Sunday, April 24, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Hawaii II - Oh the things one can do with Spam

Mind you, Hawaiian cuisine is not just poi and sweet potatoes, pineapples and seafood. Hawaiian cuisine today is very much a fusion cuisine, specifically in terms of its Asian-American population (Asian-Americans are the largest demographic group in Hawaii). Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean and other influences are strong throughout the Hawaiian islands, and it has led to both delicious Pan-Asian foods but also to fusion foods, such as the uniquely Hawaiian Spam musubi, a type of maki roll with Spam in the middle.

Official Name: State of Hawaii (Hawaiian: Mokuʻāina o Hawaiʻi - Hawaii has two official languages, English and Hawaiian)
State Nickname: The Aloha State
Admission to the US: August 21, 1959 (#50 - Ah, still has that new state smell)
Capital: Honolulu (largest city)
Other Important Cities: Hilo (2nd largest), Kailua (3rd), Kāne‘ohe (4th)
Region: West, Pacific; Pacific (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Taro
Bordered by: The Pacific Ocean (all sides)
Closest land mass: California, almost 2,500 miles away
Official State Foods and Edible Things: none
Some Famous & Typical Foods: poi & taro, pork, much local seafood (such as mahi mahi), macadamia nuts, tropical and "lu’au" foods (pineapple, coconut, etc), Asian and Native Hawaiian fusion cuisines, Spam and foods made from it (musubi, Spam stir fries, etc)

Did I forget to mention, by the way, that Spam is one of the most favorite foods of Hawaii? You can even find it in the form of Spam burgers at McDonald’s. For my next recipe, I wanted something a bit more original than a Spam burger, to reflect Hawaii’s strong Asian-American identity. The Hawai'i's Spam Cookbook by Ann Kondo Corum has many recipes to encourage me. The one that caught my eye was one for deep fried Spam lumpia.

The recipe: Spam Lumpia

The Spam lumpia recipe originally comes from Vicki Perry’s “prize winning recipe”, as the authors of Hawaii’s Spam Cookbook mention. This very Hawaiian twist on the pork-filled Filipino fried favorite calls for:

* Spam (I have not bought this stuff in ages, so I didn’t realize one can would set me back about $3.50)
* kamaboko (basically, a type of Alaskan pollock fish cake from Japan. I had less trouble finding exactly what I needed than I thought I would, since I found this in the “frozen fish cake” section of the H Mart for $4)
* chopped green onion (cheap at the farmers’ market)
* garlic salt (used garlic powder instead)
* 2 eggs, beaten (had them)
* chop suey mix, parboiled (this was what gave me the most trouble. At first I looked in every non-Asian supermarket thinking this would be some Americanized Chun King horror mix. Instead, I had my best luck in the Filipino section of the H Mart. Mama Sita is a particularly popular brand of chop suey/pancit seasoning mix for about $1.50)
* lumpia wrappers (much easier to find - about $3)
* frying oil (had that)
In addition, you will need a dipping sauce, which consists of catsup, vinegar, sugar, water and cornstarch.

To make the lumpia, grate the Spam and kamaboko.

Grating the kamaboko

This in itself is pretty unusual, but you need to do this to get a proper lumpia filling.

Ain't it purty?

Merely chopping it up with a knife isn’t going to cut it.

This became a tad bit grating

Mix the rest of the lumpia ingredients, except (of course) for the lumpia wrappers themselves. This includes parboiled chop suey mix. I could not quite figure out how to partially cook a packet of powdered chop suey mix. The best I could come up with was to quickly make it into a gravy and add it to the Spam-kamaboko mixture.

Pancit gravy?

Perhaps the recipe’s author meant something different than a powdered chop suey mix.

Now added to the Spam mixture

Next, prepare the lumpia. I have never made one before so it took a little practice. This video by YouTuber clarkonair shows how to make lumpia, including how to most effectively wrap it so that it doesn’t come apart in your deep frying oil or on your plate (this is about 2:30 into the video).

If the video doesn't work, here's a walkthrough.

Put about 1 to 2 tablespoons of Spam mixture above one corner of the wrapper, then fold up the corner to cover it.

Like so

And so

Next, fold over the two adjacent sides like an envelope,

wet the final exposed corner and then roll up the rest of the lumpia towards that wet corner.

What's Tagalog for "Voilà"?

You may need to wet it a bit more after you fold it up.

Finally, you need to fry the lumpia in oil until golden brown. Make sure the oil is around 350°F, and keep it there. The lumpia should get golden brown after about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels, and dip in your dipping sauce.

Making the dipping sauce. Never got thick.

Mine never got thick at all, even though I added about two to three times the amount of cornstarch the recipe calls for.

This was not one of my favorite recipes. It’s not that I did it wrong (unless the chop suey mix really wasn’t meant to be just a powdered mix). I think it is because of all that Spam. It’s been so long since I had ever eaten it that it overwhelmed me. It even exacerbated the Crohn’s a little bit. Perhaps I might need to build up a better tolerance for Spam than I have now? Until then, my next lumpia will be the more traditional one with pork instead of Spam and kamaboko. I will say this: however this Spam lumpia agreed or disagreed with me, it did go well with the very simple Spam-pineapple fried rice I made to go along with it. It's just 1/2 a block of Spam, cut into strips, fried with pineapple chunks, green onions, an egg and about 2 cups of rice.

We’re done in the Aloha State. Next we head up to the Northwest and the country’s largest exporter of potatoes. A hui hou kakou*, and Westward Idaho! (collective groans from the readership...)

* Until we meet again, according to this website of Hawaiian phrases

ADDENDUM: A month after posting this, I told my friend Gil in Fontana, California, about my Spam lumpia experiment. Gil, who is Filipino-American, developed a sudden and palpable look on his face that I can only describe as 50% disgust and 50% horror. Honestly, I cannot say I didn't feel the same when I ate this, though it was funny to see at the time. Next time, I am making actual, honest-to-God lumpia, punyeta!


Anonymous eHow Food & Drink Editor. "How to Make Poi". eHow Food. Posted July 20, 2000.

Clark (clarkonair). "How to Make Lumpia". Posted on YouTube, December 27, 2007.

Kauai Menu
. "The History of Hawaiian Food". Kauai Menu, author unknown. Copyright 2010 Kauai Menu.

Kondo Corum, Ann. Hawai'i's Spam Cookbook. Bess Press: Honolulu, 1987. Also available on Google Books.

Mark O. ( user). "Poi Maoli (Taro Poi) Recipe". Posted February 4, 2002.

Zia, Dana (The Go Lightly Gourmet). "History of Hawaii's Cuisine". The Go Lightly Gourmet, posted March 8, 2011.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Hawaii" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Hawaii".