Spam Musubi -- Hawaii
The Folklore: To Hawaiians, Spam’s cherished stature dates back to World War II, when it was rationed out to soldiers stationed on the islands. Locals would also use rations to stock up on the spoil-proof product -- detached from the mainland, food was particularly scarce, so a can of Spam meant food on the table.
Says Hawaiian Chef Mark “Gooch” Noguchi: “Yes, it is a canned meat product that can last forever and it has a bad reputation everywhere else in the world, but to the people of Hawaii, Spam meant precious nourishment in a time of uncertainty and chaos. Thus, they prepared it with an immense amount of love.”
These days, Hawaiians go through around 6,000,000 cans annually, and the most common vessel for consumption is the Spam musubi. Reminiscent of a sushi roll, a slice of Spam is typically fried with a bit of teriyaki seasoning, then placed over rice, and wrapped with a bit of nori.
The snack, nicknamed “Hawaiian Steak,” is said to have been created by Japanese immigrant Barbara Funamura, who started selling it out of her shop, Joni-Hana, in the 1980s. The first iteration, according to her husband, was triangle-shaped to differentiate the dish from their other popular menu item, the rice-and-chorizo “musuburrito.”
The Fandom: From Joni-Hana, the snack spread all over Hawaii, from 7-Elevens to high-end restaurants. Of the 25,000 people attending Waikiki’s annual Spam Jam festival, at least half are willing to dress their own children up like Spam musubi on the regular. When then President-Elect Obama was observed taking down two on a public golf course in ‘08, reporters for dozens of publications used it as evidence that he’d retained his Hawaiian roots. “You know he's a local boy if he's eating Spam Musubi," the course’s GM, Peter K. Yamashita, told Time magazine.