The Guilty Pleasure: Spam Musubi Where to Get It: Your favorite Hawaiian BBQ joint Price: About $3 for two What it Really Costs: Half your day's sodium intake, and a little of your pride for the first one.
Here in the contiguous United States, Spam is widely regarded as a culinary joke, something reserved for cooking up at White Trash theme parties. There is one state where Spam is revered, not reviled: Hawaii. During World War II, fresh meat was scarce on the islands. The military shipped tons of Spam over to feed the troops, and the surplus found its way into the local diet. The locals have been hooked on it ever since.
In Hawaii, you'll find Spam on the menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. One of the most popular ways to consume it is in a musubi. At first glance, musubi looks like some kind of giant mutant sushi, only with a slice of processed pork in place of raw fish. While sushi and musubi are close cousins, they are distictly different dishes. Unlike sushi's vinegar-seasoned rice, musubi rice is plain, and musubi is usually served hot. While other variations (such as chicken katsu musubi) exist, Spam musubi is the standard.
The first time I brought a platter of Spam musubi to a party, everyone thought I was out of my ever-loving mind. People nervously eyed the pile of musubi, worried they might have to be polite and try one. It took some coercion, but a couple of people decided they might as well give it a shot. They went nuts for it. Soon, the platter was empty. Now I'm stuck making them for every social occasion.
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Why is Spam musubi so delicious? I think it's the contrasts. The griddled Spam is crispy, unctuously fatty, and more than a little salty. A brushing of teriyaki sauce brings sweetness. Rice helps temper all that fat and salt. Then, the nori (seaweed) roll brings a little bit of chew. Everything comes together much better than it has any right to.
If you're in Hawaii, Spam musubi is everywhere, even by the register at convenience stores. Around here, you have to go to a Hawaiian restaurant. There are a couple of good ones around. My favorites are on the east side. Aloha Kitchen is out on the south edge of Mesa, and is as authentic as Hawaiian eats get in town. Paradise Hawaiian BBQ, just off Mill in Tempe, is the easiest to reach for most of the Valley. It has the bonus of being a Korean-Hawaiian restaurant. They offer things not typical to most Hawaiian restaurants; the long rice is especially worth a try. There are a couple of Hawaiian chains around town, but L&L Hawaiian Barbecue on Happy Valley off I-17 is the only one worth a stop if you're in the area.