Spam Jam: Somebody Get That Guy a Smoke!
NYT, Monday, April 7: "The Spam That Isn't via E-Mail"
"If your money was on the guy with the big belly, you lost.
"Jack LaForge, a 17-year-old Honolulu resident of unimpressive size, ate an entire can of Spam — cold — in roughly two minutes on Saturday, beating 11 other Spam eaters during a celebration to honor the meat sometimes called 'Hawaiian steak.'
" 'I had a little bit of water left so I just stuck a whole piece in and swallowed it whole, right down with the water,' Mr. LaForge said, adding that he really felt he needed a smoke.
"The Spam eating contest was one event in the first Waikiki Spam Jam, a three-day festival designed to draw local residents and their wallets into Waikiki by honoring the state's favorite comfort food. Hawaii consumes 6.7 million cans of Spam each year — more than any other state — and this fixation drew thousands of people this weekend, helping along a tourism economy recently slowed by war fears.
"Music blared from two stages as people downed creative Spam dishes and posed for pictures with a giant can of Spam in blue hightops. The festival started with the creation of the 'world's longest' Spam musubi, usually a four-inch rice block topped with Spam and wrapped with seaweed, a standard local snack. (Think Spam sushi.)
" 'We tried to get Guinness to certify it as the longest Spam musubi, but they said they never heard of musubi,' said Matt Bowden, engineer of the 132-foot-by-8-inch tribute to luncheon meat. 'Poor things.'
"Spam showed more elegantly at Friday's event, a cook-off featuring leading hotel chefs who offered dishes like mushroom and Spam ravioli and gratin of Spam with roasted eggplant.
" 'I really liked the brochettes,' said Doug Inouye, a lawyer for a local nonprofit group who settled on the Asian-style Spam skewers served with salmon and coleslaw. 'Not too salty, and the miso-marinated salmon complemented it well. The Asian slaw brought out the taste of the Spam.'
"Despite its temporary elevation to the status of 'haute cuisine,' Spam is still daily fare in Hawaii, a must-have on any self-respecting breakfast menu, including at McDonald's, and a staple of community cookbooks.
"The Spam Jam could not have come at a better time. Local merchants were happy to welcome the crowds after a slow winter, exasperated by a war that has shaken Hawaii's post-9/11 tourism industry even further.
" 'Sales are a bit stronger than yesterday,' said Brian Naganuma, retail supervisor at the clothing store Crazy Shirts on duty Saturday during the street festival. 'It definitely brings a lot of foot traffic.'
"Hotels had hoped to cash in on Spam love, too, offering free room upgrades to anyone who presented a can at check-in. As of Friday, the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach had collected only four cans, but the guest services manager, Debbie Murakami, was hoping for more.
"Even if they did not stay over, many local residents who said they rarely come to Waikiki — often considered too touristy — dropped in to pay homage.
" 'I love Spam,' said Darrel Lau, who lives about 20 minutes away. 'I've been eating it all my life, and this is the first time something like this is going on.'
Some of the tourists were baffled, though.
" 'I said "Spam?"' said Gilbert Acuna, a visitor from Los Angeles who said he grew up eating the stuff, had not touched it in 30 years and certainly was not going to start again. But, he said, munching a plate of grilled prawns and rice, 'I've always liked street fairs.' "