I went to the supermarket to buy a can of Spam. The canned meat section was pretty tidy except for where the Spam was. It was unruly and about half empty. I was flummoxed, not so much by the run on Spam, but by the variety of it. The last time I used Spam was in the mid-1990s, as a joke appetizer for a Spam-loving friend’s birthday: I made Spam turnovers and he and his Beverly Hills hairdresser pals loved them.
Since then I’d missed out on all the changes in the world of Spam. It is nowadays super varied to smartly target different diets (low sodium or low-cal), ethnic interests (teriyaki, black pepper, and jalapeno) and porky interests (hickory/bbq or bacon). The recipes on the back of the Spam cans featured a lot of sandwiches.
The marketing people at Hormel, the parent company of Spam, know what many people want to eat, especially Asians. About half of Hormel’s production is exported overseas, especially to places where U.S. military installations are, or used to be. According to Forbes.com in a 2013 story, “Spam is a delicacy in countries like China, a staple in Korea and the Philippines and practically the national dish of Guam. As these countries put more meat on their tables, Spam represents an exotic import with a long shelf life and fewer jokes to hold back consumption.”
I bought a can of regular and black pepper Spam. My aim was to make banh mi. Spam banh mi is not a go-to rendition, despite the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. However, I’d seen a recipe in Roy Choi’s L.A. Son cookbook; his sandwich is being served in Koreatown’s Eat at Pot, a very cool new spot in Los Angeles. He was inspired by a banh mi from Little Saigon in Orange County, California. Somewhere along the line, someone tweeted a Spam and fried egg banh mi from Little Saigon. How hard could it be?