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It could be considered Hawaii’s tastier version of a food bar or peanut butter sandwich: convenient, portable and cheap. The Spam musubi is sold everywhere on the islands. It is common to see people pull one out of a jacket pocket for a quick lunch.
There are a few variations, but the basic musubi is a block of pressed sticky rice topped with a slice of cooked Spam held together with a wrap of nori (the kind of seaweed that holds sushi together). Because the rice is sticky and pressed, the whole thing stays together when eaten by hand, like a giant food bar. Some recipes call for the Spam to be sandwiched between two layers of rice, but the Spam on top version is what I see most commonly. Some people fry the meat, some grill it, some add soy or teriyaki sauce during or just after cooking. Often, furikake (chopped seaweed) is sprinkled in the rice, which looks like little black flakes. Don’t worry – there is nothing wrong with the rice, it is just for added flavor.
Some places sell a Spam musubi with a layer of egg, or a similar musubi with bright red hot dogs on top instead of Spam (split in half so they lay flat). Either way, the musubi are wrapped in clear plastic wrap, which makes them easy to carry. During finals at the cafeteria on campus, there is a giant pile of the little plastic packages in the morning. People grab two or three to eat as they walk across campus, stuffing them in pockets. They’re a dollar each at that time and make for a great quick snack. I’ve also seen people on sail boats take them for a portable meal. And apparently, President Obama ordered a Spam musubi for lunch while golfing on his Hawaii Vacation.
The Spam musubi is also an example of eating like a local to save money on your Hawaii vacation. Both peanut butter and bread are more expensive here than on the mainland. If you try to duplicate your mainland diet while in the islands, you may find food to be expensive. Spam may not be to your liking, but give it a try and then look for a manapua, a bowl of saimin or other local favorite. If you try a few local dishes here and there, you’ll save money while getting a unique taste of Hawaii — and a great story to tell back home.