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People in Hawaii love their Spam. They’re proud that they eat more of the canned processed meat per capita than any of their mainland counterparts.
For many Hawaii residents, it’s part of the daily diet, from Spam and eggs for breakfast to Spamburgers for dinner. When president Barack Obama vacationed on Oahu and ordered a Spam musubi — teriyaki-grilled Spam placed on a wedge of rice and wrapped in a sheet of seaweed — it made headlines.
Given all of that, it should come as no surprise that one of the largest annual street festivals in the islands is the Waikiki Spam Jam. Drawing an estimated 24,000 visitors and islanders in 2010, the eclectic event turns a section of Kalakaua Avenue — Waikiki’s main drag — into a traffic-free zone, providing salivating Spam buffs with plenty of room to roam.
Twelve food booths serve specialty Spam dishes dreamed up by some of Hawaii’s top chefs. In past years, hungry revelers have sampled such creative concoctions as Spamakopita from Leo’s Taverna; spam and mahimahi carbonara from Atlantis Seafood and Steak; Spam fried noodles from Coconut Willy’s; guava mango barbecue Spam sliders from Gordon Biersch; Spam dim sum from Seafood Village; Spam and crab dip from Rum Fire; volcano nachos with Spam chili from Jimmy Buffet’s; and Spam lettuce wraps from P.F. Chang’s.
The origins of Spam stretch back to 1937 when Jay Hormel started packaging pork shoulder meat, ham, sugar, salt, water, modified potato starch and sodium nitrite for color. Billions and billions of cans later, Spam is still wildly popular in the islands, with such varieties as cheese, bacon, hickory smoke, garlic, reduced sodium, Spam Lite, hot and spicy, Spam spread and a version served with white turkey.
Even if clients don’t care for Hormel’s canned classic, they can still have a ball at the Waikiki Spam Jam. Island entertainers perform on two entertainment stages while 15 vendors sell unique Hawaiian arts and crafts. At two large booths, visitors can purchase logo merchandise to take home as quirky mementos, from Spam-labeled apparel and accessories to household and sporting goods.
“The logo items are really fun, particularly the hat that’s modeled after a can of Spam,” said Barbara Campbell, vice president of Outrigger Enterprises Group, which is one of the festival’s founding sponsors. “When I wore mine, I couldn’t believe how many photos were taken of me.”
Better yet, clients can feel good about their participation in the event, which benefits the Hawaii Foodbank. Volunteers stand ready to collect donations of cash, Spam and other food products for the state agency that collects, warehouses and distributes mass quantities of perishable and non-perishable food to those in need. Each year, the Waikiki Spam Jam donates more than 6,000 canned goods to the cause.
Timed with the Waikiki Spam Jam, Outrigger and Ohana hotels in Waikiki (www.outrigger.com) are encouraging visits by offering a special promotion. Guests who check in during that weekend get a free one-category room upgrade with the donation of a Spam product, which will be forwarded to the Hawaii Foodbank.
“This isn’t your ordinary festival,” said Campbell. “The theme is Spam, Spam and more Spam, which many of our visitors just can’t understand.
However, the event is just plain fun, and it’s all for a good cause.”
The event takes place on April 30 from 4-10 p.m. Entrance is free.