Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Spam: My Comfort Food

Photo taken on September 21, 2018, Spam gift boxes are displayed at a Seoul supermarket in South Korea. AFP pic

I love Spam. I know it is processed meat – but I don't care. I grew up with Spam and even now, I must admit I still do enjoy it very much.

I remember putting it between two slices of bread. Or cut it into slices, fry and eat it with warm rice and cili padi (bird's eye chili) soaked in soya sauce. Or you can cut it into cubes and fry it with eggs. Or even make Spam curry. 

My comfort food! 

Anyway, I was pleased to come across this feature about Spam yesterday – and how Koreans absolutely adore the pink brick of pre-cooked pork shoulder and ham. 

Given the start of the Chuseok harvest festival on Sunday, I read that South Koreans are buying Spam as a holiday gift! Imagine that! 

Retailers everywhere are putting them up on display shelves and presentation wooden boxes because demand is expected to soar. 

An upmarket black-label pack with six cans of Spam and two bottles of Andalusian olive oil costs over 90,000 won (RM331), but the most popular version is a nine-tin set at 30,000 won. 

Around 213 billion won worth of Spam gift boxes were sold in South Korea last year – and this is six times as many as in 2008, when the sales figures were first recorded. 

Office worker Lee Yoon-ho gave it a thumbs-up, saying: “It’s affordable and everyone likes it”. 

And he added: “All South Koreans like Spam”. 

According to Da-Hae West, author of the English-language cookbook Eat Korean, “In Western countries, Spam is considered a cheap substitute to fresh meat and people nowadays tend to view it fairly negatively as they associate it with ration packs and poor-quality meat”. 

But to Koreans, Spam is popular because it is a wonderful accompaniment to Korean cuisine. 

Since Spam is both salty and high in fat, it complements the spicy, tangy elements of Korean food very well – more so, kimchi, as the flavors balance each other out. 

Background info: Spam (stylized SPAM) is a brand of canned cooked meat made by Hormel Foods Corporation in the US of A. It was first introduced in 1937 and gained popularity worldwide during World War II. By 2003, Spam was sold in 41 countries on six continents. With a few exceptions, it is now largely a thrifty pantry item. 

Spam came to the Korean peninsula, courtesy of the US army in the 1950s, when civilian food supplies were running low – with meat scarce – during the Korean War. 

Some Koreans received the foreign canned meat – then a symbol of nutrition and wealth – from American soldiers, while others found scraps of discarded Spam near military bases. 

At a time of deepening poverty, South Koreans invented a new menu (left) called “budae jjigae” (부대찌개), roughly translating into “army stew” which is a concoction of Spam, canned beans, sliced cheese and kimchi – and even today, it remains widely popular. 

Over time Spam has become a part of South Korean food culture. In fact, Hormel’s senior brand manager Jaynee Dykes claims Spam is a premium product in Korea. 

What’s interesting is that Spam has emerged as a popular gift during the 1990s Asian financial crisis, when South Koreans sought an affordable alternative to fruit baskets and beef sets during the season of giving. 

After the economy recovered, demand for the gift boxes continues to grow in the world’s 11th-largest economy. It is now the second biggest consumer of Spam after the United States, according to Hormel Foods, despite having a population less than a sixth of the size. 

As one shopper Choi Yoon-sun told AFP: “Spam is the perfect Chuseok gift to give as well as to receive”. 

On Monday, when I was at the Speakers' Dream Toastmasters Club meeting – I was pleasantly surprised to receive this "recognition" from Rush Teh, Immediate Past Division W Director:

FYI, I was Division W Assistant Division Diector for Program Quality for 2017-18.

On Tuesday, I attended my first virtual Toastmasters meeting – what an experience! 

At this Witty Birds Toastmasters meeting, I didn’t know what to expect but still it turned out alright. 

Anyway, I didn't feel out of place because there were two familiar faces, i.e. Assyl Boizhanova (Kazakhstan) and Colonel (Rtd) Nik Zaki (Malaysia).

Clap, clap, clap!!!

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