In the midst of preparing an appreciation breakfast for employees during Housekeeper’s Week, Bitsey Kelley cooked up an idea: Create an event that would focus on one of Hawaii’s favorite staples — SPAM. It’s no secret that Hawaii’s love affair with the Hormel product dates back to World War II when GIs were served the cobbled mixture of pork shoulder, ham, sugar and salt. And it’s widely known that island residents consume more than six million cans of SPAM a year, the nation’s highest per capita consumption of the processed meat.
“I think I was inhaling too much SPAM fumes that day,” Kelley laughs. “Hormel already had its own big recipe contest so I thought why couldn’t we have our own?”
Now in its 12th year, the Waikiki SPAM Jam has become one of Waikiki’s largest events, closing down Kalakaua Avenue and turning the main thoroughfare into a street party lined with food booths, assorted vendors and live entertainment on two stages. Sir Can-a-Lot will also likely return joined by a couple of SPAMMY characters.
As much as SPAM may be mocked on the mainland, the canned meat is a serious mainstay among locals who have at times referred to it as Hawaiian steak. During the event, participating chefs will incorporate the processed meat into their recipes, developing such SPAM-infused dishes as mini pancakes topped with pineapples, creamy popsicle, barbecue sliders, siu mai, fried rice, loco moco, yakisoba noodles, wontons, Greek omelet and Sicilian basil pizza.
“We want people to see SPAM in a different light,” Kelley says. “We want them to go home and tell friends that they didn’t think SPAM could taste so good.”
Barbara Campbell grew up eating SPAM, which she says was part of her family’s “meat and potatoes dinner fare.” “SPAM is a great on-the-go snack, whether it’s a SPAM musubi or alongside eggs or in nachos,” says Campbell, vice president of retail leasing for the Outrigger Enterprises Group and co-founder of SPAM Jam. “I will never forget one of the earlier SPAM Jams when we held an eating contest on stage and this one guy downed over 12 cans of SPAM in like two minutes.”
All SPAM aside, the event does serve a more serious purpose: To help raise money and food for the Hawaii Foodbank, as well as for the Waikiki Community Center and the Visitor Aloha Society.
“The success of the event has evolved over the years,” Kelley asserts. “And the bottom line is we’re proud of it and we want to continue to grow it.”
Waikiki SPAM Jam will take place Saturday, May 3. spamjamhawaii.com