SPAMJam. What can I say? It was an incredible experience! I am so thankful to Outrigger Resorts for graciously inviting me to discover what can only be described as a food extravaganza of the highest order!
There are doubters. I had many questions on Instagram asking: “is SPAM really a big deal? Does SPAM really taste good?”
To all these questions I say: YES!
Except for the island of Guam, Hawaii is the largest consumer of SPAM in the world. The most typical breakfast for many Hawaiians is rice, eggs and SPAM. I can attest that this is delicious! But then again, one of my go-to meals when I am cooking for myself at home is rice with scrambled eggs on top, seaweed and sriracha….so I might be a little biased!
In fact, it was while Bitsy Kelley, granddaughter of the founders of the Outrigger Resorts was cooking this very breakfast for the hotels’ housekeepers during Housekeeper Appreciation Week that she had an epiphany. Bitsy knew that Hormel had a festival in the local area where they produce SPAM – Austin, Minnesota, but she sincerely believed that it belonged in Hawaii! She, along with her partner in crime Barbara Campbell, began cold-calling Hormel until they convinced them that there needed to be a SPAMJam in Waikiki.
And that is exactly what happened!
Thirteen years ago, the first Waikiki SPAMJam took place and it has been thriving ever since.
Before getting into more details about the event, I want to share more about how SPAM is very much a part of Hawaii’s food culture.
Besides SPAM for breakfast, the next most popular item is musubi. The amount of musubi available throughout all the islands is jaw-dropping. This is my personal favorite way to eat SPAM, in fact, I desperately searched all over Honolulu airport to find one to eat on the plane home!
Not only is it an island favorite, but it’s also like the entry-drug for non-believers. Someone can try SPAM musubi, realize how delicious it is and then they are hooked and ready to explore more.
In fact, Bitsy, who graciously spent an hour with me for an interview that will publish in a separate post remarked on this as well. “Musubi is like those hotdogs that are omnipresent in American gas stations and convenient stores. There is that metal roller that rolls the hotdogs up and down to keep them hot, only in the islands, its musubi warmers! It is really easy for people who have a fear of trying SPAM to try it out with musubi, which is literally available everywhere!”
No need to convince me and I was raring to try all the dishes.
I attended the 13th annual Waikiki SPAMJam festival. Last year there was an estimated 25,000 people; this year they think it was more like 28,000. Needless to say, it is gaining in popularity!
There were 16 restaurants represented, each presenting one to a multiple of dishes containing SPAM. Being that the festival is the Waikiki SPAMJam, the restaurants are limited to those in the Waikiki area and the festival has actually had to turn non-Waikiki restaurants away. (I think maybe rival festivals may start or, as the festival grows they will need to start letting other restaurants in – it will be interesting to see their growth strategy).
There is no charge to enter SPAMJam, you just pay for your food and drinks with proceeds going to the Hawaiian Food Bank. This year they raised $15,000 (I am sure it actually was higher than that, they still had to count additional donations.)
Besides the exceptional food (more on that in a bit) there is fantastic entertainment on two stages. Singers, dancers, fire-throwers – something for everyone!
But I know what you are here for. You want to know about the SPAM dishes! The Hula Grill inside the Outrigger Waikiki Resort hosted a media event right before the festival opened and we were able to see (and photograph) most of the dishes ahead of time. And taste! I tried everything that was presented inside and then headed out to the street to try everything else!
These are the dishes that were served at the event (restaurants in alphabetical order):
ABC Stores Spicey SPAM Poke.
ABC Stores Spicey SPAM Dynamite Katsu.
Chai Waikiki SPAM with fresh ahi katsu, wasabi curry, and fresh mango salsa.
Eggs n’ Things SPAM Bread Pudding.
Eggs n’ Things SPAM Cheesecake (with a SPAM crust!).
Gordon Biersch Asian Hoisin SPAM Bao Bun Slider.
Gordon Biersch SPAM Artisan and salami pizza.
Gordon Biersch Mango BBQ SPAM slider.
Gordon Biersch Kama’aina SPAM street tacos.
Hard Rock Cafe Cupcake.
Hard Rock Cafe SPAMac and Cheese Balls.
Hawaiian Crown Plantation Grilled Pineapple and SPAM Skewers.
Hawaiian Crown Plantation Grilled SPAM and Cheese Sliders (with a slice of pineapple).
Hawaiian Crown Plantation Pineapple Sorbet with SPAM Sprinkles.
Hula Grill Waikiki SPAM Fried Rice Loco Moco.
Hula Grill Waikiki Portuguese Sausage SPAM Waffle Dogs.
Jimmy Buffet’s SPAM Nachos.
Jimmy Buffet’s SPAM Rice Bites.
MAC 24:7 Fried SPAM Pulled Pork Lumpia with SPAM chili garlic calamansi dip.
MAC 24:7 Apple Banana Nutella Lumpia with fried SPAM and peanut butter drizzle.
Ono Pops MacSPAM Brittle: sweet cream ice cream with a swirl of housemade Mac Nut marzipan and shattered brittle of candied SPAM and Mac Nuts.
PF Changs SPAM Lo Mein.
PF Changs SPAM Lettuce Wraps.
Seafood Village SPAM Manapua.
Seafood Village Mixed Plate.
Uncle’s North Shore Gourmet The ELVIS with peanut butter, bananas, chocolate chips, and SPAM.
And here are the photo:
All this salty goodness was making me thirsty so I headed to the Crown Plantation booth for fresh pineapple and lilikoi juice. I had seen them in the morning at the KCC Farmer’s Market where I had started my day, and the same crew was serving delicious, 100% fresh pineapple juice offerings. There is NO substitute for fresh squeezed juice.
Thirst quenched, I was ready to dive back in! After grazing through the remaining dishes, I met up with two other bloggers and our gracious hosts who walked us through and introduced us to many of the chefs. We had the opportunity to do quick interviews and here are just a few I met:
Chef James Alaptin of Mac 24/7 who served my second favorite savory and favorite dessert. Both lumpias. And both DELICIOUS. Chef James is a Bay Area native but has been in the islands for over 25 years now.
For the savory lumpia (fried SPAM pulled pork Lumpia with SPAM chili garlic calamansi dip) he was going for a true umami taste and I think he achieved it!
For the dessert lumpia(apple-banana-Nutella Lumpia with fried SPAM and peanut butter drizzle), he wanted to provide people with a dessert that didn’t have to have SPAM in it. He served SPAM fries on the side, which I stuck inside for each bite!
My pal Katie of Domestiphobia had an exceptional experience in Mac 24/7 several years ago and wrote about it on her blog. I asked Chef James if the subject of her story, a server named Jose, was still working at the restaurant – and he is!
Chef Matt Young of Hula Grill created my absolute favorite dish of the night, a waffle dog with the brand-new, only available in Hawaii (for now) SPAM flavor, Portuguese sausage.
Now given my family’s Portuguese heritage this was not a fair fight and the other chefs didn’t have a chance in gaining the number one position in my heart (despite how good that lumpia from Mac 24/7 was!).
According to Chef Young, waffle dogs used to be a huge thing in the islands, but have sort of faded away in popularity. He decided that using SPAM was the perfect way to reintroduce this island classic. I couldn’t agree more.
The Hula Grill was serving it with a choice of 3 sauces: Asian or Hawaiian and ketchup/mustard. I chose Hawaiian, which was similar to maple syrup.
All I can say is that sweet syrup, with the salty SPAM and delicious outer waffle covering had me thinking about making this at home.
Growing up, my Mom would stick slices of bacon in with the batter in the waffle maker – why couldn’t I try to do the same with thin slices of SPAM? I think I’ve got something there!
And again, I digress…food…
His katsu with SPAM and ahi was definitely the most refined dish of the night. He was very thoughtful about the accompanying wasabi curry sauce and pineapple salsa. The flavors were so balanced, the spiciness of the wasabi and the acid from the fruit cut the fattiness of the SPAM while adding just a hint of sweetness.
And the plating was beautiful!
What can I say?
The event was SPAMtastic!
The star of the evening, a food product celebrated and revered in Hawaii is just so versatile. It truly doesn’t take much effort to convince people to try it! You will be a believer! This is absolutely a destination festival. If you have never considered Waikiki, consider visiting during SPAMJam.
Not only will you enjoy the beaches, the ocean, all the things that you might expect of Oahu, but you also get the added bonus of discovering a unique aspect of Hawaii’s food culture.
And if you are coming for SPAMJam (the 14th occurrence of the event has already announced for April 30 next year!), the Outrigger Waikiki Resort could not be situated in a better location – right in the heart of the festival! The road in front of the hotel is the road the event takes place on. You don’t have to drive anywhere. You can eat, drink, go back to your room for a nap, and head back out and do it all over again!
Despite the fact that Outrigger Resorts sponsored my trip, my opinions are (as always) completely my own. It is a great property with great history (more on that in my Bitsy Kelly interview) and fun restaurants. There is the iconic Duke’s (did you see that Hula Pie I tried?), the delicious Hula Grill (hey, they had my favorite SPAM item!) as well as 4 other restaurants on property. While attending a pre-event party on Friday evening, I really enjoyed watching families spend time at the pool.
And when I moved to a second pre-party event, it was lovely to see the lights over the water as I looked out onto Diamond Head. It is a great location.
It was a quick stay, but a nice stay and I look forward to discovering more of the Outrigger properties in the future!
And Waikiki SPAMJam? I would DEFINITELY come back for more of that!
How about you? What dish do you think you would have liked best?
[And thanks to Alaska Airlines for my transportation to and from Oahu – it was wonderful to meet your island community team!]
DISCLOSURE: My entire trip to Waikiki was paid for by Outrigger Hotels and included all my meals (lots of SPAM) transportation and activities.