Spam doesn’t have the greatest reputation among food conisseurs in Europe and North America. The precooked pink meat can be seen as a sad alternative to, for instance, fresh grass-fed beef or some hickory-smoked barbeque from, well, an actual pig instead of a can.
But Spam holds a special place in Korea’s culinary cuisine. It was brought there by the Americans during the Korean War, but Koreans have truly made it their own over the past decades. Around holidays, you’ll see box gift sets of Spam filling the grocery store aisles (it was the most purchased gift during last year’s Lunar New Year!), and the meat is used in both staple Korean dishes or just as a quick lunch.
Stars like Shinhwa’s Eric Mun have endorsed it on national TV:
Today, we’ll give you a few of the best recipes that involve Spam. If you’re already a fan, your mouth is probably watering. And if not, at least one of these is sure to change your mind.
This soup translates into “Army Base Stew,” and is the everything-but-the-kitchen sink Korean staple. It rose to popularity during the Korean war, when food supplies were seriously depleted and meals had to consist of mostly canned rations while feeding as many mouths as possible. Hence, this stew — a marriage of Korean flavors like kimchi and hot pepper paste and the American soldier’s gift to Korea: Spam, plus, anything else a cook could find to make this meal spread a little farther.
Today, it’s popular among people who want a hot, piping bowl of nearly every ingredient you could think of, with a little heat and a lot of salty Spam. The great Korean home cook Maangchi has a fantastic recipe that’s easy enough to follow for even amateurs.
Spam Fried Rice
Here’s another good Spam spin on a classic, tasty one-bowl dish. If you’re in Korea, you’ll probably find some pre-packaged versions of this in the frozen foods section of your local supermarket. That’s good in a pinch, but it’s much better when cooked fresh and served hot off the greasy pan. Knobbyknee’s recipe on food.com is the perfect blend of savory and sweet and is sure to convert even non-Spam lovers over to the pink side.
Hawaiian Spam Burgers
Hawaii is one place that might rival Korea’s love for spam. Luckily for us, they also grow and love pineapple. The sweet, refreshing fruit is the perfect counterbalance to a hot, salty slab of Spam. It’s popular to grill up both and have a little spam pineapple sandwich. But the folks at Serious Eats aren’t stopping there. They’re giving the world the Spamburger it deserves – complete with fresh pineapple, drippy cheese, creamy hot sauce, and a perfectly grilled burger between an English muffin. It’s all of the flavor (and all of the heart attack, but one of these every once in awhile has got to do the body some good.)
What, you think Italian food is too good to be messed with? Chef Brandon Boudet of Dominck’s in Los Angeles disagrees. He shared a recipe with TIME for carbonara pasta, the traditional Italian dish that brings together salty fried pork, creamy eggs, and hard, sharp cheese into a dish that melts in your mouth. Sure, the recipe usually calls for a pancetta, but with a little olive oil and fresh black pepper, Spam is giving this bowl of pasta a whole new vibe.
Got any other Spammy favorites? Let us know in the comments!