rice.

At last, I cut off a piece of Spam and gingerly took a bite. And then the revulsion hit.

The sensation is hard to describe. It was salty and slightly warm, with a texture sort of like squishy leather. At best, it tasted like dirty ham. Or old ham. Or just nasty, nasty ham.

I hadn’t actually noticed the smell until I bit into it. It was similarly pungent, like someone had cooked ham that had been left out on the counter for a few days. After that first bite, I was forevermore wary of that stench.

I quickly doused the rice with soya sauce and shoveled it into my mouth, hoping to kill the horror that lingered therein, followed by a large gulp of my Fanta Fruit Punch (which is awesome, by the way). The queasiness subsided somewhat.

After mentally regrouping, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I had to take another bite, if only to confirm that the first wasn’t just a fluke. I had to confirm that the cooked Spam was indeed disgusting. I steeled myself and cut off another chunk, then stabbed it with my fork and slowly raised it to my mouth.

The second bite sealed it: still horrible.

I took another nibble of the “eggs,” a few more fork fulls of the rice and then chucked the whole thing in the garbage, followed by a thorough palate cleansing via Fanta. I’m sure I’ve had worse breakfasts, but I was hard-pressed to remember any.

I understand that Spam in all its forms is an acquired taste that’s enjoyed by millions of people, but there’s simply no way I’ll ever get it. If anything, my inborn revulsion to it has only been strengthened by my Hawaiian adventure. Now, even the thought of it is enough to unnerve me. I think I’ll stick to writing about it.

The things I do for this blog…

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