Spam musubi, a staple of Hawaii and other Polynesian islands, is a mix of expat influences, namely Japan and the midwestern U.S.
Let’s start with Japan: in 1868, Japanese workers began arriving in Hawaii to work the sugar cane fields (land that had been stolen through trickery by robber barons from native Hawaiians; don’t get me started); by 1924 there were about 200,000 Japanese immigrants working in Hawaii.
Most of them came from the Hiroshima region in the southeast, where the word for “balls of rice with stuff in it” was omusubi. (In other parts of Japan – and now the world – they’re called onigiri.) Omusubi was a popular homemade snack in Hawaii.
During WWII, the U.S. began sending ever-larger shipments of canned food to the islands, to sell to both soldiers and locals. Spam (which is a portmanteau of “spiced” and “ham”) became wildly popular, as it was the only meat available to a whole lot of people.
And it has remained popular: It’s even available at McDonald’s throughout the Pacific Islands. It’s not known who first put Spam to rice to nori, but here is what we do know:
- It’s only considered sushi if the rice is vinegared and sugared; musubi rice often is not.
- You will find Saran-wrapped Spam musubis sitting by the register of every gas station and convenience store in Hawaii.
- You’ll love it!
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