Is there anything more quintessentially Japanese American than Spam Musubi? Having grown up in the South Bay, which may as well be called Little Hawaii, I’m willing to bet that we have more Hawaiian food places per capita outside of the islands. Popular among Hawaiian natives and Hawaiian appreciators alike, it’s a fusion dish that came out before fusion dishes were cool.
As a kid, Spam Musubi was an absolute treat. Deceptively laborious depending on what method or recipe you use (more on that later) my mom had reserved it for road trips, and on rare occasions I’d be blessed with the aluminum foil brick that contained this goodness. It was so coveted among my circle actually, that I was much much older when I found out that Spam was deemed “mystery meat” and “gross” by my uninitiated peers. Instead of feeling insecure about it I just felt bad for them. But that’s a story for another day.
Another thing I didn’t realize until I got older: although seemingly simple, the Spam Musubi could be made in lots of different ways. From the way spam is cooked, to adding flair, and even using different molds, your family’s Spam Musubi could look completely different from others. I’m partial to the way my mom did it (Spam cooked in sweet sauce, rice on top and bottom, seaweed all around) but there’s so much that you could do with this dish. If you don’t have a go-to Spam Musubi recipe or looking to start your own tradition with a new variation, let’s explore the different adventures you can take.
Shape: nori burrito sandwich or nori sushi band?
The shape of the musubi is determined both by the style of the nori wrap and rice orientation.I feel like I see the nori sushi band version more in the wrapped-in-plastic, grab-and-go situation while the nori burrito is more a restaurant thing. The rice changes with these wrapping methods too, where the burrito has two thinner layers of rice sandwiching the piece of spam, while the nori sushi band has a chunkier mound of rice below.
What determines the best shape for your musubi would be whether you want to cut into slices or in a single serving. The nori burrito can be sliced much easier, since the rice stack keeps things in tact a bit better. I also prefer the rice spam rice ratio, and find it easier to bite into even if you kept it as a log.
But the nori sushi band is a great option if you’re thinking of adding more substantial layers in addition to the spam, and it’s aesthetically more fun. If you also have family members who don’t LOVE nori too much, this variation with a thinner strip of nori would be a great option.
For the burrito, cut the sushi nori in half or use the whole sheet if wielding the double mold. The sushi band can be as wide as a third of the nori, and as thin as you can manage it.
Spam: sweet and sticky or crispy and salty?
I am partial of course to the sticky, where you get equal parts shoyu, dark brown sugar, and mirin in a pan and fry up the spam right in. I’ve also seen recipes that add sesame oil to this and I am totally going to try that one day, even minced garlic or oyster sauce to give it more of a savory feel.
Simply frying it up with no sauce has a simplicity to it that I’m partial to as well. I feel that this version doesn’t hold as well, BUT makes a fantastic base layer if you are going to add toppings to it. Speaking of which…
Extras: go wild!
I’ve seen so many variations on Spam Musubi—maybe your family has a really special twist that is unique. As long as there’s nori and rice and spam, what you do in addition is really up to you. Some of my favorite layers and toppings are:
• Fried egg - a sweet tamagoyaki is perfect here
• Furikake - love a fish flake furikake here to add a bit of the sea (goes perfect with nori) and salt
• Kewpie mayo - what ISN’T amazing with kewpie?
• Konko - Oshinko, takuan… whatever name you call it by, this sweet crunchy add-on is like a pickle to a sandwich
• Avocado - if you’re from California, are you even staying true to your region if you don’t add avocado?
• Umeboshi spread - this is a bit of a wild horse and one that I absolutely LOVE! You could just smash up the umeboshi or add a bit of mirin for a touch of sweet to make the perfect spread
Last but not least… weapon of choice
We remember the tools our family used—in my case, my mom was partial to the double (affiliate link) growing up where you fit two slices of spam. Today, I rock the single version but feel very strongly about it being the acrylic kind (affiliate)—although I do understand that the plastic one (affiliate) is just as good.
Much like your perfect In-n-Out order (me? #2 with raw onions, no lettuce, add peppers, swap fries for animal style) your perfect Spam Musubi is a very personal one. Whether you’re feeling nostalgic for your mom’s recipe or wanting to push the boundaries of what’s possible with this comfort dish, if it fits it can sits in between rice and nori and enjoyed. Itadakimasu!
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