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Spam Musubi, A Hawaii Snack!

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Spam Musubi is a famous Hawaii snack made from Spam, rice, and nori. It's portable, affordable, and tasty! It's the most popular way to eat Spam in Hawaii. 

Making spam musubi at home
Making spam musubi at home

What's Hawaii's favorite snack? Spam Musubi!

What Is Spam Musubi?

Spam Musubi is a local Hawaii snack. It's a small, handheld treat made from three key ingredients: Spam, rice, and nori.

A slice of Spam is placed on top of a block of rice, and the whole thing is wrapped in nori. It's affordable, convenient, and super onolicious.

You can find Spam Musubi everywhere in Hawaii be it 7-Eleven, supermarket/deli, or plate lunch spot. You can also make it at home.

Many Spam Musubi options at Musubi Cafe Iyasume (Oahu)

Where Did Spam Musubi Come From?

Spam got popular in Hawaii right after World War II.

The military consumed a ton of Spam during the war years. Because Hawaii had a large military presence, there was lots of Spam in Hawaii. People loved the taste, and Hawaii eventually "adopted" Spam. Spam musubi was invented by a local Japanese lady in Hawaii.

Spam, Egg, and Bacon Musubi

Why Is Spam Musubi So Popular In Hawaii?

Two key factors:

Outdoors
Hawaii is a very outdoors type of place and Spam Musubi is the ultimate portable snack. Pack it in your bag before you go hiking, bring it to the beach (toss a few musubis in your beach bag and eat after you come out of the water). Spam Musubi doesn't need to be refrigerated, it's durable, and really hits the spot after outdoors physical activity. Just don't forget to bring water or something to drink.

Families/Groups
Hawaii is family and group oriented. It's not unusual to see multiple generations living together in on home. Spam Musubi is a hit at group events like family potluck gatherings, garage parties, bake sales (alongside butter mochi!) and especially at after school soccer games. It's easy to eat and everyone enjoys it. No hassle, no frills, just really tasty.

Spam Musubi at Yama's Fish Market (Oahu)

Spam in Hawaii

Sometimes people make fun of Hawaii for loving Spam so much. As a local that splits time between Hawaii and mainland, making fun of Hawaii/Spam might seem funny, but it's not. It feels like a dated joke that only someone who doesn't "get" Hawaii would make. If you want to seem like someone who "gets" Hawaii, just act all cool and nonchalant about Spam ^_^

Spam (and Egg) Musubi at Diamond Head Market & Grill (Oahu)

We love Spam very much and it shows up seemingly everywhere in Hawaii. If not in the form of a musubi, it comes on local spam, egg, and rice breakfast plates (even McDonald's offers it), sliced in bowls of saimin, and mixed into fried rice (kimchee-Spam fried rice is super good).

Mini bento with Spam musubi from Musubi Cafe Iyasume (Oahu)

We even have an annual festival dedicated to Spam (it's called Waikiki Spam Jam and a bunch of restaurants make new/fun Spam dishes for the event). On the flip side, not everyone in Hawaii eats Spam. I don't think my grandma has ever tried Spam!

Spam Musubis from Ookini Onigiri (Oahu)

Variations on Spam Musubi

The classic is a trio combo of rice/spam/nori. But there are many super delicious variations. Here are a few:

Furikake Spam Musubi
Rolling the rice furikake before you top it with the Spam slice. Some places also mix the furikake directly with the rice, so you get furikake-speckled rice.

Half-Wrap Spam Musubi
Cut the nori sheet lengthwise into quarters (instead of half) so that either end of the musubi is exposed.

Spam-in-the-Middle Musubi 
This is when the Spam is tucked between two layers of rice (instead of being on top of the rice). You do a half layer of rice, sprinkle furikake (optional), then the Spam, more furikake, then a top layer of rice. Then wrap the whole thing in nori.

Spam Musubi (mini size) as part of a bento at Kawamoto Store (Big Island)

Mini Spam Musubi
These are just whole Spam Musubi cut into halves or quarters (often seen as part of a bento). Minis can also be made with a mini musubi mold.

Saucy Spam Musubi
Those who like crispy and saucy Spam (I do!) can pan fry Spam slices in shoyu-sugar or teriyaki sauce before making the musubi.

Spam (with egg, avocado, and unagi!) Musubi at Musubi Cafe Iyasume (Oahu)

Deluxe Spam Musubi
The kids like to call this "premium" musubi. It's when you take a Spam Musubi and add on additional layers of toppings. Common toppings include: egg omelet (made Japanese-style, and sliced thin), bacon, cheese, avocado slices, and even unagi.

Non-Spam Musubi
In supermarkets and 7-Eleven Hawai, Spam Musubi is usually stored under heaters (to keep the musubi warm). Sitting next to the Spam Musubis are many other kinds of musubi that look exactly the same, except the Spam is replaced with a different type of meat. You'll see hot dogs (cut in half, two halves atop the rice), teriyaki tofu, and teriyaki chicken.

Spam Musubi at Diamond Head Market & Grill (Oahu)

When Do You Eat Spam Musubi?

When? There are so many ways to eat Spam Musubi...

  • Eat it for breakfast! (The same way you would a breakfast burrito.)
  • Eat it for snack! Our school cafeteria would sell Spam Musubis for $1.50 and we'd get them for snacks.
  • Eat it as part of a lunch! One Spam musubi is a snack, and two is lunch.
  • Bring it to a potluck/garage party! Odds are someone is going to bring a giant tray of Spam Musubis (usually cut in half for "party-size") to that potluck party.

Spam Musubi at Yama's Fish Market (Oahu)

How Do You Eat Spam Musubi?

With your hands, please ^_^

Spam Musubi at Waiola Shave Ice (Oahu)

If you buy Spam Musubi to-go, it's usually wrapped in plastic. Use one hand to peel the plastic, and the other hand to hold and bite the Spam Musubi. Always want to keep one hand clean just in case.

Housemade Spam musubi at Mill House (Maui)

Fancy Spam Musubi

Many nicer restaurants (both in Hawaii and outside Hawaii) make their own in-house Spam! It's a pretty neat concept - it doesn't taste like the "real" Spam, but you do feel healthier/less bad for eating fancy Spam heheh.

Restaurant housemade Spam is used to make fancy Spam musubis, and is also served sliced over rice (essentially a deconstructed Spam musubi). In Hawaii, check out MW Restaurant on Oahu (pro tip: MW's to-go lunch bentos are an amazing value) and Mill House in Maui. In San Francisco, visit Trailblazer Tavern and Liholiho Yacht Club (here's my full post about Hawaii food in SF). In NYC, visit Noreetuh in the East Village.

Spam Musubi (and Chicken and Salmon Musubi!) at Diamond Head Market & Grill (Oahu)

Where To Buy Spam Musubi

This is but a short list of the many, many places in Hawaii where you can find Spam Musubi. Pay attention and you'll spot them in the most unexpected places (shave ice shops, included) ^_^

Two common styles of Spam Musubi: Spam on top and Spam in middle
Two common styles: Spam on top and Spam in middle

How To Make Spam Musubi

Ingredients

Spam Musubi mold
Spam Musubi mold

The first thing you need is a Spam Musubi mold - this is a good one.

Then you'll need the 3 key ingredients:

Important Notes

There are no exact measurements when it comes to Spam Musubi. There is no right or wrong. It's all about personal preference.

Spam cut into 8 pieces
Spam cut into 8 pieces

You can use white rice or brown rice or mix rice (aka hapa rice). Some people like big fat slices of Spam, others like skinny crispy slices.

How much rice to press in the mold? Up to you. Some days I make super thin Spam Musubi and use a 1:1 ratio of rice and Spam. Other days I use a 3:1 ratio.

Nori cut into thirds (left) and half (right)
Nori cut into thirds (left) and half (right)

There are however, general guidelines for the "classic" Spam Musubi:

  • Cook three cups of rice for each one can of Spam.
  • Cut each can of Spam into eight slices.
  • Cut each nori sheet lengthwise in half for Method #1 and into thirds for Method #2 (more on each Method below).

Cooking Instructions

Made the Spam Musubi sauce by mixing together equal parts soy sauce and sugar in a small bowl.

Pan fry (both sides) the slices of Spam for 2 minutes on medium heat. Add the soy sauce-sugar mixture. Pan fry an additional 2 minutes to let the Spam soak up the sauce. Set aside.

Next, decide which assemble style you prefer...Spam on top or Spam in the middle? Spam on top is the traditional one. But Spam in the middle is easier to eat and less prone to falling apart. Spam in the middle is the style I prefer.

Assembly Method #1 (Spam On Top)

Place the musubi mold on a cutting board. Use a rice paddle to scoop the rice and press it into the mold. Use the mold handle to really pack in the rice.

You don't want to smash the rice, but you want to press firmly enough so that the rice doesn't fall apart later.

Top the rice with a sprinkle of furikake (optional) and a slice of Spam. Remove the mold.

Wrap the nori strip (the one you cut into thirds) around the entire thing. Go eat.

Assembly Method #2 (Spam In The Middle)

Lay the nori strip (already cut in half) on a table. Put the musubi mold in the center of the nori strip.

Sprinkle furikake on top of the rice (optional).

Add the Spam.

Sprinkle more furikake on top of the Spam (optional). Add another layer of rice. Use the mold handle to press down the rice.

Remove the mold.

Use the nori to wrap around the entire Spam musubi. Ready to eat.

Neat tip: If you have trouble getting the nori to stick together at the end, use a few grains of rice as a "sticker."

Left: Spam in the middle. Right: Spam on top.
Left: Spam in the middle. Right: Spam on top.

Spam Musubi is easy (and fun) to make. It was one of the first things I learned to "cook" as a kid. In college we would have Spam Musubi making parties/get togethers. I hope you enjoy this recipe ^_^

Common Spam Musubi Questions

No musubi mold (or don't want to buy a mold)?

Almost all local households keep a musubi mold in their kitchen. If you plan to make Spam Musubi more than once, it's worth buying a musubi mold (you can also use it to make many other types of musubis).

But there is a workaround (which comes in handy when I'm making musubi at a friend's house on the mainland). Use the Spam can! Yes! Don't throw away the can when you open the Spam. Rinse the can. Then get a piece of plastic/Saran wrap and use that to line the interior of the Spam can (make sure the plastic wrap is big enough so that a few inches hang over/out the exterior of the can).

Layer in the rice/furikake/spam. Use a spoon to press down firmly so that all the layers are tightly packed into the can. Then pull the entire musubi up (along with the plastic wrap - use the excess plastic wrap to help pull it out) on to a cutting board. Remove the plastic and the nori to roll up the Spam musubi!

How to store leftovers?

Sometimes I make Spam musubi for just the two of us. We usually eat 2 musubi each for lunch. That leaves 4 musubi (assuming we used a whole can of Spam cut into 8 slices). Best solution is to make only as much as you're planning to eat. Save the other 4 Spam slices and assemble the remaining musubi tomorrow (refrigerate and microwave leftover rice). That way you get "fresh" musubi with the crisp nori sheets, hot rice, and saucy Spam.

But if there are leftovers, best thing to do is wrap them individually or store in a sealed container. When you're ready to eat, remove the wrap, and put the musubi on a plate. Drape a slightly wet paper towel over the musubi (this keeps the rice from drying out) and microwave for one minute.

We're supposed to add soy sauce AND sugar to the Spam?

As crazy as it sounds, yes! I know Spam is already sooo salty. But adding this Spam musubi sauce (aka soy sauce and sugar) is essential to getting the right Spam musubi "taste."

It's easy! Just mix together equal parts soy sauce and sugar. Then pour it over the Spam as your pan frying it. The sugar caramelizes it a bit and the soy sauce...well...the soy sauce goes so perfect with rice.

Spam Musubi Recipe

See below and enjoy ^_^

Spam Musubi

Spam Musubi

Yield: 8-10 Spam Musubis

Spam Musubi is a popular Hawaii snack made from Spam, rice, and nori. It’s portable, affordable, and super onolicious! Spam Musubi is super easy to make and open to endless adaptations (feel free to add avocado, egg, and even bacon).

Instructions

    1. Prepare the Spam. Cut the Spam into 8 slices.
    2. Prepare the sauce. Mix the soy sauce and sugar in a bowl.
    3. Cook the Spam. In a skillet over medium heat, lay the Spam slices in a single layer. Pan fry each side for a minute. Pour the soy sauce-sugar mixture over all the Spam. Let the Spam soak up the sauce. The sauce will get thicker and caramelize a bit. Pan fry an additional 2 minutes. Turn off heat and remove the Spam to a plate. You want the Spam to be both a bit crispy and saucy.
    4. Assemble the musubi. There are two popular methods. Method #1 is Spam on top. Method #2 is Spam in the middle. You can stick with one method try both and see which you prefer.
    5. Method #1 (Spam on top). Cut each nori sheet into thirds (making three long strips). Place the musubi maker in the center of the nori strip. Use a rice paddle to scoop rice directly into the mold (enough to fill the mold about 1-inch high). Use the musubi mold handle to press the rice down firmly (you don't want to smash the rice, but you want it packed together enough so that the rice doesn't fall apart when you pick up the musubi). Sprinkle furikake on the rice. Top with one slice of Spam. Remove the musubi mold and then wrap the nori around the rice.
    6. Method #2 (Spam in middle). Cut each nori sheet half (making two long strips). Place the musubi mold in the center of the nori strip. Use a rice paddle to scoop rice directly into the mold (enough to fill the mold 1/2-inch high). Use the musubi mold handle to press the rice down firmly. Sprinkle furikake on the rice. Top with one slice of Spam. Sprinkle furikake on the Spam. Top with another layer of rice. Press down with the musubi mold handle to make sure everything is tightly in place. Remove the musubi mold and then wrap the nori around the rice.
    7. Eat and enjoy ^_^
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