SPAM as an ingredient in Asian-American cooking has unsavory roots. This polarizing canned meat began making its way into Asian cuisine starting in World War II, a result of American military presence in Asia. Wartime rations of SPAM transformed in the hands of locals, taking starring roles in dishes such as budae jjigae in South Korea, spamsilog in the Phillipines, and gong zai mein in Hong Kong.
Cooking with SPAM has become increasingly trendy in recent years as celebrated Asian-American chefs salute nostalgic flavors from childhood and put their own spin on the SPAM dishes of generations past. But did you know that this porky pink loaf has ancestry right here in Toledo? It’s true!
SPAM was invented by Jay Hormel in Austin, Minnesota and debuted at Jay’s 1936 New Year’s Eve party where some very lucky guests got to try it. At the time of its invention, Jay was working for his father, George Hormel, whose meat processing company would eventually become the successful Hormel Foods Corporation of today. But in the 1930’s, Hormel was hurting for a product that made use of the company’s poorly selling pork shoulder. Jay’s solution: SPAM.
So how does Toledo play into all of this? Well, Jay’s father, George, grew up in south Toledo in the 1860’s. He lived on Langdon Street and worked at his father’s tannery on St. Clair Street as a teenager. When George tired of working for his father, he left Toledo for Chicago where he began to learn about meat processing in the city’s slaughterhouses. Fast forward to 1891 and George is opening the doors to George A. Hormel & Co., his very own meat processing plant and future workplace of his SPAM-inventing son, Jay.
Yes, the loveable luncheon loaf in your musubi has a grandparent from Toledo. Add this Asian staple to your grocery list and whip up some SPAM-laden, Asian-American recipes from these cookbooks.