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Get spammed

Where to eat a little economic stimulus

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In these days of economic woe, one breakfast meat stands ready to feed America on the cheap: Spam.

As reported in May, Spam sales have risen above the laughter as folks stretched to their budgetary limits turn to the pig in a can (at least I think that’s what it is) for relief. According to the Associated Press, food prices are increasing faster than they’ve risen since 1990, at four percent in the United States last year. Many staples are rising even faster, with white bread up 13 percent last year, bacon up seven percent and peanut butter up nine percent.

Before you pop a can open, know that Spam’s prices continue to rise as well. The average 12 oz can costs ($2.62) — a seven percent increase since this time last year. Regardless, sales pushed up 14 percent this spring, Hormel, the makers (or perpetrators) of Spam reported. Based partly on that success, Hormel plans an advertising campaign and continuation of Spam derivatives like (steady yourself) “Spam Singles.”

Spam sales are reaching across all spectrums, young and old, rich and poor, Swen Neufeldt, Hormel’s group product manager told the AP.

“We have significantly increased our household penetration,” Neufeldt says. “I think it’s a lot of folks that are coming into the brand perhaps for the first time and coming back to the brand.”

The end of the world really is upon us.

Spamming around Tacoma

This may be hard to believe, but sit-down and take-out Spam is yours for the asking in Tacoma. While not really a cheap alternative (I guess a restaurant has to make a living), I found three places and three different preparations of Spam in Pierce County, and I have the flatulence to prove it.

Café Hawaii

Tucked in a strip mall along Parkland’s portion of Pacific Avenue (14125 Pacific Ave), this small spot with a massive menu offers katsu ($7.25) for those who can’t get enough of the taste of Spam. Five thick slices of meat are breaded in the traditional Japanese method and served over rice. I burned out halfway through my meal. The slightly caustic dipping sauce did little to dampen the monotonous taste of canned pork product. While the katsu was too much, I plan, however, to return to Café Hawaii for their Pupu platters, Hawaiian hot dogs and burgers, noodles, Kalua pig and more.

Hawaiian Grill

Spam makes the Loco Moco list at this Freight House Square (2501 East D, Tacoma) joint. Considered by Spam aficionados (is that an oxymoron?) to be a “true local dish” of the islands, this plate of heart disease known at Spam Loco ($5.50) consists of sliced, grilled Spam on rice with two fried eggs and thick brown gravy smothering the evidence. Fatty, impossible to finish and a bit disturbing, I’d suggest bringing a friend and splitting the plate for a cheap $2.25 meal each. The Hawaiian Grill features a large menu of other dishes including Luau plates, turkey tails (something for another column), mahi mahi, huli huli, and more. Plus, if you need a loud Hawaiian shirt, they sell those too.

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue

A chain store with 200 locations worldwide, L&L in the Lakewood Towne Center (10417 Gravelly Lake Dr.) serves Spam Musubi ($2.25). More appetizer than meal, two slices of Spam get placed on rice and wrapped in nori. Salty with hints of the sea, it’s just the right portion for enjoying Spam (if that’s possible). All in all, I still prefer L&L’s BBQ short ribs and fries with a Hawaiian Sun fruit juice over canned meat.

Why Spam?

Hawaiian restaurants carry Spam on their menus for the same reason McDonald’s hangs on to the Filet-O-Fish — it’s tradition. Maybe cliché, but Hawaiians do love their meat in a can. My son currently dates a girl with ties to the Island. Spam is routinely served in her house (diced and stir-fired over rice).

To confirm the Hawaiian fetish, I asked April Mackie from Aloha Oasis Hawaiian Store in Tacoma (3011 Sixth Ave.) about the custom.

“Spam has been Hawaii’s most popular canned luncheon meat (how many are there?) since the curious, gelatinous, rubbery, pink pork brick was first introduced to the islands during World War II,” says Mackie. “The fact that it kept extremely well in the tropical heat with no refrigeration made it a hit with the local population. In fact, it’s hard to find a cupboard in Hawaii that doesn’t have a couple cans of Spam.”

Mackie says the Spam tradition continues through youth induction methods.

“The children of Hawaii grow up eating Spam as a staple in their diets as it is so common in so many dishes and is even served at take-out food restaurants,” Mackie adds. “Hawaii residents consume nearly seven million cans of Spam a year, an average of about six cans for every man, woman and child.”

As for her favorite preparation?

 “Our favorite way at Aloha Oasis Hawaiian Store is to eat Spam in the form of Musubi (pronounced moo-soo-bee). If there is a Nuclear disaster Spam and Twinkies would be the only remaining foods.”

I hope I’m not spared.

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