When I was a kid my mom would slice up some Spam, fry it up, and serve it piping hot to the table. My brothers and I did hot hesitate to gobble it up, nor chomp it down at family reunions in cold salads with egg and mayonnaise. (I'm from Wisconsin - home of the deep friend cheese curd and other classic high-fat dishes - where dishes like this are commonplace.)
Imagine my surprise when I found Spam in Korea, and then I read this post on The Atlantic Food Channel about Okinawaan food. To be clear, Spam is not the primary ingredient in Okinawaan food, and not in Japanese food. It is certainly not as ubiquitous as it was in the Midwestern food of my childhood, but it's presence is still somewhat shocking. Peanut-flavored tofu, sure. Bitter melon, you bet. Spam...what?
The massive American base on Okinawa along with a bevy of foreigners from everywhere else means that a variety of foods and food bits have made their way into pots and onto tables across the country with a Japanese twist. Bread - originally brought to Japan by the Portugese - and pastries are dreamy here, and often also feature red beans, fish, or green tea in some form or another. Pizza showcases corn, seafood, and mayonnaise. Curries can be found almost anywhere, and have just the right amount of zip and flavor to satisfy even the most sensitive taste bud. High-priced bags of arugula can be bought at fancy groceries alongside similarly expensive brilliant green shiso leaves and sushi.
So, maybe Spam isn't such a shocker. And I confess, I found it as tasty in Korea as I did when my Mom made it for dinner or I ate those salads. Ok, and I still like those salads. I'm from a long-line of church-potluck ladies and hearty farm folk that drink bad coffee with every meal. I'm genetically predisposed.